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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

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)

Next Story

Haitians On Protest Despite President’s Assurance

On the streets of Port-au-Prince, protesters are burning tires and building makeshift barricades, which are blocking many roads.

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A demonstrator kicks a tear gas canister during clashes with Haitian police in Port-au-Prince, Feb. 15, 2019, on the ninth day of protests against Haitian President Jovenel Moise. VOA

Hundreds of Haitians protested in the streets of the capital, Port- au-Prince, for the ninth consecutive day Friday, despite the president’s assurances that he understands their pain and is working toward a solution.

“We are asking the international community to help us get rid of [President] Jovenel [Moise] because Jovenel is working for them,” a protester told VOA Creole. “Fellow citizens, please if you see Jovenel on the street, handcuff him and throw him in jail,” the young man added.

FILE - President Jovenel Moise, then the Haitian presidential candidate of PHTK Political Party, speaks during an interview with AFP in Port-au-Prince, Sept. 6, 2016.
President Jovenel Moise, then the Haitian presidential candidate of PHTK Political Party, speaks during an interview with AFP in Port-au-Prince, Sept. 6, 2016. VOA

Moise broke his weeklong silence with a national address Thursday night, which was broadcast nationwide and on Facebook. He sought to calm and reassure a tense and angry nation.

“I hear you,” Moise said, acknowledging criticism about his government’s ineffectiveness and lack of transparency. “I will never betray you. You are the reason I ran for president. I’m working for you.”

He also reminded the country’s most underprivileged citizens that like them, he, too, came from humble beginnings.

Moise announced that he has taken a series of measures to make life better for Haitians and has asked Prime Minister Jean Henry Ceant, whom he described as an electoral rival, to communicate those measures and apply them immediately. He later tweeted that Ceant would announce the new economic measures Friday.

It is still unclear whether or when the prime minister will announce the measures, but in an interview with a local radio station Friday morning, Ceant said the president had pressured him to resign. Ceant said he refused.

A group of women and children walk to buy water in the neighborhood of Petion Ville, in the Haitian Capital Port-au-Prince, on Feb. 14, 2019.
A group of women and children walk to buy water in the neighborhood of Petion Ville, in the Haitian Capital Port-au-Prince, on Feb. 14, 2019. VOA

On the streets of Port-au-Prince, protesters are burning tires and building makeshift barricades, which are blocking many roads.

“We don’t need for the prime minister to resign,” a protester in his 20s told VOA Creole. “We need lower prices. This morning I went to buy a bag of rice — I’m a poor person — they were asking 350 dollars [Haitian Gourdes, the local currency, are equivalent to about U.S. $3.50]. So, president, I’m asking you to resign. You can go now.”

“Jovenel is adding fuel to the fire,” a protester in his 40s told VOA Creole. “It would have been better if he had never said anything.” The man decried the current living conditions where young people have died and residents are dealing with a water shortage.

“I’m out here [protesting] for the ninth time. I lost a lot of brothers and sisters during these protests,” another man said proudly. “The president humiliated [in his speech last night] by calling us drug dealers, while he sends kudos to the Americans. Mr. President, we are not drug dealers!”

The international community has acknowledged the people’s right to protest but deplored the violence and damage to property.

The U.S. Embassy issued a statement Friday reacting to the protests and the president’s speech.

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“The United States Government shares the desire of the Haitian people for a better future for Haiti,” it said. “We encourage all of Haiti’s lawfully elected representatives, and all Haitians who seek a peaceful political solution consistent with Haiti’s constitution to engage in an inclusive dialogue — without resorting to violent action.”

The statement also encouraged “sound economic policy measures” and “transparent resource management” as ways to improve living conditions. (VOA)