In March of 2012, I came to Juba with a team of Columbia University researchers examining post-war security plans, including efforts to limit cross-border
arms trafficking and critical decisions over military spending. The divided halves of Sudan are officially at peace. But the threat of resumed warfare
looms large, as a north-south arms race continues to be fed by irresponsible foreign governments and unscrupulous weapons traders.
A plaster hodgepodge along a road of shanties and burning trash piles, the Logali House hotel is a hangout in the heart of Juba, where foreign
wheeler-dealers and do-gooders mingle with local players and up-and-comers. In suit and tie, marked with forehead scars as a Lou-Nuer tribesman, Arthur (no
real names are used in this article) joined me at the burrito buffet.
The director of an agency for infrastructure investment, Arthur enthused about South Sudan's future: solar power, agriculture, road projects connecting the
nations of East Africa.
Eventually, however, recollections of his years as a guerrilla soldier surfaced. His was a youth defined by guns, and even more so, by bullets.
"I will tell you about the number 750," Arthur began. After each firefight, a soldier was given 750 new bullets. Snap inspections required counting those
bullets. "If you have less than 750, even one missing, they shoot you." Would people lose their bullets, I asked Arthur? "Not usually," he reflected, "but
sometimes the soldiers would trade them for a cup of milk." He once dropped a bullet in the forest: "It was a terrible thing looking through the brush, but
then I found it."
The Logali made a useful basecamp, and we interviewed a colorful spectrum, from police to clerics, tribal chiefs to human rights workers. Everyone in Juba,
in his or her own way, was engaged in the project to build a peaceful future. Some seemed intoxicated by the possibilities; others held hope in check. I
found, however, all conversation inevitably led to one thing shared by everyone in Juba: bad memories.
We drank soda pop with a cadre of intelligence agents, our first step in a vetting process to access a security minister. The agent with haunted eyes who
sat beside me had fought for independence. How long had he been in the bush, assault rifle in hand? His voice became soft, almost a caress: "21 years." He
sipped his orange Fanta, "Yes, when I was 11."
Martha, who was helping to draft the new constitution, was a grand woman who filled her rattan chair like an undersized throne. As we snacked under a
grassy awning, Martha revealed she had only recently returned to Juba. During the war, while in exile, she helped build a women's movement among the
diaspora while living in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya.
A religious music producer, Jacob bubbled with plans to remodel his house. Married with young children, he was gathering supplies to build an extra room
and a water tank. Then he veered toward bleaker thoughts.