I fled South Sudan’s extended war as child, moving with my aunt to Uganda in 1997. It was more than 15 years later that I finally returned to my native Abyei to see if the reality of ‘home’ lived up to my memories.
In April 2014, I was ready to set off, happy that I was going to meet my people at long last. In my mind I pictured the contented people of Abyei, enjoying life in their beautiful towns and lively markets.
After years studying in Uganda I was con dent I could contribute to my community, but as I had left at an early age, I needed to learn more about my people.
I loaded my bags in the car and we set off on a trip that took us two days because roads were flooded and slippery due to the rainy season. But during the journey my high hopes were gradually replaced by fear.
We drove past destroyed tukuls (local huts) and there were no cars and very few people. I asked the driver why Abyei’s houses and tukuls were razed to the ground and he answered that it was, of course, because of recurring fights between Dinka Ngok and Misseriya herdsmen.
Abyei, an area rich in oil and contested by Sudan and South Sudan, is governed largely by the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA). I got a job working as a peacekeeper and I found myself constantly in awe of people’s perseverance and strength.
At first I thought that returnees’ struggles would end once they arrived at their homeland but, in reality, life is gruelling for new arrivals in Abyei. They face extreme violence and suffer trauma.
I saw thousands of people crossing muddy rivers, travelling in bumpy trucks through shelling. They were struggling to get back to Abyei from Aneit, a village where locals run to when Misseriya nomadic tribes clash with inhabitants, sparking many deaths and looting on both sides.
Their struggle fills me with sadness. People in Abyei return to a ravaged land which needs to develop from scratch. People are desperate for shelter, food, education and medical centres. I wish I had the power to do more for them, I will keep trying, but at least I am home and have found peace.”