In South Sudan I found a friend who is my enemy – and an End time driving school

When coming back to South Sudan capital Juba, the big contrasts of Sub-Saharan Africa come to mind: New buildings combined with capital city areas that are barely accessible by road, luxury goods in the supermarket, where sweets from Europe might be as expensive as a meal in an average European city. All of this while many parts of the country are dependent on food aid. This midsize capital makes you wonder: where are you going South Sudan?

We drive by the ‘Peace Hospital’, numerous signs of peacebuilding councils and the next we see a driving school with the appropriate name “End time driving school”.

End time in Juba – while everyone is in search of peace, in the many parts of the country violent conflict continues; Peace talks in Addis Ababa and elsewhere keep some hope in the air, meanwhile elsewhere there is worry that too many ex-combatants, unsolved recent conflicts, as well as long-term historical differences, idle unemployed youth and political aspirations make the situation worse once more.

We are passing by a small mountain of trash, with many goats rummaging through it to find some food. Nobody  here finds food easily. Yet, it is not the unfertile ground that makes it difficult to produce food, it is the people, and the conflict between people on so many levels that  makes it difficult to grow food, to transport it, to sell it, to buy it.

And while my colleagues and I work on transforming the conflict to a level that people can at least coexist, at least live as neighbors somehow, we go back to the most essential question: What does peace mean for you, for your tribe, your religion, your family?

Arriving in the office, planning our work in different parts of the country, we are told one important answer as a starting point: The Toposa people in Eastern Equatoria and Jonglei, for example, do not have a word for a foreigner. They only have the word ‘enemy’. The closest you can get in relationship to this tribe is to become “my friend who is my enemy”.

The phone rings: other colleagues travel on a UN flight. Today they did not reach communities to talk with them. The plane needed to come back without landing because the intended runway was in too bad shape after the rain to land.

Almost not accessible. But not entirely: In a couple of days my colleagues will try once again. And perhaps they find more ‘enemies’ who could become ‘our friends who are our enemies’.

The writer is a Senior Advisor for  Right to Peace  in Finn Church Aid
Twitter: @sinnwahn


Matthias Wevelsiep