Doctors try to heal ethnic fractures in S Sudan

2014-01-08 22:34
Patients who had sight-restoring surgery gather for a "Peace Circle". (Timothy O'Neill, AP)

Patients who had sight-restoring surgery gather for a "Peace Circle". (Timothy O'Neill, AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Juba - After receiving eye surgery from the American doctors, a South Sudanese man sat with other patients who belonged to tribes he once considered enemies. The men spoke about their newly restored vision - both their eyesight and how they now perceive members of other ethnic groups as potential friends, not sworn enemies.

South Sudan's government faces monumental challenges: To bring warring factions, often from rival ethnic groups, back toward peace after violence broke out across the country on 15 December.

The group of American doctors had a unique approach to help heal age-old rifts between ethnic groups, but it has been put on hold because of the fighting.

A dry run they tried last year in Jonglei state, which has since become the epicentre of the clashes, was promising. They restored about 20 patients' sight through cataract surgery and helped break through tribal enmity.

As a condition for the free surgery, the American doctors demanded that the members of rival groups sit together and talk. Michael Yei of the Moran Eye Centre at the University of Utah recalls one particular member of the Murle tribe who sat with men who belonged to the Nuer and Dinka groups. The man soon reached a conclusion that made the hearts of the medical team soar.

"I always thought in many ways that the Dinka were devils and had horns, but they're just like us," the patient said, according to Yei.

"That's the kind of response we had and were so encouraged," Yei continued. "Getting your sight back is a major and powerful motivator for people. It just changes your life."

Captain Dhuor Andrew Makur, a 31-year-old doctor in South Sudan's military, is not surprised that misconceptions like the one held by the Murle man could exist in South Sudan. The population is poorly educated, with only a 27%literacy rate.

Makur studied at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, an experience that showed him what it's like to live in an advanced society.

The West has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in South Sudan, but Makur said not enough is being directed to education and to ways in which the disparate ethnic groups can interact. There are only a couple dozen miles of paved roads in South Sudan, the world's newest country but also one of its least developed.

Don't give money

"The good things you want you have to press for - education. We're still wild. We come from the jungle," Makur said. "Don't bring money to our people. Bring US companies. Invest in roads. Let people interact."

Four of his relatives, cousins mostly, have been killed in the outbreak of violence.

The violence, which forced the American eye surgeons to cancel a planned trip this month to Jonglei state where they intended to treat hundreds of patients, has riven South Sudan along ethnic lines. Ethnic frictions have long existed but were largely overlooked during the civil war with Sudan that ended with a 2005 peace agreement that set the stage for South Sudan becoming a nation in 2011.

Once independence was achieved, ethnic fault lines began shining through.

A power struggle brewing for months between President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, and former Vice President Riek Machar, a Nuer who was fired in July, broke out into massive violence just over three weeks ago. The sudden violent spiral recalled a battle in 1991 that saw Machar lead a Nuer slaughter of the Dinka, said Jok Madut Jok, the co-founder of the Sudd Institute, a research body in South Sudan.

"This conflict escalated so fast partly due to the history of the liberation wars, in which South Sudanese committed atrocities against one another and no accountability for these atrocities was established when those wars ended, leaving gaping wounds in the hearts and minds of so many citizens," Jok wrote in a paper published this week.

South Sudan's biggest problem is that it is a patchwork of small ethnic groups seeking power, said Edmund Yakani, the executive director of a peace-building organization called CEPO. Potential solutions include more inter-marriage between ethnic groups, a government not dominated by ethnicity and an informed citizenry, Yakani said.

Peace circle

Dr Alan Crandall, vice-chair of the department of ophthalmology at the University of Utah, remembers the members of the Dinka, Nuer and Murle tribes interacting after their cataract surgeries last year. Elderly men sat in a circle on plastic chairs, their eyes shielded from the sun by large black post-operation glasses.

During the "peace circle," Crandall heard a Nuer man say he would tell his tribe's young warriors that they should not attack other ethnic groups.

The medical group began its mission in the village of Duk Payuel in Jonglei through the efforts of John Dau, a former "Lost Boy" of Sudan who fled the 1990s conflict by walking to Ethiopia and eventually finding his way to Syracuse, New York. His foundation provides health care and medical training.

"The things I have done have nothing to do with the fact I'm a Dinka," Dau said by phone. "I succeeded because of my ability.

"We have to see ability, not tribe."

- AP
Read more on:    riek machar  |  salva kiir  |  south sudan  |  east africa
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
1 comment
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/Sport
 

3 sports games you have to watch this weekend

Whether it’s date night or a braai with buddies, plan around these three exciting sporting games!

 
 

Men24.com

How to maintain your mo, bro
Hottie of the day: Colette
Pro-skater Tony Hawk rides a hoverboard!
10 ways to drive her wild!

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

20% off ALL TV Series

Choose from 1000’s of the hottest TV Series . While stocks last. Shop now!

Festive gifts!

Check out our awesome range of festive gifts to make everyone’s wishes come true. Shop now!

Seen something you like in our catalogue?

Find the perfect gift and save up to R5000 – As seen on the catalogue. Hurry and shop now!

Save up to R2200 on electronics! – As seen in the catalogue

Wishing for tech gadgets this festive? Save up to R2100 on hot tech products at kalahari.com. While stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 35% off books

Save up to 35% on the latest page-turners. While stocks last. Shop now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

There is a strong desire to be unique, self sufficient, right and in control today. Your mind is fast today and you may have the...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.