In July 2016, fighting resumed in Juba between factions loyal to President Salva Kiir and those loyal to former Vice-President Riek Machar, a few months after the latter was reinstalled as part of a 2015 peace agreement. Since then, violence has spread throughout the country, including in areas previously stable, killing hundreds and creating the worst refugee crisis in Africa since the 1994 Rwanda genocide.
As South Sudan was descending again into civil war, a group of young artists came together and launched the AnaTaban initiative. In a country where 70% of the population are under 25 years old, AnaTaban uses arts to convey a message of peace and reconciliation to mobilize the youth to build a better future.
iguacu (igwah-soo!) researcher Blandine Sixdenier talked with founding AnaTaban member, Jacob, to learn more about the collective and their projects in South Sudan.
What is AnaTaban?
Jacob: AnaTaban is the Arabic word for “I am tired”. It means we are tired of conflict, tired of being displaced, tired of being a refugee, tired of seeing young children suffering, tired of seeing women becoming widows…
The initiative was founded last year after the war broke out in Juba and most of the people were displaced again. We organized a workshop to bring artists together, we thought that together we will be powerful. We came together for the first time in Kenya, the workshop was supposed to be done in Juba, but we could not could not due to the conflict.
We made AnaTaban as a platform for the youth of South Sudan to speak up about their problems and the war they face.
How many artists are now part of AnaTaban?
Jacob: We started as 20 artists and then 48 more joined. Now we are over 100 in Juba alone. We have chapters in Yei, Bor, Malakal, Kakuma refugee camp and Nairobi. AnaTaban is open to all, as long as you follow our principles.
What are the type of activities you organize?
Jacob: After the formation of the initiative we started by doing some mural paintings in Juba and then we organized some public events.
We go to neighborhoods and public markets where we interact with people. We talk on reconciliation. We want to bring South Sudanese to reconcile with each other. For example, once, we went out and walked around the streets and distributed write sheets where people wrote down their thoughts. It symbolized peace, we need to accept the problems we have done to ourselves to forgive each other.
We organize bi-weekly open mic events. We give the audience the chance to speak up and give their opinions.
We do theater performances in the form of forum theaters. You come up with a problem, you present it and you leave the audience to find the solution and give their ideas. The public is the solution provider.
We also run a high school Hagana program, Hagana meaning “it’s ours”. We encourage youth to debate in schools and take ownership of the country and work on nation-building.
Can you tell us more about the #BloodShedFree2017 campaign?
Jacob: In 2016, our first theme was reconciliation. In 2017, the cessation of hostilities did not happen so we came up with the BloodShedFree2017 campaign. We need to stop the bloodshed. And we use mural paintings, open mic events, theater and music.
What are your next projects?
Jacob: We are working on an album and we also have a poetry slam.
We organized the Hagana festival last May. We did a big festival in Juba to foster peace, we used visual arts, arts exhibition, a market of local products, traditional dance, music and theater with comedy. We plan to do the same next year.
What is your message to the South Sudanese people?
Jacob: We need to all have in mind that South Sudan is ours regardless of our differences. We have been living in generations of war, most of us were born in war and it is time to decide what future we want for our country. Take the initiative however small it is and make it toward peace.
There are 64 tribes in South Sudan and our difference is our strength, let’s embrace our differences and tolerate each other’s beliefs and traditions. South Sudan is ours, let’s work towards building it. All of us own the country.
To the diaspora community, there is no place like home and we all need to work on how to bring peace to South Sudan. It’s time to step up, let’s do our part wherever we are.
Do you have a message for the public?
Jacob: The existence of South Sudan came with the help of the West. Do not give up on us, continue to support the young nation.
‘A community of young South Sudanese creatives who are tired of seeing our people suffer’ AnaTaban
There is no escaping the fact that the people of South Sudan are facing an extremely difficult situation. 5 years of civil war has left over half of the population in need of humanitarian assistance, and over 6 million people in urgent need of food
Speaking with AnaTaban, learning about their continued growth, and hearing their vision for a reconciled, united and violence free South Sudan brings much needed optimism to a country where desperation is more common.
Using public engagement to spread their message of peace — through music, art and community initiatives — AnaTaban is showing the people of South Sudan that war is not the only option, and the public too can have a say in the future of their country.
We wish AnaTaban every success, and hope they can help contribute to sustained peace in this troubled East African nation.
Want to learn more about the conflict in South Sudan? Head to weareiguacu.org/south-sudan.