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South Sudan Artists Protest against Civil War with Peace Campaign, Pop-up Street Performances and Murals

A group of South Sudanese artists who had taken refuge in Kenya came together to create the movement

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In this photo taken Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016, a mural painted by the Ana Taban, or "I am tired" artists movement, depicting South Sudanese families, is seen in Juba, South Sudan. For many in South Sudan, the arts have become a rare haven of peace in a young country that has known little but years of civil war. credit- VOA
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Musicians played lively tunes in South Sudan’s capital, and pedestrians and market shoppers watched the impromptu concert with curiosity. A soldier in desert camouflage walked around, surveying the scene.

As the drumming grew more insistent, the audience stood silent and motionless seemingly afraid to join the fun. Then the soldier started to breakdance.

That broke the ice and women swayed to the beat. Soon children and adults were dancing, enjoying a rare respite from South Sudan’s festering conflict.

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For many in South Sudan, the arts have become a rare haven of peace in a young country that has known little but civil war. A group of artists are campaigning for peace, with pop-up street performances and murals across the capital, Juba. The activists have taken the name Ana Taban, or “I am tired,” in Arabic.

[bctt tweet=””My people are diverse, 64 tribes.”” username=””]

“We are tired of this, the constant fear, the war,” said Manas Mathiang, 32, a musician and artist who leads the movement.

Recently Mathiang met with nearly 30 artists who are part of Ana Taban. Members come from many of South Sudan’s main tribes. They say ethnicity has never been an issue, and they invite other artists “regardless of where they come from.”

The group has painted vibrant murals in Juba like one near the airport, a sky-blue wall depicting athletes, religious leaders and doctors under the slogan “Let us all do our part.” The artists also stage skits in street markets to promote reconciliation.

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Ana Taban was started after fighting in Juba killed hundreds of people in July. A group of South Sudanese artists who had taken refuge in Kenya came together to create the movement. When it was safe to return to the capital, they brought home the campaign for peace.

Transcending tribe and politics, the artists use their work to try to unify South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, which won independence from Sudan in 2011. But then civil war broke out two years later, and tens of thousands have been killed amid concerns of ethnic violence.

A longing for an end to the fighting can be found in the country’s art and music. Some of the most popular songs on the radio are reggae because their lyrics of peace can be easily understood, said a local DJ, Daniel Danis.

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Another member of Ana Taban, Deng Forbes, proudly held up his favorite work, a drawing of a child crying in the shape of a map of South Sudan.

“My people are diverse, 64 tribes,” Forbes said. “Art is a universal language, it’s a simple language.”

In some ways, South Sudan’s arts scene is like that in other countries, clustered in an offbeat section of the capital. Good equipment is rare. Artists say it is difficult to make money from their work. Feuds are common.

But much of South Sudan’s art is focused on the country’s political tensions.

Lual D’Awol, a popular rapper who appeared in an Ana Taban music video, said his songs about the lack of electricity and running water are banned from the radio by the government.

“It’s telling the truth that citizens of South Sudan feel, and I feel like I have to paint that picture and give a message that is genuinely happening,” D’Awol said.

Elsewhere in the capital, a nighttime concert a few weeks ago brought a rare feeling of ease. On a soccer field, roughly 1,000 South Sudanese danced and sang into the night, some climbing onto brick barriers for a better view.

On a makeshift stage, young women danced with men wearing the colors of South Sudan’s flag, members of the dancing troupe Sonzwgi, which roughly translates to “storytelling.”

The dance is a mashup of elements from different tribes across the country, said the group’s leader, Emmanuel Aban, saying it was choreographed to foster togetherness.

As Sonzwgi performed, women ran to the stage and danced, and men laughed freely. Aban smiled, saying: “It’s a way to send a message to the people.”(VOA)

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India’s Farmer Protests Highlight Increasing Rural Distress

Political analysts also said the growing rural anger could erode support for Prime Minister Modi in the countryside ahead of next year's scheduled elections.

