Skyped with my good friend in South Sudan this afternoon for a brief bit. He is coordinating the logistics required to move tens of thousands of returnees from Sudan and further afield back to South Sudan.
This business is fraught with challenges. My friend has been working directly with this program since January this year. In the most recent operation about a month ago, nearly 6,000 returnees boarded several barges to head up the Nile to uncertainty and new homes. He is now in the midst of orchestrating the return of over a thousand more.
This week he was informed that the returnees are refusing to leave unless they can leave in a much larger group - not something that is always possible in a remote backwater in rural Africa. In the mean time, a particularly virulent form of cerebral malaria has broken out in the midst of the ongoing rainy season. 30 people have died this week, as the disease seems to be drug-resistant and is not responding to any of the typical pharmaceutical cures.
It seems the only "cure" is to wait out the rains and count causalities at the end of September, a grim conclusion for sure. My friend was told, "The deaths in the camp are on [your] head." Meanwhile, people refuse to move out of the camp. These are the interactions that suck the joy out of the valuable and theoretically exciting international mandate of assembling the citizens of a new nation state.
Just Skyped with a good friend this morning who works for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in South Sudan. He's been primarily located in Renk, in the northernmost part of the country on the Nile River and quite near the border with Sudan. Since gaining independence nearly a year ago, South Sudan has seen a steady stream of southerners returning and IOM is an office of the UN that works to organize and resettle many of these returnees.
Because of it's positionality, Renk is a major migration center as people arrive from the north on foot, bus, and boat. Even now that the border is closed due to the recent conflict along the border to the west in Unity State, the north continues to allow returning southerners across the border.
The photos below were taken by my friend, Aaron Adkins, within the last couple of weeks:
Jonglei State in South Sudan, and Pibor in particular have been in the news recently due to a series of cattle raids between ethnic groups. The UN has recently stepped in as mediator in this centuries-old conflict between the Murle and the Dinka and Lou Nuer in the south-eastern corner of the world's newest nation.
One of my undergraduate mentors spent over a decade in this area in between civil wars in the 1970s and 1980s and has written several books and articles on various topics pertaining to the region. He is currently working on the true story of the regional District Commissioner for the British who, when Italy entered World War II in 1941, put together a group of Sudanese men to harass the Italian occupiers of Abyssinia.
Anyway, I promised to see what I could do toward putting a simple map together to illustrate the spatial relationships described in the book. This evening, a friend and fellow geographer (cartographer, actually) suggested that I try out www.indiemapper.com to see if it would fit the bill. It's actually a pretty simple program that allows the input of KML files (that I developed in GoogleEarth) to do some basic graphic editing of colors, shapes, and fonts. The result is a pretty basic product that is simpler and more visually appealing than many others I've used.
I used the Mercator Projection, which preserves shape and distance along the Equator well. There are lots of limitations to IndieMapper though, for example, since the basemap is global, there is no mechanism for automatically inputing a scale bar (such a feature would be wildly inaccurate at high and low latitudes), so I resorted to measuring a 50 km straight line in GoogleEarth on top of an area that was blank on my map. I then converted it to a KML file, imported it to IndieMapper, and added an annotation with the text "Scale Bar 50 km" below the line on my map.
Addition: I've also noticed that IndieMapper's basemaps all cede the Ilemi Triangle, a contested border region claimed by both South Sudan and Kenya, to Kenya. This is just another reminder that map-making is an inherently political endeavor and that maps themselves are social constructions.
Selous GR (Paul Shaffner - 10/2006)
You can mine high value natural resources in a game reserve in Tanzania, but you can't do so in a world heritage site. Ezekiel Maigi, the Tanzanian Minister of Natural Resources, is therefore lobbying to de-gazette part of the Selous Game Reserve so that uranium can legally be mined. He is seeking approval for the boundary change from the UN, but told the BBC "the uranium project will go ahead." Only 0.68% of the reserve is slated for de-gazetting, but in such a huge reserve, this still amounts to over 300 km2.
The southwest corner of the Selous is one of the most rural and inaccessible areas of Tanzania, which makes accountability more of a challenge. Have local communities had a say in this decision? Who will hold Mantra Resources and the Tanzanian Minister of Natural Resources accountable for their promises to remit five million USD a year toward the management of the Selous (which is still only 2.5% of the expected annual profit of the mine). Even if this money does materialize, I wonder: How much money will actually end up in the southwest where the mining is occurring, since most tourists visit the more accessible north? How much will be invested in projects that directly benefit tourism (like roads) versus projects that directly benefit local communities (like addressing human-wildlife conflicts)?
I guess most of my questions center on rural empowerment, who has a say in decisions, and accountability for promises/environmental responsibility. I'd love to make a visit to the area if I make it out to Tanzania to do fieldwork next summer.