Featured Storyteller

SOUTH SUDAN: The Shade of My Skin, The Length of My Neck

Kadi_lokule
Posted January 31, 2019 from South Sudan

For Kadi Lokule, civil war in South Sudan meant living in fear of being targeted for her appearance—an experience that has shaped her vision for peace.

“‘You look like our enemies,’ the soldier screeched. ‘What proves otherwise?’

As a young child, I grew up surrounded by my people—people who looked like me. Later when I moved to Libya, I realized that all around me were people of a different skin shade. They were Arabs, I was told. I accepted this and lived with them in harmony.

When I was 7 years old, I moved again, to Kenya. At first, everyone looked like me. Then, I began to grow taller, leaving my peers behind. I attained a skin shade everyone considered way too dark for their liking.

My paternal aunt always told me, "You know, you look different from the rest of us."

“What do you mean?” I would ask her.

"You're taller and darker than our people, you know our tribe,” she would answer. “We are mostly short and lighter skinned in our part of the country. You on the other hand have the opposite complexion." She meant it in a nice way. But if I knew then what I know now, I would have detested my appearance and most likely, never returned home to my country.

I did not realize the true meaning of the differences my aunt always spoke of until 2013, when civil war erupted between the government of South Sudan and opposition forces. I returned home before the 2011 independence referendum created the new country of South Sudan. In December 2013, President Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar and ten others of attempting a coup d'état. The battle became divided along ethnic lines and all things appearance came into play. I suddenly became much more aware of the possibility of being caught up in the insecurity that was taking place.

The leaders on each side of the conflict were from the Dinka and Nuer tribes—both tribes noted for their height and dark, shiny complexion. To many people across the country, these tribes of cattle keepers and warriors evoked an aura of fear and intimidation.

When the conflict made it too dangerous to remain in the city, I attempted to cross the infamous Juba Bridge. This was one of the only exit points out of the city toward the border with Uganda. This beautiful bridge on the famous River Nile was guarded by soldiers on normal days. But on this day, the soldiers were red-eyed drunk, screaming at civilians. It was a bridge we had crossed many times for trips out of the city. Unfortunately, on this occasion, it was our doorway to freedom.

As I waited to cross with my neighbors, all girls between 16 and 18 years old from the Lotuho tribe on the Eastern Central Equatoria region, we began to hear stories about what was happening at the crossing. The government soldiers would scan your appearance and ask you your tribe. You had to produce a document to prove your origin. If you were believed to be from the Nuer tribe, you would be pulled into the nearby dusty bush and shot dead while the rest waited in line for their fate to be sealed.

“You look like our enemies," a soldier screeched to the girls ahead of me. "What proves otherwise?" I watched the soldier threaten the girls with rape and death if they lied. He said, “We will deal with you accordingly as you’re ladies and I know you know what we mean.”

The girls produced their nationality cards, which never expire and which indicate the name of both the father and mother and indicate tribe by location. The soldier looked at the document, sneered, spit to the ground and threw the ID down. The girls  scampered to grab this element of their freedom before it got away. They crossed the bridge safely and were saved!

As I watched all this, I began to back away from the line so slowly, no one noticed due to all the commotion. I had no ID. I was tall, dark, and couldn't defend myself.  I did not even know my local language, and couldn’t converse in it if my life depended on it.

A week later, I went to the bank to withdraw some money so that I could consider air travel to leave the country as soon as I could. I took a boda boda, a motorcycle used as a means of transportation in my county. I noticed a car with dark, sinister windows following us. When the windows rolled down, I saw two fellows inside, staring right at me.

I overheard their conversation, "She is one of them...no she couldn't be...she wouldn't be moving all by herself... she knows the gravity of the insecurity on her life if she did." My heart beat as loudly as I could imagine. As the motorbike fellow turned off the dirt road, even he warned me against traveling by myself. “I know you’re not one of the fighting ethnic groups,” he said. “But you look like them. My advice to you is lay low."

As I got off the boda boda, I kept my eyes straight ahead. All I could think of was how to get myself out of all this mess. I had never felt so insecure in my life. I wished that 2013 never happened. Because I was born at the beginning of a 20 year civil war, I lived outside of my country for most of my life. This new civil war was a reminder of the fate of the next generation that would never understand their country or contribute to its existence and development.

I did manage to leave the country for neighboring Uganda for a year, but I was forced to return to South Sudan to make a living. Here in South Sudan, I can support my family. I am safe for now, but we live in constant fear. The tension of 2013 is not totally eased.

Civil society and women’s and youth groups in South Sudan have signed peace petitions, lobbied for peace, and tried to put a stop to this war. This has led to ongoing peace and reconciliation processes.

This is a start. The only way I see this conflict going away completely is to go back to the time when students, doctors, and civil servants were sent to different parts of the country to serve and study through exchanges between the different states. This promoted an understanding of the different cultures and even an appreciation of them and good humor when associating with them.

