I stepped from the aeroplane into a thick haze of humidity. Its warmth enveloped me in greeting, rich with the scent of the wet season. Heavy, grey clouds lounged low in the sky, soon to deluge the city of Juba with its daily downpour.
‘Welcome to our new country!’ beamed the customs officer, reaching over the heads of the newly arrived throng for my travel permit. He flashed me a wide, toothy smile, appearing genuinely pleased to see me. I was not expecting this. Where was the surly glare I had experienced in Kinshasa? Where was the suffocating security of Kabul?
The world’s media was anxiously hopeful in the run up to South Sudan’s celebration of independence on July 9. Fears of violence and unease over the many problems still unresolved were all underscored by a deep incredulity that this day had actually arrived for a region wracked by war for much of the past fifty years.
I arrived just days later, and the elation was still plain to see in the customs officer’s greeting. The mood was also evident on the streets of Juba. Amidst the pools of murky water and mounds of rotting garbage, precarious wooden scaffolding encased new buildings being constructed. Gleaming solar powered street-lights flashed by as we drove past road crews busily marking lines on a newly paved road. About me, four-wheel drives bearing logos of aid agencies and government ministries weaved and jostled their way through the pedestrians. The world’s newest capital is bursting at its seams.
Ive been dispatched as the UK’s Stabilisation Adviser, charged with continuing the work of Adrian Garside, who by all accounts was universally admired, leaving me with substantial shoes to fill. As such, I’m to oversee the £50m Sudan Recovery Fund and £10m Community Security and Small Arms Control programmes. Both were established to tackle the pervasive conflict that continues to threaten South Sudan’s stability.
Thankfully, two former Helmand comrades are to join me; Phil Weatherill and Mike McKie will be embedded within UNDP to manage the programmes across four of South Sudan’s most violent states. They will have the unenviable jobs of ensuring that roads are built, police posts established and warring communities brought together in some of the remotest parts of the country.
It’s clearly going to be a massive challenge, one fraught with dilemmas, uncertainties and setbacks. It also strikes me that ‘stabilisation’ in South Sudan wont look like stabilisation elsewhere, and that this journey can’t be constrained or configured by what failed or succeeded in other parts of the world. Whatever its course, it will certainly be one buoyed by the optimism and energy of a newly forged nation excited for its future.
Hamish Wilsonhttps://www.wasafirihub.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Wasafiri-LOGO-1.pngHamish Wilson2011-09-11 14:31:222011-09-11 14:31:22South Sudan Blog 1: 'Welcome to our new country!'