This Week in South Sudan – Week 4

Monday 23 January The New York Times: “Quandary in South Sudan: Should It Lose Its Hard-Won Independence?”  Tuesday 24 January South Sudan’s ambassador to Ethiopia dismissed reports that relations are strained between the two countries after President Salva Kiir visited Egypt and met with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi earlier this month. A senior SPLA (IO)… Read more »

Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled

Many people are afraid of what faces us with Donald Trump as president. Nonetheless, I recommend keeping a cool head.

My area of research should be useful for analyzing and understanding politics, namely political philosophy. This is the branch of philosophy that investigates political ideas and attempts to put them in context.

Donald Trump. Photo: Ninian Reid / CCBY 2.0 /Flickr

The political philosopher asks questions such as the following, related to our communal life:

  • Where are we going and where do we come from?
  • What is most important?
  • What are the boundaries of politics?
  • What is the role of laws and of the state?
  • What is the value of a human life?
  • And who in a society should have the greatest decision-making power?

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This Week in South Sudan – Week 3

Monday 16 January The UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) vowed to find a solution to the issue of armed SPLA (IO) soldiers in eastern DRC. Salva Kiir has formed a committee to visit Maban area and… Read more »

On Bullshit and Research

Researchers who write articles or give interviews must be given approval rights over how their material is presented.

Photo: Harshil Shah / CC BY-SA 2.0 / Wikimedia Commons

My year as an academic has been bookended by a couple of awkward encounters between my own research and a new media reality. The year has also provided a rich crop of angry messages from strangers in my inbox, but I will not discuss those here. Is there something dysfunctional in the relationship between research, the media and the general public?

For my part, the problem started when the University of Oslo’s Center for Research on Extremism (C-REX) opened in April. I have a part-time position at C-REX equivalent to one day a week. The daily newspaper Vårt Land published an article about C-REX (in Norwegian) with the lurid headline “Will probe extremist right-wing Christians”. According to Vårt Land, I believed the Christians Party (Norwegian: Partiet De Kristne, PDK) to be a right-wing extremist organization. The problem was that the newspaper had never spoken to me.

Of course the PDK is not a right-wing extremist organization. It is a Christian party that combines conservative social values with economic liberalism. The newspaper was correct that I had initiated a small research project with the aim of understanding the PDK’s political ideology and activity. Once that kind of headline has been snapped up by social media, however, the damage is done. Understandably, the leaders of the PDK went into lockdown, and it took weeks to rebuild the trust necessary to obtain further information.Read More

No-Man’s Land

In the north-eastern corner of Jordan, thousands of Syrians are left stranded.

In the north-eastern corner of Jordan, where the country borders both Iraq and Syria, a barrier resembling a mound of earth extends across the desert. Running parallel to this barrier is a second mound of earth, this time within Syrian territory. The area of desert between these two mounds is the demilitarized zone between southern Syria and northern Jordan is known as “the berm”. The area is pretty much as uninviting as it gets. There are scorpions, snakes, swarms of insects, but no shade from the blistering summer sun, and no vegetation to use for bonfires on bitterly cold winter nights. This is no-man’s-land. No man is supposed to be here. No man should need to be here either, but nonetheless many thousands of Syrian refugees are living right here. Having fled their homes in Syria, but with no possibility of entering into neighbouring Jordan, they are stranded here in “the berm”.

Syrian refugees walk the final metres across the desert toward “the Berm” that marks the official Al-Ruwayshid Jordanian / Syrian border crossing. Photo: UNCHR / J. Kohler

As always with major refugee crises such as the Syrian, is difficult to be certain how many refugees are present in the different locations across the region. Aid organizations estimate that as many as 85,000 refugees may be stranded in the berm. What these refugees want – the reason why they came here in the first place – is to cross the border into Jordan. Their dream is for an organized refugee camp. As far as dreams go, this must be said to be pretty unambitious. Even so, it has proved hard to realize. Jordan is a relatively small country with few resources and 6.5 million inhabitants. The UNHCR has registered over 650,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan. The Jordanian authorities believe that the true number, however, exceeds one million. In their view, enough is enough.

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This Week in South Sudan – Week 2

Monday 9 January The SPLA (IO) claim their forces are still controlling up to 90 per cent of Nasir area in Upper Nile State. Both government forces and the SPLA (IO) claim they are in control over Morobo town, Central Equatoria. Tuesday 10 January The Government of South Sudan (GOSS) banned travel on the two… Read more »

This Week in South Sudan – Week 1

Monday 2 January The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting: “South Sudan: The Revenge of Salva Kiir” International Crisis Group Report: “South Sudan: Rearranging the Chessboard” Tuesday 3 January The Tanzanian pilot detained by the SPLA (IO) has been released. The security agencies in Juba arrested a group of 26 people from Somalia and Uganda suspected… Read more »

This Week in South Sudan – Week 52

Wednesday 28 December At least 15 people, including four government soldiers, have allegedly been killed in separate incidents in Torit town and surrounding villages in Eastern Equatoria over the past two weeks. SPLA (IO) detained a government official and his Tanzanian pilot after their plane landed in Ganyiel area, a rebel-held territory in Unity State. Thursday… Read more »

This Week in South Sudan – Week 51

Monday 19 December Meeting with representatives of the Transitional Government of National Unity and other peace partners, The Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) decried the missed opportunities in 2016 to end the war. At least six people are confirmed dead after a fuel tanker exploded at Sherikaat, a suburb of Juba. Tuesday 20 December… Read more »

A Word of Warning ahead of 2017

Decencyhumility, and thoughtfulness are core virtues in a civilized society. Now we need to fight for them.

Photo: Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons

Donald Trump has, with his rhetoric, lowered the threshold for moral decency so far it is downright scary. Photo: Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons

«Political correctness» can be a sinister labeling for common decency. A wish to preserve dignity and openness, and to avoid willfully disrespecting others’ beliefs or characteristics, should after all be a natural part of all public communication. In 2016, values such as these are under attack in a way they have not been for a long time. In social media, defense of respect and tolerance is increasingly being labeled as a sign that one does not dare say things as they really are, and that one is thus “politically correct”.

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