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Archive for August 2015

(Intermission: South Sudan)

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2015-08-30 13.41.52

Still perfecting the back-of-a-boda selfie

It’s been a turbulent couple of weeks in South Sudan. On 16 August, the day before I came back to Juba, the President fired a number of State Governors, and detained the Governor of Western Equatoria. A few days later, a journalist was seemingly assassinated (coming soon after the President’s fairly unequivocal threat to journalists). A few days after that, the Speaker of the Legislature of Western Equatoria was shot and killed. Rumours have abounded about other secret assassinations and disappearances. All this against the backdrop of the latest peace treaty, which was signed by the opposition in Addis last week, and which Salva Kiir finally, finally signed in Juba yesterday.

Kiir did a pretty good job of keeping everyone guessing right up until the last minute. On Tuesday afternoon the Juba rumour mill started churning: Kiir was going to sign tomorrow. But what did that mean? The papers were being flown in from Addis? Were the other East African leaders flying in? Was the airport going to shut down? Had Kiir refused to fly to Addis to sign last night because he feared that if he did so, there’d be a coup in his absence? (Possibly.) Yesterday morning police motorbikes were zipping back and forth between the Ministries and the airport; we were all sent home early as a precaution, and while working from home I got on Twitter (which I pretty much only do when I’m following something minute by minute that’s not being very widely reported) to keep up with the afternoon’s agonising progress. Speech after speech from East African leaders (including Museveni confusingly exhorting South Sudan to “get foreigners out of your affairs”; does someone need to break it to him that he’s actually a foreigner too?) – and then President Kiir delivering one of the most ponderous prevaricating addresses it has ever been my ill-fortune to watch live-tweeted. In many ways it was actually a masterful demonstration of the art of suspense: halfway through I was still uncertain whether he was actually going to sign, or whether this was some kind of epic mic-drop trolling, almost admirable for its sheer nerve.

In the end, of course, he did sign, despite giving every indication that he was only doing so because of international pressure, and submitting multiple pages of reservations. This is the eighth (? – I think) ceasefire that’s been declared since December 2013, and it’s hard to have much faith that this one will be honoured, given the spirit of reluctance and equivocation with which it was signed. I don’t want to be cynical – I want to believe that this is going to make a difference for the hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese across the country who’ve been displaced or forced into PoCs or conscripted or otherwise brutalised by this conflict. For now, we wait.


Written by Jess

August 27, 2015 at 11:19 am

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Reading ‘The Shock of the Fall’ in Mogadishu

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2015-08-14 10.45.20

The book: The Shock of the Fall, Nathan Filer

The place: Mogadishu


I am writing from the coffee shop of Mogadishu International Airport, which is astoundingly swanky: comfy thrones and posh lamps and flat-screen TVs and decent coffee, plus a nice view of the runway (hopefully meaning that I won’t miss my flight) and the sea beyond. I’m still impressed by the fact that this airport was constructed and operational in a matter of months, while Juba Airport has been languishing unfinished since 2011, when they missed the deadline of having it ready by independence and so everyone flung up their hands and gave up on it. (Juba Airport is now closed at weekends for the next several months, and rumour has it that the new terminal will be completed during that time, but I will believe it when I see it.)

It’s been a decent week in Mogadishu, lots of meetings, good work progress and pleasant weather, meaning that I haven’t even needed to sleep with AC. One of the most interesting parts of the week was a meeting with Hormuud yesterday, Somalia’s premier mobile network operator: an entirely homegrown enterprise (because, I assume, the international MNOs didn’t or don’t have the risk tolerance to operate here), with an impressive CSR commitment, and which covers the vast majority of the country. Working together with the banks they’ve implemented Mobile Money to such an extent that now beggars use it to collect donations, standing up outside the mosques displaying the numbers to which money can be sent, while NGOs and international agencies are distributing vouchers for food and household goods to IDPs using mobile phone technology. It’s all terribly impressive: Somalis are an enterprising bunch.

Still finding it hard to settle to a single book, in large part because I have had a lot of (good) company this week and have therefore spent many of my evenings rewatching the entirety of Spaced and messing about on YouTube. I started Mary Renault’s The Mask of Apollo, which has just been published as an ebook, and which I’ve wanted to read ever since Nicola Marlowe mentions it in one of the Kingscote books, but I wasn’t really feeling it and so have switched to Nathan Filer’s The Shock of the Fall instead, which I am enjoying, but making slow progress on. The next little while is going to be pretty full-on, workwise, so we’ll see how far I get, though flights are always good for reading progress.

Written by Jess

August 14, 2015 at 12:04 pm

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Reading nothing, in transit

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2015-08-02 11.02.08

Shard. ❤

No book, because I’m having one of my periodic phases where I find it impossible to settle to a single book, where all books seem appealing but none are really grabbing me. Location-wise, I am writing from the gate at Schiphol Airport, because I sensibly decided to eschew the horrors of Heathrow in order to fly from Glasgow to Nairobi via Amsterdam. I had nostalgically remembered Schiphol as a deeply civilised airport, and envisaged an hour or two eating stroopwafel and enjoying a water massage and perhaps taking in the Rijksmuseum Annex; instead, I found the airport under renovation, and have just had to do a twenty-minute speedwalk from my arrival gate to my departure gate, for fear of actually missing my flight. Next time, Schiphol; next time.

I was in the UK for all of 72 hours, the shortest turnaround so far this year. I did, however, manage to pack it in: attended a day of the Clear Lines Festival, of which my magnificent friend Winnie was one of the organisers; and had a visit from an old Juba friend in Glasgow, which gave me the excuse to do the sort of touristy things that I have shamefully never done, despite having (nominally) lived in Glasgow (on and very much off) since 2007.

Saw a rather magnificent off-shore windfarm on descent into Schiphol. I am not quite an objectophiliac in manner of the legendary woman who is married to the Berlin Wall, but I do tend to imbue certain structures with a degree of noble sentience. Such is my love for wind turbines, and, of course, my imaginary skyscraper boyfriend, the Shard.

2015-08-03 17.02.01

Glasgow Necropolis. I’ve lived in Glasgow on and off since 2007 and had never visited before. For shame.

2015-08-03 18.25.28

Buchanan Street peacock

Written by Jess

August 4, 2015 at 12:06 pm

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