Every time I arrive in Juba, there is visible change. The city sprawls further and further; from the air, a patchwork of metal roof-tops in primary colours, where once stood straw-roofed tukuls. Since my last visit, in January, the land around Juba has transformed into a thick, lush green, nurtured by the rains from the harsh, orange, dust over which I last flew out.
When I first came, in January 2011, hoping to make my "break" as a journalist, I was greeted by aggressive soldiers (perhaps not everything changes in Juba) after a long, sweaty bus ride from Kampala. Back then, the town was full of energy and excitement; at the cusp of independence, the city was prime for development. Foreigners—Eritreans, Somalis, Ugandans, Kenyans—were all in business. Construction sites dotted the town, but the roads were still mostly dirt; hot, dry, dusty dirt.
Six months later, back for independence. This time flying in, and from the air you could see the city had grown. Flags were flying everywhere, excitement was in the air. After decades of war with The North, South Sudan would achieve its independence. Tarmac had spread across the major boulevards; litter pickers were sprawling across the city, tidying the routes that the presidents and envoys from across the world would take, on their way to the independence ceremony. Even when long-time enemy Omar al-Bashir arrived, he was greeted with cheers.
Three years later, January 2014, the county is in turmoil. The political fall-out of a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his vice-president, Riek Machar, has divided the country, and violence is playing out along ethnic lines. Tens of thousands have fled to the protection offered by United Nations bases—although that protection is, at times, scant. Hundreds of thousands have fled their homes, either as a direct result of the conflict that is now raging in Bor, Bentiu and Malakal, or for fear of retribution. Some argued that this was not "an ethnic conflict", but it is difficult to deny that the killings have not taken on that dimension.
Inside the Tong Ping camp in Juba, people told me that they could not leave until the President steps down.
The camp has changed in the six months since. The tents and makeshift shelters seem somewhat more organised; the main thoroughfares are lined with more kiosks, selling basic staples and dotted with charging points for mobile phones. But those same rains that transformed the dry, arid earth into lush, green grasslands, have created a swamp amongst the tents. On leaving the camp—for those privileged to be able to do so—your feet are sprayed with a disinfecting water, for cholera has taken hold. Over a thousand cases of it have hit Juba. The charity MSF—Doctors Without Borders—has hurriedly established cholera treatment centres. One, on the outskirts of Juba at Gudele, the same place where the soldiers stopped my bus in 2011, is built on a football pitch. At the intersection of the two main axes running through the centre, a man sits with a pump-action pressure washer. Every time you cross, your boots are sprayed.
At the Juba Teaching Hospital, the "isolation ward" sees people milling in and out. The ubiquitous boot spray is there, and behind it over a hundred people lay sprawled on beds, some with drips feeding rehydration solution into a cannula in their hands, others slowly supping on plastic cups of the stuff. One man is hooked up to two drips, he is so severely dehydrated from the constant vomiting and diarrhoea that the cholera induces.
Banners denote the involvement of international organisations: the World Health Organisation, UNICEF, and various NGOs. Looking at the dilapidated state of the hospital, the rubbish lying around the grounds, the smell of ordure in the reception area, I can't help but wonder what the government has achieved; where it has spent its revenues. The numerous Toyota Landcruisers racing across the city, their license-plates denoting "GoSS"—Government of South Sudan—are perhaps a clue.
In the Ministry of Health, torpor fills the air. Bureaucrats languish in their offices, occasionally shuffling a pile of papers. Throughout the country, the threat of widespread food shortages looms down, and on their doorstep, hundreds are laid-out by cholera.
When I landed in Juba in June 2011, the airport was filled with commercial airlines, ferrying in business people, returning refugees, scores of NGO workers and all those preparing to build the nascent state. After landing on this trip, our plane was flanked by two large Ilyushin aircraft, their fuselage open at the rear as tonnes of humanitarian supplies were loaded on-board.
During the Sudanese civil war, the humanitarian operations flew out of Lokichogio in Kenya, airlifting supplies into remote areas. The roads now come to Juba, and trucks can bring these goods. But further up-country, bundles of aid are once-again dropped from the sky to relieve the shortages that this new war has brought upon the South Sudanese. And this time, there is no spectre of The Evil In The North to unify a discordant population.