Upending “the slow and laborious task of years”

As I have been reading about South Sudan’s violence over the last few weeks, I have thought often of this quotation attributed to Winston Churchill:

To build may have to be the slow and laborious task of years. To destroy can be the thoughtless act of a single day.

The fate of the town of Bor exemplifies this. Bor had a difficult history during Sudan’s long civil war. But since the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, Bor has been trying to emerge from this past. When I was there in April, there was a good-sized market and several new buildings that were under construction, including at least two banks. Most significantly of all, I kept meeting young people who had been forced to flee the area during the civil war, been educated abroad, and were now returning, eager to go to work in their new country in which they took great pride. Bor and Jonglei state in general remained a very poor, deeply underdeveloped place but these, I thought, were signs of a very modest, incipient “peace dividend”—the “slow and laborious” building of a new country.

Even before the recapture of Bor by the “White Army” in recent days, I had been hearing reports of the wholesale destruction of the market. Then I saw online this picture of one of Bor’s banks:

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Most significant of all, however, has been the human cost. A friend of mine in Bor recently sent me this brief, devastating message:

I am Traumatized.

My Mam and sister are in Toich {Swamps area} hiding from Nuer fighters. She is over seventy in age. I have no way to help her. May God protect her life.

Secondly, My family is in Nairobi. They will have no help from me this month and on. Now I do not know what will happened to them from Landlord and where to get food. The only hope is that God is the provider.

This friend is one of those who was educated abroad and returned to Jonglei after the peace deal. He is capable, committed, and wants to see a successful South Sudan. Like many other people, he has left his family abroad where the schools are better but has been sending his salary back to them to care for them. Meanwhile, he has also been reconnecting with his family in his rural village and seeing how he can support them. These are exactly the kinds of things that need to happen if South Sudan is to be a success. But now—as this message makes clear—all that has been upended by the “thoughtless act” of the recent violence. He won’t be paid a salary. He can’t contact his family.

I have little doubt that if peace were to return to Bor and Jonglei, the “slow and laborious” work of building the new country would continue. The bank, I am sure, will one day re-open. The market will be re-built. But if you were my friend, you have to ask yourself, “Why bother? Why not just move back abroad, find a job, and live with my family there?” Yet it is precisely these people the country needs if it is to be a success.

Perhaps the most depressing thing I have read appeared in an article in this morning’s New York Times. Referring to an eventual peace deal between Salva Kiir and Riak Machar, Jok Madut Jok said:

The two men will eventually sit down, resolve their issues, laugh for the cameras, and the thousands of civilians who have died will not be accounted for. No one will be responsible for their deaths.

Responsibility. I recognize that in my friend—though sadly not in his leaders.

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5 thoughts on “Upending “the slow and laborious task of years”

  1. Pingback: Diocese, displaced | Mission Minded

  2. Pingback: “The people are confused… Bor is in anarchy.” | Mission Minded

  3. Pingback: Speaking for oneself | Mission Minded

  4. Pingback: The long reach of war: from Bor to Nairobi to eviction | Mission Minded

  5. Pingback: Back to church in Bor—or not | Mission Minded

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