For the next two months, ReadCONTRA founder Rajiv Golla will be living in Juba, South Sudan, working with the South Sudan Action Network on Small Arms, local journalists, and a number of local politicians, professors, and community leaders to paint a picture of the Third South Sudanese Civil War. This is the first in a series of articles about his travels.
The more I prepare for this trip, the more I realize I may have bitten off more than I can chew. I picked up journalism only a few years ago, have never really been to Africa (other than a guided family safari through Kenya), don’t speak any of the languages in South Sudan past a few common phrases that are almost always greeted with laughter, and have no experience in conflict zones. But at the same time, the more I learn, the more I’m compelled to go.
Right about now is when I’m expected to give a moral and personal justification that seems to preface the account of any English-speaking, Africa-based journalist. But to be completely honest, I haven’t really figured out exactly how to place myself in the situation and how to navigate the conflict. You can only speak with so much certainty on a situation from an armchair and any claims about morally guided or ethically bounded work mean nothing until they have been molded and shaped by the situation on the ground, despite what standard journalistic and research practice dictates.
A lot of people have asked me why I care and how I got interested. And I’ve lied to most of them, saying that a South Sudanese friend or a book/movie about the Lost Boys (groups of orphaned children that roamed Sudan in the wake of the Second Civil War and the only contact most Americans have had with South Sudan) inspired me to take up the cause. Africa is something I threw myself into in the hopes that the underlying ethical dilemmas would present their own solutions as I worked through the research and that any ideological underpinnings I had in undertaking the project would present themselves just as clearly.
But a year into my work with South Sudanese issues and nothing has fit comfortably into the few ideological lenses for which I’ve only been able to create thin frames to support my arguments from my desk in Durham. Of course I’m interested in Africa because of my background in leftist thinking and the reparations due to an oppressed and robbed society. Of course it disgusts me that some people are killing their brothers and sisters to get another bowl of food from a foreign aid worker while I’m walking around a park choosing which of 50 trucks to buy food from, for the sheer novelty of it. And of course I know I need to do something. But exactly where I fit in and how I can do that are wide open questions that this trip will hopefully help define. And thanks to this blog, you’ll be lucky enough to have front row seats to my ramblings and more importantly, the current situation in South Sudan.
(Title image via).