The following interview was done by Martin Githome and Margaret Njeri Mungai, members of the Young Peace Journalists. It is the latest entry in the Young Peace Journalists project featuring the stories and voices of refugees.
This is an interview with Daniel Majok (not real name) from South Sudan and currently a refugee in Kenya. He agreed to share his story with us.
Daniel is currently a student in one of the private universities here in Kenya. Nostalgically he says his life was okay before he became a refugee. He misses his former days spent with his playmates whose whereabouts he does not know. His worry is that he does not know whether they are alive or dead. Although he cannot quite remember the precise details of life since he left South Sudan at a young age, he relies on what the older people describe as ‘their old life’ in South Sudan. However, in his heart he feels that he was happy, carefree and comfortable in South Sudan before the protracted conflict started. To earn a living, his family, as most citizens from the South Sudan region practiced agriculture and pastoralism. When the conflict started, they were displaced and lived as internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Eastern part of South Sudan where they later entered Kenya in December 1996. Although his parents are also here in Kenya, they did not come together as a family as they were initially separated. Sadly he recalls that he arrived in Kenya accompanied only by his cousins and sister. In Kenya refugees especially from South Sudan are accommodated in a camp known as Kakuma, which is located in Turkana County which is in the Northern part of Kenya. Daniel pursued his primary and secondary education while still based in the Kakuma camp.
When we asked Daniel what the major reason was for fleeing, his answer was a definite:
“We fled out of fear of being killed in the war that was ongoing.”
The initial war was between the North and South Sudan after the then-President Gaafar Naimery declared the whole of Sudan an Islamic state and under sharia law even in the non-Islamic region; that is, the South Sudan region. John Garang formed Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) movement to oppose this decision, which resulted into a civil war. Currently the ongoing war in South Sudan is said to be between the government forces and the opposition after president Salva Kiir accused his vice president Riek Machar of organising a coup against his government. This civil war has brought with it human rights abuses and killings which has forced many South Sudanese to flee.
With sadness in his eyes, Daniel tells us how it feels to leave the familiarity of one’s home. Equally, that being a refugee is not an option but rather a condition that one finds themselves in. On a psychological level he says it is discouraging and heartbreaking having to be termed as a refugee. In addition, he does not enjoy the stability he was enjoying back in South Sudan as the joy of being in a family, living with his family was interfered with. He also shared that as a refugee there are certain things that he cannot freely enjoy as when he was in his country. Being a refugee also separates people as some go to different countries and they no longer get to meet or even communicate. Daniel also points out that majority of the refugees are isolated by the citizens of Kenya. This isolation makes the refugees feel that they are seen as not part of them. His greatest challenge as a refugee is hostility that he experiences at the Kakuma camp where most of the refugees are settled. The local community there feels that they have invaded their space. At other times they lack basic needs for example, food, water and clothing. The aid that is supposed to be offered to the refugees does not get to them on time because of the poor infrastructure. Not to mention that the shacks are very congested. This means that some refugees are forced to bear the harsh weather conditions for example the shacks will be leaking when it rains and when it is hot – Turkana is very hot – they will be forced to endure the scorching sun. Refugees also get their movements curtailed plus they are required to carry documents from one point to another.
One can feel the sadness in Daniel’s voice as he describes the turmoil and hardship they endured at the camp. They were times when they were forced to walk long distances to look for water; and when they did it was not very safe for drinking and cooking.
His eyes light up as he tells us,
“I strongly believe that with the education my colleagues and I are receiving now, we will one day be able to go back and offer good leadership to the people and country of South Sudan.”
Having lived in Kenya for almost 20 years he still holds onto the faith that he will one day be able to go back to his home country when the situation is stable. His message is that people should never take their freedom and peace for granted and see refugee life as desirable at whatever cost. Daniel has a message to his government of South Sudan and the rebels. He reminds them that,
“There can be no government without people; a nation without people. The government should respect the opinion and the rights of their people. The government should also make efforts to stop the violence and address the human rights abuses so that the country will not be deserted. The people from South Sudan are still fleeing and they are based in many different countries.”
He also advocates for peace and urges all people not to look at tribal differences but seek for what unites them, respecting the policies of their individual country. Equally, he cautions the citizens not to use violence as a way of resolving minor disagreements when they occur. Daniel hopes that the government of South Sudan will be committed to bringing peace and to realise that “war brings no benefits and it is their own people who are suffering”. Daniel also shared what he would like to see happening in South Sudan in the following words:
“Tribalism and abuse of human rights should be condemned and democracy encouraged. The youth should also be educated on the importance of being citizens of a country through peace education, respecting human rights and living together in unity and cohesion.”
His advice to people who are taking peace for granted is that they should not ‘play with fire’ as the peace and freedom they now enjoy can easily be taken away through violent conflict.
Martin Githome and Margaret Njeri Mungai are members of the Young Peace Journalists. They are students in Peace and Conflict Studies at St Paul’s University in Kenya.