This photo greeted me this morning: pic.twitter.com/DzaSB2vrqi
After a twitter flap, some useful exchanges with @sierra_gulf and @texasinafrica, and a quick interview with @hayesbrown, I thought it would be useful to draw together my thoughts in more than 140 characters!
Firstly, I’m eager to hear more from UNMISS itself. No one ever said running a camp under these conditions was easy. The compound in Bentiu is an ad-hoc safe haven, so I’m conscious of the risk for arm-chair indignation sitting here in front of my computer. Even in formal camps, there may be cases where it is appropriate to separate different populations for the security of all, and the overriding goal of a camp is to be a place of safety for those who are vulnerable.
In response to comments that perhaps it is the displaced themselves who wish to be segregated in this manner, I agree. We saw this happen in Darfur camps in advance of the Darfur Peace Agreement where previously integrated parts of the camp self-segregated for fear of violence. Moreover, it is only natural for people to coalesce towards those they already know, which may in practice mean they separate themselves by ethnicity. All of this is understandable and unobjectionable as far as it goes.
But it still seems to me to be a categorically different thing for the UN to place a signpost that functions to segregate people by ethnicity. As @cch7c rightly noted, most of the displaced cannot read English. No harm no foul then? I don’t think so. Most camp staff can read English, and most communities have at least one among them who can read and translate.
At the end of the day, it is the symbolism of it that is so distressing. As I commented on twitter, there are plenty enough unscrupulous Southern Sudanese elites right now who are fueling the ethnic flames for their personal gain, without the UN putting its stamp of approval on it.
In the words of @sudanesethinker ”Talk about wrongly reinforcing and exacerbating tribal divisions. Garang’s Dinka son & co oppose Kiir.” Indeed Rebecca Garang herself was part of the initial group protesting Kiir’s leadership failings.
We need to remember that this started as a political conflict and the actions of people who have a choice - like the UN - matter in terms of the direction it goes from here.