In Wau on Day of ICC Decision

[Wau, Southern Sudan 36°C] I leave the bustling and dusty capital of Juba and fly about 500 kms northeast into the interior of Southern Sudan to the town of Wau. Although there is less traffic in Wau, without a single paved road in the town, it is equally dusty. The oxidized earth leaves a veiled remnant of itself as an orange dusting on anything that remains still for just a second. In the evenings, it peppers the tongue and tingles the nostrils.

Road dust in Juba, Southern Sudan, March 2009

Road dust in Juba, Southern Sudan, March 2009

Today’s the day everyone has been anticipating. At 16h00 (14h00 in the Hague) the International Criminal Court will announce three judges’ decision regarding the Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo’s July 14, 2008 request (via submission of documents: ICC-02/05-157 & ICC-02/05-157-AnxA) to issue an arrest warrant for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes for Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. Interesting articles about the case are here and here.

Since the February 23, 2009 ICC announcement that it would make its decision public, people I’ve met in Southern Sudan have been speculating on the effects the decision will have on their lives and their work. Most of those I’ve spoken to seem to expect a public reaction in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum where there is significant popular support for Al Bashir.

In Juba, reports of US$ currency shortages in some banks may indicate that there is a fear of a decline in the value of the Sudanese Pound as a result of the expected ICC decision to issue an arrest warrant. From last Monday morning to Tuesday evening, the value of the Sudanese Pound on the black market has decrease from 2.3SP/1US$ to 2.6SP/1US$.

On my way to the Juba airport at 8h15 this morning, I notice that there are more soldiers than usual on the streets, and considerably more of them were armed with automatic weapons slung over their right shoulders. I would have initially been in the town of Abyei, in the Transitional Areas along the border between Northern and Southern Sudan, established in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, but because of the anticipated decision, my own schedule was changed. UN agencies in Sudan are on alert and are discouraged to travel beyond 14h00 this afternoon. A curfew is on for tonight. Expats are to stay indoors.

My flight from Nairobi to Juba is in a Canadair (I forget which type) and today’s flight from Juba to Wau is in a Bombardier (I also neglected to note which type), so I feel very much at home as I get around these parts. Although I flew a commercial airline to Juba, today’s flight is with the UN World Food Program’s Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS). They are responsible for getting the humanitarian and development community around the country. The WFP’s transport infrastructure is extensive and, as from what I saw today, well organized. UNICEF registered me on this morning’s flight and provided a letter of introduction stating that I am on official mission with their counterparts (I have a contract to write ‘Stories from the Field’ for the Canadian International Development Agency). UNICEF has been very helpful in providing me with access to parts of the country I may not have otherwise been able to get to.

In Juba, I visited UNICEF’s Mine Risk Education Program, designed to teach mainly youth in communities living near suspected minefields left over from the civil war. More about this in another post.

In Wau, I have no official visits scheduled but will collaborate on stories with Sudan Radio Service’s Wau Producer, Martin  Siba. We are meeting tomorrow for the first time to establish a game plan for the next four days. Martin will travel to the same places as me after Wau, so we will continue our collaborative efforts for a few weeks. I will schedule time each day to meet with him to investigate stories and share interviews and contacts. our reports will air on SRS in Sudan and CKUT in Montréal.

I arrive at Wau airport and wait two hours. At first I’m frustrated by the absent corresponding ride and the wait but then I appreciated the time I had to observe the preparations for the ICC announcement. It was finally annonced, and the Government of Sudan’s reaction to the arrest warrant against its president for crimes against humanity and war crimes (genocide was dropped for lack of evidence), has been to expel several international aid groups. Details can be read here and here.

Derelict aircraft at Wau Airport

Derelict aircraft at Wau Airport

As I wait in the shade of the airport’s security building, seven pickup trucks filled with about twenty Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) soldiers each drive past toward the unpaved airstrip for manoeuvres and instructions before being assigned to their respective areas of the airport. Each soldier has an automatic weapon slung over his shoulder. On two of the pickup trucks is mounted a serious machine guns. Once a ragtag rebel army during the civil war, the SPLA is being transformed into the official army of the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) as the south prepares for the CPA-mandated referendum in 2011, which could deliver the South’s independence from the rest of Sudan. Three derelict aircraft lay by the airstrip as reminders of the 21-year civil war.

Before hitching a ride with a driver from the Red Crescent Society, I buy a bottle of water for the ride to the UNICEF office, where I’m greeted by the Operations Officer with a kind welcome and an appreciated coffee. I’m driven to the UNICEF residential compound, and settle into my room by installing my mosquito netting. Considering it hasn’t rained here in about six months, mosquitoes are not a concern but it’s a prevention routine I will maintain throughout the trip.

Categories: Sudan, travel

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