South Sudan

In our Reporting Back series, we ask FT foreign correspondents to tell us about a recent trip. Katrina Manson, the FT’s east Africa correspondent, tells us about her visit to Juba, the capital of South Sudan.

Why now?

A year after civil war ignited in South Sudan, peace talks are continuing, with little prospect of a lasting deal. I went to Juba to mark the December anniversary of the start of the war and to find how the capital of the world’s newest country is coping, and also to see the work of the International Rescue Committee, the FT’s partner for this year’s seasonal appeal.

What impression did you take away about the situation on the ground?

Billboards across Juba honour those who gave their lives for South Sudan’s freedom – the country seceded from the Khartoum regime to the north in 2011 after decades of fighting. “Your freedom is the price of our blood,” says one. Others evoke unity: “We are many tribes, but one nation; We need each other to build a strong and united country.”

But they look like sorry prophecies. The civil war sparked by a political and military fallout last December quickly set ethnic groups against one another in five of the country’s 10 states. Residents of the ethnically mixed capital now live in an atmosphere of mistrust. Read more

♦ The conflict in South Sudan has exposed the naivety of those self-appointed cheerleaders of southern independence abroad, who argued that all other issues were secondary to sovereignty, says the FT’s William Wallis.
♦ It’s time to think more about Sarajevo and less about Munich when it comes to international affairs, argues Gideon Rachman.
♦ The New York Times looks at how Palestinians find fun and escape while facing everyday life in the Israeli-controlled West Bank and the Hamas-controlled Gaza.
♦ Germany is addressing the issue of integration and equality for its large Muslim population – state schools are offering classes on Islam in a bid to quell the radicalisation of Muslims and prejudice among non-Muslims. Read more

In 2005, Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainaina’s seminal, satirical essay, How to Write About Africa, urged outsiders to conjure descriptions that are “romantic and evocative and unparticular”, talk of safari animals, the African light, big skies and always “treat Africa as if it were one country”.

On those criteria, new China president Xi Jinping’s cliché-heavy first speech on African turf as head of state has measured up all too well. Addressing Tanzanian dignitaries in a Chinese-built conference hall on his first trip to Africa as head of state, Xi spoke of his welcome being “as warm and as unforgettable as the sunshine in Africa” and characterised the economy as “forging ahead like a galloping African lion”.

He also spoke of the warm reception received by a Chinese television series in Tanzania and told a story about a young Chinese couple who honeymooned in the Serengeti and wrote a blogpost on their return that was a bit of a hit in China, which said: “We have completely fallen in love with Africa and our hearts will always be in this land.”

In a blow to Xi’s stated aim of treating Africans as “equals”, Wainaina said the tone of the imagery offered “cheap sentiment” that “smacks of paternalism”.

“China’s charm offensive seems to want to assume there are no serious cultural and intellectual exchanges and conversations to be had,” said Wainaina after reading excerpts of the speech. “I do not get a sense of what Africans are thinking and planning… what African thinkers mean to a growing China. If a Chinese leader cannot begin to articulate what Africa is to them with more substance, Africans should be worried.”

Such sentiments should also worry China, which seems to be failing in its efforts to sidestep allegations of neo-colonial attitudes that mar Africa’s relations the west and to deliver the “bosom” friendship Xi said he espouses. Read more