We need systems in place that promote understanding and cooperation. There is no security without peace, and peace needs to be incorporated into the syllabus of schools, into police training and into the rotations of assignments for doctors and teachers. We need systems that prevent people from ever again being targeted for their ethnicity or their appearance. Only then will there be a feeling of security in South Sudan.


STORY AWARDS

This story was published as part of the Future of Security Is Women digital event and is sponsored by our partner Our Secure Future. World Pulse runs Story Awards year round—share your story with us, and you could be our next Featured Storyteller! Learn more.

Comments 31

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Lisbeth
Jan 31
Jan 31

Congrats my dear on your featured story award :-).

Kadi_lokule
Feb 11
Feb 11

Thanks Salifu

Jill Langhus
Feb 01
Feb 01

Hi Kadi,

Congrats on winning the story award! I hope you and your family are safe still. Looking forward to seeing more stories from you, dear.

Kadi_lokule
Feb 11
Feb 11

we are safe thanks dear.

Jill Langhus
Feb 11
Feb 11

Great to hear, dear:-)

ARREY- ECHI
Feb 04
Feb 04

Hi Kadi,
Congratulations for your award.
Sorry for all that you experience and still go through.
War around ethnic lines are always bad, in fact all kinds of war and unfortunately, women and the innocent are always caught in the middle. Wish you all the best and stay safe.

Kadi_lokule
Feb 11
Feb 11

you're right women are always the ones who suffer the most ....war along ethnic lines never seem to end and its heart wrenching. Be blessed

Congratulations, Sis Kadi! You are so brave to have gone through all those stress, insecurity and anxiety. I'm glad you're here in this space to share your story. Thank you for your courage!

Kadi_lokule
Feb 11
Feb 11

thanks Karen. this space feels safe to share i am glad i a came across World pulse the women and their stories are a strong reminder that we are still targets in times of conflict and insecurity

Oh, so sorry to call you a different name, Sis Kadi. Let me edit that one.

We are glad you’re here. I feel the same way, too. Welcome home.:)

laura16
Feb 12
Feb 12

Hello Kadi, I'm so glad I came upon your story. I can't imagine going through what you have! I pray that your country will find peace, and I think it is possible in the way you said; systems that make sure everyone is respected no matter what they look like or what tribe they come from.

Kadi_lokule
Mar 25
Mar 25

Thanks Laura, sorry for the late response, it will take a while but i am very hopeful that day will come and a generation futures away from us will witness it.

Rahmana Karuna
Feb 15
Feb 15

Beloved Kadi, thank you for voicing your story. I am going to post it on this progressive democrat news site, that anyone can write if they sign in with user name and password and follow the rules. I am posting it there, because it is similar here in the usa under this #IllegitimatePresident and because i want more folks to know about WP!!!!!
https://www.dailykos.com/

Kadi_lokule
Mar 25
Mar 25

i had no idea it was the same thanks for sharing and spreading.

Kadi_lokule
Mar 25
Mar 25

Where can i find the re post of this in the site link you've provided ? i can't seem to find it

Deborah Munyekenye
Feb 17
Feb 17

congratulations

Kadi_lokule
Mar 25
Mar 25

Thank you Deborah appreciate it

Heather Townsend
Mar 07
Mar 07

What a powerful tale -- beautifully written. Thank you for sharing it and I will be thinking of you.

Kadi_lokule
Mar 25
Mar 25

Thank you Heather, that's thoughtful of you

Kirthi
Mar 12
Mar 12

You're such a beautiful soul, dear Kadi! Your story left me feeling so inspired!

Kadi_lokule
Mar 25
Mar 25

Thank you Kirthi, your words are too kind. Appreciate it. All the best.

Juliet Acom
Mar 12
Mar 12

Congs Salifu,

Thanks for sharing with us this story of discrimination, it hits us in so many ways and I applaud you for rising above it.
All the best!

voiceforwomen
Aug 27
Aug 27

Kadi - Thank you for sharing your story. I can see how this would be scary for you and think you are so brave. I'm happy to know you are safe and just want to encourage you to continue speaking out for peace. Hang on to hope. God speed.

Kadi_lokule
Aug 28
Aug 28

I appreciate you encouraging words. Be blessed

Evelyn Loo
Aug 27
Aug 27

Hi Kadi, thank you for sharing such a good story. Hope you are doing good and continue and share your stories so that we can always hear and help you.

Kadi_lokule
Aug 28
Aug 28

will do. Thanks alot. i am trying into the path of writing

lovneeshb
Aug 27
Aug 27

Dear Kadi,

Your story is really touching and I can't imagine that women and girls have to go through this level of discrimination and pain. I wish the world be a better place for women and will do everything in my power to help in this cause.

Kadi_lokule
Aug 28
Aug 28

we have a long way to go before we are free from this discrimiation.

anubis
Aug 27
Aug 27

Thank you Kadi for sharing your story. It moved me and my thoughts are of future hope and acceptance in South Sudan.

Kadi_lokule
Aug 28
Aug 28

Thanks Anubis - we pray for a total restoration for our country