They are young and energetic. They are young and restless. They are young and creative. They are stubborn and unrelenting.
These words may be used to describe a bunch of young South Sudanese who have taken Juba by storm by their unique campaign, never seen in the city before.
They have taken Juba by storm not just because they are creative and talented, but because they have a cause.
They are treading where many have not trod.
Their cause is peace in South Sudan.
#Anataban is a campaign started this year by a group of young South Sudanese creatives – musicians, poets, painters - who are tired of seeing the suffering of their people. They have released a song and a video where they are telling South Sudanese, “If you are 'taban' (tired) stand with us!” They launched their campaign in Juba in September.
They are painting graffiti on walls with messages of peace and hope. This kind of activism that combines the spoken word, songs and art is a new phenomenon in the city.
‘Anataban’ is an Arabic word which means “I am tired!” The artistes are saying that they are tired of war in their country and they need change. They are calling for others who are also tired of violence and insecurity to stand up and join them in calling for a cessation of hostilities in the country, and for the main actors to sit down and negotiate for sustainable peace.
?#Anataban?, the signature campaign song, is a collaborative piece by Junubian artists Ayak, Coozos Clan (Menimen), L.U.A.L, Natty P, Manasseh Mathiang, Tutu Baibe, Mr. Lengs, Lomerikson and Ras Kayne, among other young artistes.
The campaign began as a project in Nairobi, Kenya, at PAWA 254, under the guidance of well-known Kenyan activist Boniface Mwangi, who has won international recognition because of his activism in Kenya.
The group had their initial meetings in Naivasha, in Kenya, because of the town’s historical significance to South Sudan’s peace process. Naivasha is where the initial peace talks took place between the government of Omar Al Bashir and the late Dr. John Garang’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).
In Naivasha, the group that brought together artistes from Kenya, Uganda and South Sudan, were trained on use of graffiti, use of words and it is also here that lyrics for the song that they eventually produced were put together.
The first launch happened in Nairobi in July, and the second launch happened in Juba a few weeks ago. Boniface was to visit South Sudan in July and help with the preparations for the inaugural launch in Juba, but this did not happen because of the skirmishes which happened in July.
We are tired of war
“We are telling the South Sudan population we are tired of war, we want peace and reconciliation,” says graffiti artist, Abul Oyay Deng.
Speaking with a lot of reflection, she says that South Sudanese should stop looking at each other in terms of tribes, but they should consider themselves as one people. Abul says that everyone in the country is tired of war and they are campaigning that there should be reconciliation among South Sudanese.
“We acknowledge that all these things (violence, death) have happened, and as South Sudanese youth, we are asking how we can be part of the solution,” she said. “If they (South Sudanese) are tired, then they should change.”
Abul says that even though they have people who have supported the campaign, it is however driven by South Sudanese youth themselves, because they want to own the campaign, since they are the ones most affected by war and instability.
Besides using graffiti on walls and using social media, they have been using radio and TV to communicate their messages. The next stage of the campaign will involve doing road shows and going to meet people at the grassroots, and telling them to shun hate speech and to embrace peaceful co-existence. From Juba, their plan is to go to other parts of the country with the message of peace and reconciliation.
She adds that they want to discourage the use of derogatory terms which different South Sudanese communities use against each other, since these divide more than bring the people together.
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As with any new initiative, there were naysayers when they initially began. Some people have accused them of being used for political purposes. Abul says this is not so, adding that they have been keen to make the campaign a South-Sudanese driven process.
So far, they have trained 40 artistes but they want to train more in order to reach as many people as possible.
Abul says that they have had positive reactions from many people, and even soldiers, who acknowledge that they too, like ordinary citizens, suffer when violence breaks out. She says the youth can identify with their messages.
“The young people feel we are giving them a voice, we are opening their eyes on what we as youth can do,” she told me when I caught up with her in Nairobi. She was just from Juba and had to catch up with her studies in Nairobi. She says they have received encouraging messages from as far as USA, UK and Australia.
Abul says the campaign is a collective work of many South Sudanese artistes, some who are well known in the entertainment circles, and others who are not well known. But that notwithstanding, they are all using their creativity for a good cause.
When the world was celebrating the International Day of Peace on 21st September, the group participated in the celebrations by giving out white handkerchiefs as a symbol of reconciliation.
“We gave out the handkerchiefs symbolically telling guys that we should reconcile by accepting responsibility for our wrongs by saying sorry to each other,” says Manasseh Mathiang, one of the people behind the campaign.
The sentiments expressed by these South Sudanese youth through their creativity are a representation of the sentiments of many South Sudanese who do not have a voice and platform like these youth. Yet, they are sick and tired of war.
One hopes that the merchants of death and impunity in the country will hear the voice of the youth and sue for peace and reconciliation.