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Juba Diary
11th Jan 13
Cattle blocking the road in Juba Town, still feels bazaar. Even though cattle are the cultural backbone of South Sudan, as well as a source of conflict and one of the biggest migrations in the world. There are an estimated 1 million cattle waiting to cross over into South Sudan from the north and west of the country as pastoralists follow the receding water and grazing.

One of the paintings I have had on my list for ages, ‘One Man and his Dog,’ the walk in the Hottentots Holland above Gordon’s Bay, looking out over False Bay, the sweet scented air of fynbos.

Kirsten asked for a painting of Turin, Italy by night, which I have been putting off as I didn’t have the Ultramarine Light she wanted. The colours vibrantly reminiscent of Van Goch.
My least favourite start to the day. Cold shower. Particularly as I didn’t get out for my jog, as my head is still stuffy with cold. Not sure how it’s possible to catch a cold in the tropics with the daily temperatures in the mid 30’s!

My evening paintings done after an eleven hour day in the office, and then dealing with the interruptions for silly things like rumours of an ebola outbreak, the media storm resulting from the briefing on Blue Nile at the Security Council, or the confiscation of staff radio’s and ID’s at army checkpoints, are not my best. My initial focus was on getting the tonal aspects of the charcoal and acrylic medium correct, however, I find I’m focusing more and more on simplicity and what is the minimum that will still convey the energy and passion of the subject. Japanese woodblock style??

On the menu for dinner; chicken terrine with sundried tomatoes and basil, accompanied by a Barefoot Shiraz from California. Not shabby for Juba Town.

Lots of moving parts as the office goes from the half dozen who remained over the holiday period to the hundreds who are floating about as they head out to the project sites. The canteen has started up, which makes my meals a bunch easier, and I have had the first round of telling people that their contracts are not being renewed as project funds or priorities are changed.

Not sure how, but I actually survived an evening without wine. I left my strategic stock supply in the office and not having a car couldn’t get back to collect it. Didn’t notice is any difference to my morning jog though.

Sustainable Development, a letter to my UNCT Leadership Group, which is going to be published by Devex.

South Sudan remains a complex place to work. We have the expected post-conflict, limited resource environment that has minimal capacity and is beset by natural, and man-made, disasters. Within this context, and given that the country is one of the most underdeveloped in the world, I expected that upholding our core UN value of ‘do no harm’, would be the easiest aspect in sustainable development within both the humanitarian and nation building space.

It was during a conversation with a Cabinet Minister of the South Sudan Government, about the years of war, adjusting to a post-conflict environment, and governing, as well as meeting the never ending priority list of Nation Building that I came across a key element of sustainable development. We don’t know the country. Particularly when it comes to sustainable infrastructure.

In building a road, an environmental impact assessment may tell us where we cross the migratory route for elephants. Or in setting up a refugee camp, where the winter flood waters need to be directed so as not to flood the local market. Or where material for construction activities can be excavated in a way that creates a water hafir to mitigate against inter-tribal conflict. All of which are activities that increase sustainable development, and ‘do no harm’.

A factor I have not integrated into my thinking, and planning, is the huge resource of knowledge many of those in Government have, after spending two decades walking across the country during the years of conflict.

In opening a road, to increase food security through market access, enhancing peace building by allowing security forces to rapidly respond to cattle raiding, reducing child mortality by enabling women to easily access clinical services, and positively impacting on the lives of girls by creating safe routes free from violence, are we creating long-term problems by not knowing that this same road is now opening areas for loggers to exploit a previously inaccessible resource? Or that the road will link two communities rekindling a decades old conflict?

My task for the New Year is to access this pool of knowledge and as such achieve sustainable development that also does no harm.

In his time Jan has been an electronics, nuclear and power system engineer, a strategist, a humanitarian and an artist. A career path linked by creativity and innovative thinking. Initially trained at the Johannesburg College of Art, Jan has won numerous international awards and has exhibited nationally and internationally. He can be found in his studio ‘Jandreart’ located at Thesen Harbour Town, Knysna.


  • As always, humbling to read of your efforts boet. Cheers for sharing and bringing perspective into lives where first world problems overshadow the hard realities of life for so many…

    January 11, 2013

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