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Indian what reaches Afghanistan via Chabahar Port
FILE - Farmer sifts wheat crop at a farm on the outskirts of western Indian city of Ahmedabad. VOA

Vimla Yadav, a farmer from India’s Haryana state, says agriculture costs, such as fertilizers and seeds, have soared, yet produce prices have plunged, leaving her family of 10 with virtually no profit from their four-acre farm. “We don’t even get the fruits of the labor that the entire family puts in on the farm, although we slog day and night,” she laments.

Yadav is one of the tens of thousands of angry farmers from around the country who poured into the Indian capital recently, demanding a special session of parliament to discuss their demands: better prices for farm produce and a waiver by the government from repaying loans taken from banks.

The protest highlighted the deepening distress among the population in the countryside, where there is growing concern about diminishing agricultural profits because many are being driven into debt.

In a country where half the population of 1.3 billion depends on agriculture, low farm profits have long been a challenge and prompted promises by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to double rural incomes by 2022. But the growing disenchantment among the farming community could pose a challenge to Modi as he seeks re-election next year.

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Police try to stop farmers during a protest demanding a better price for their produce on the outskirts of New Delhi, India. VOA

According to the government, the average income of a farmer is about $100 a month. But many make less, said Yogendra Yadav, one of the main leaders of the protest and founder of the farmers group Jai Kisan Andolan. The Yadavs are not related.

“For a majority of them, the income is probably less than $50 a month. That is the level at which they survive. And one of the principal reasons for that is that they don’t get enough price for their crops,” Yogendra Yadav said.

Low prices for crops are not the only problem: increasingly erratic weather patterns pose a new challenge in a country where nearly half the farmers lack access to irrigation.

In eastern Orissa state, for example, back-to-back droughts over the past two years have brought widespread distress.

“There has been very little rain this year,” said Lakhyapati Sahu, a farmer who traveled from Orissa, one of India’s poorer states. “We face a massive problem due to successive droughts.”

According to various studies, nearly half of Indian farmers have said they want to quit working on the land but cannot do so because of a lack of alternate livelihoods.

Farmer protests, farmer
Police use water cannons to disperse farmers during a protest demanding better price for their produce on the outskirts of New Delhi, India. VOA

Despite the challenge of finding work, Parul Haldar, a farmer from West Bengal, said she wants to migrate with her entire family to the city. “I will give up farming and go to Kolkata and look for work to make a living. There is no money to be earned from the farm,” she added.

Although the rural crisis has been festering for many years, economists partly blame the deepening crisis on a sweeping currency ban that led to widespread cash shortages two years ago and affected their incomes.

“Many farmers lost working capital, they had to borrow money from the banks or from the local moneylenders at high interest rates, so their costs went up,” economist Arun Kumar said. “So if costs go up and revenue comes down, then income gets squeezed.”

Protests by farmers have intensified in the past two years as they try to draw attention to the usually forgotten countryside — their recent march was their fourth and largest to Delhi so far this year. They have also held marches in other cities like Kolkata and Mumbai. In June, farmers in several parts of the country threw their produce on the streets to highlight low prices. And last year, farmers from southern India protested in New Delhi with skulls to draw attention to suicides by farmers.

Farmer
The Farmer Portal provides all the relevant information and services to the farming community and private sector. Wikimedia Commons

“Farmers are saying enough is enough, now something needs to be done,” Yogendra Yadav said. “Both the economic and ecological crisis is leading to an existential crisis, farmers are committing suicide, they are quitting farming.”

Also Read: Millions Of Urban Children in Worse Condition Than Rural People: UNICEF

Political analysts also said the growing rural anger could erode support for Prime Minister Modi in the countryside ahead of next year’s scheduled elections. Farmers make up an important voting bloc.

“Opposition to Modi is growing. Unless you have rural support, no party can win on [the] basis of urban support only,” said Satish Misra, of the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi. “The distress is real. The agriculture issue needs to be addressed in a very focused manner.” (VOA)