Mangateen, Juba: A transit stop with destination unknown for hopeful relocated displaced dwellers

4 Sep 2018

Mangateen, Juba: A transit stop with destination unknown for hopeful relocated displaced dwellers

Eric Kanalstein

Mangateen, relatively near central Juba. A makeshift camp for some 3,500 recently and voluntarily relocated displaced persons. We are standing outside a huge warehouse made to look small by the hundreds and hundreds of people calling it their home.

One little arm keeps poking me with more sense of urgency than the multitude of others. Looking up from scribbling away in my notebook, a shyly smiling girl who may be six or seven waves an eager finger in the direction of my left boot.

Point taken. It is embedded in a puddle of poo.

A boy, probably a year or two older, shakes his head and rolls his eyes. He points to our right, indicating that some sort of toilets actually are available. His precocious body language makes his case exceedingly clear: some kids really should know better than to immediately heed their calls of nature wherever they happen to be.

One reason for this particularly misplaced emergency relief operation could be the fact that Mangateen is a plot of government-owned land being constantly transformed: by new arrivals, by UN peacekeepers and by a myriad of humanitarian actors. The toilets referred to by the boy may simply not have been there yesterday.

But make no mistake: with or without rudimentary sanitation facilities the Mangateen camp may be many things, but paradise it is not.

Yet 25-year-old John Pauk makes a strong case for preferring his new dwelling place to the one he arrived from a couple of weeks ago, a UN protection site on the other side of Juba, in Jebel.

“This place is a lot better for us, because here we live in peace. We listen to each other, we care for each other, and we get along fine. There is no fighting and everything is cool,” he says, his great English betraying years of practicing with humanitarian actors and UN police working inside the Jebel protection site.

Because there, most of the Mangateen dwellers have been staying for two, three, four, or even close to five years – since whenever violence or threats made their particular livelihoods impossible.

A few weeks ago, disagreements with fellow displaced persons escalated to the point where the conflicting parties had to be separated. One minority group found itself in an urgent need of a new place to stay.

A voluntary relocation process followed. Destination Mangateen, after a quick stopover for registration at the UNMISS base in Tomping, in central Juba.

In Mangateen, the new settlers are caught up in a whirlwind of township-building change. Wherever you look, some sort of progress is taking place before your eyes.

Drains are being dug by UNMISS engineers.

A UN police officer proudly points at a new and improved water point just recently installed.

A skeleton health clinic is being equipped and receiving medications.

A daycare centre is operating at full capacity, chockablock with playful children.

Small stalls and wobbly little tables are being manned, or more often “womanned”, by entrepreneurs selling essentials. An elderly man with a sewing machine seemingly belonging to his own generation is likely to be the first tailor to have set up shop.

The first arrivals moved into a big, previously empty warehouse. Filled with hundreds of people, the hangar-like structure gives compact communal living a new dimension.

Demarcation tape has been put in place to make it possible to walk through the area without bumping into too many cooking pots, beds, jerry cans, plastic chairs, sacks of rice, seasoned suitcases, hookah-like contraptions or other random personal belongings.

In a central part of the warehouse a clearing appears. A group of girls vigorously skipping rope and a woman with what she calls her “morning market” make the most of it.

Water puddles on the concrete floor give away the reason for the sudden ocean of space: leaks in the roof makes this otherwise prime spot uninhabitable.

Hovering around the “morning market”, a table the size of a school desk featuring onions, sugar and groundnuts, a group of young men are talking to saleswoman Adelina Njimbul. They are all optimistic about the prospect of durable peace being achieved, but none of them dares a guess as to when that might happen.

For now, however, home is Mangateen. It is a living place which Makuar Gaynen describes as a rather uncomfortable one, but his friend James Diab believes that staying here, on their own but among friends, is both a must and better than violence-fueled insecurity.

With most people in the camp being optimistic about lasting peace finally being on its way, and with Mangateen hardly considered a suitable long term housing solution, the one big question that begs an answer is: what, and where to, next?

Adelina and the men around her market table have no doubts about where their future lies: back home, in the Unity area, near Bentiu. But what would it take for them to decide to head back to the north of the country?

“We will only feel comfortable to return home when the UN declares that it is safe, really safe,” says James Diab.

John Pauk, his wife and two children and some 25-30 other relatives share one of the eighty-odd tents or so that have mushroomed on the site as the warehouse filled up. He has other plans for himself and his family. Plans he says he shares with many, maybe even most, of the current Mangateen dwellers.

“We want to stay here, in Juba. This is where we can educate ourselves and prosper and live better lives,” he says, and adds “The question is where, and how that will happen, as we don’t have houses here. I hope that can be sorted out.”

Short term uncertainty, long term optimism, it seems.

Hope, in most quarters, is still very much alive.