Closed District by Pierre Yves-Vandeweerd
'I thought I was the only living person amongst the condemned ones, among people who were no longer masters of their own destiny.'
In 1996 filmmaker Pierre Yves-Vandeweerd travelled to the village of Mankien in South Sudan to film the civil war that was raging on in that area for decades. The town, situated on the symbolic border between Islamic Arab North and the Black Tribal South, always had a strategic position. The rich oil fields nearby the town played an important role in the Southern rebels fighting cause: autonomy and a fair share of the oil revenues. Sadly enough this fact left the people living in Mankien in a state of constant danger due to ground attacks and bombings from the North. Death had been a daily part of life for decades and it showed on the people as Yves-Vandeweerd found out. His expectations of what he was about to see were different from the reality. Instead of filming a battlefield with its war injuries he encountered people with the will to continue their existence in spite of the violence and famine they had been part of for many years.
The filmmaker intimately captured their daily lives, without understanding the words spoken. He was accepted by the community and allowed to film rituals and celebrations, only later finding out the shocking truth of what they were really about. Shortly after he returned to Belgium he found out that all the boys in the village were abducted to fight for the Southern Rebels, enrolled in the frontline to walk on the anti-personnel mines. To make matters worse later the news arrived that the whole village of Mankien was destroyed and that the majority of the people he filmed perished in this act of war. He thought that by filming the war he was going to defend a cause and denounce an injustice. The truth is however that in reality the only cause war truly serves is injustice. It left him feeling helpless and disillusioned, only finishing his film 8 years later.
From the second half of the 20th century the Sudanese have been mangled by several violent conflicts . When Sudan gained its independence from the United Kingdom and Egypt in 1954 almost immediately a civil war broke out between the Islamic Arab North and the traditional, former nomadic, black tribes in the South. The Southern tribes formed a rebel movement called the SSLM (South Sudan Liberation Movement) and started their struggle for equal distribution of resources in the country and control of their own region. The first Civil War ended in 1972 with the Addis Ababa Agreement granting the South religious and cultural autonomy within the Sudanese nation.
But the peace in this already war-ridden country was short-lived. In 1983 Sudans President Nimeiry declared Sudan an Islamic State, terminating the autonomy of the South, which inevitably started the second Sudanese Civil war. Again a rebel movement was formed, now called the SPLM (Sudan People Liberation Movement) led by John Garang . Initially the war was started to gain autonomy, but control over natural resources continued to play a big role, especially because of the oilfields situated in the Southern part of the country. Because of the scarcity of soldiers and resources thousands of children were also recruited or forced to fight for the rebels cause. They would later become known as the the Lost Boys of the Sudan .
In the decades that followed the Sudanese people from the South suffered terribly from the armed conflicts and the famine that usually followed, leading to a death toll of over 2,5 million people. And to make matters worse the armed conflict gradually creeped within the SPLA ranks among different tribes. The leaders of the two biggest ethnic groups John Garang (Dinka tribe) and Riek Machar (Nuer tribe), started to have disagreements about their fighting cause (unification vs. separation) and the distribution of power. As a result several separatist rebel fractions were formed leading to armed conflicts between the fractions and even small-scale genocide among civilians like the Bor massacre in 1991.
2005 was a year of hope for the Sudanese when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed. In the agreement the South regained cultural and religious autonomy and a fair share of oil revenues. It further set a timetable for a referendum on South Sudan independence. When the referendum finally took place in January 2011 an overwhelming majority (99.83%) of the South Sudanese voted for independence. The independence from Sudan caused mass celebration by ecstatic South Sudanese all over the country and the diaspora abroad.
But the celebrations only lasted for a short time. In early 2012 tensions between North and South Sudan rose because of oil disputes and fighting broke out on the border, leading to a halt in oil production on both sides. In the meanwhile the new government, consisting of former SPLA leaders, had proved to be incapable to equally allocate the abundance of oil money to make necessary investments in agriculture, infrastructure, health and education. In spite of the intensive guidance by the United Nations to set up a proper government, lack of governing experience, corruption and power struggles within the former SPLA ranks started destabilizing the worlds youngest nation once again. Finally it all went wrong on december 15th 2013 when the internal struggle in the SPLA came to a violent conclusion, leading to the first South Sudanese Civil War. Vice-president Riek Machar was accused of a coup and fighting broke out between Dinka and Nuer soldiers of the presidential guard in the capital Juba. News of the armed conflict travelled fast and fuelled the old rivalry between the tribes causing fighting to break out all over the country, even within army battalions. Since that time a lot of atrocities against soldiers and civilians have been committed on both sides. And sadly enough the historic Bor massacre from 1991 was repeated in late December last year. In early 2014 both parties started negotiating, but the distrust, hatred and lust for power of both leaders are slowing the process down and keeping the war-torn country in the grip of uncertainty, violence and famine.