As you may well have noticed, last week Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her Diamond Jubilee. Across Britain the waves of monarchism continued unabated for four days. Despite the rain millions made their pilgrimage to London, publicly displaying their fealty and devotion, inclement weather be damned.
Juba did not escape this very un-British display of collective enthusiasm, as the below photographs bear testament. As an Irishman with broad republican leanings, finding myself surrounded by the symbols and baubles of Britain’s colonial heyday I felt it my duty to inject an element of proper leftist cynicism into proceedings. This mainly took the form of inappropriate song suggestions such as The Smiths’ ‘The Queen is Dead’ (“I said Charles, don’t you ever crave / To appear on the front of the Daily Mail / Dressed in your Mother’s bridal veil?”) and the Sex Pistols’ ‘God Save the Queen’ (“God save the Queen, the fascist regime…”) but it was gratifying nevertheless, for the reactions elicited if nothing else.
Truth be told, the celebratory atmosphere, not to mention the concomitant Pimms, were most welcome, and not only because it happened to be my birthday. Working for an NGO I live in a world populated primarily by other aid workers, with a revolving door cast: staff turnover rates are high, frequently so too are stress levels. In between the spreadsheets, reports and endless statistics that mask unthinkable human suffering, it’s a good idea to relax and socialise where you can. And there are some lovely bars with thatched roofs and cold Tuskers to hand, their car parks heaving with 4X4s, and a few other expat hang outs, not to mention the apparently lively house party scene. But as pleasant and unthreatening as Juba may seem we do live in a walled compound and abide, albeit reluctantly, by curfews and travel restrictions, for this is a city of in betweens.
Juba may be a national capital but this is an urban centre in its infancy, birthed of conflict – our compound still has a bomb shelter, now put to use storing breakfast cereal – and institutional poverty. There are three tarmac roads, each of them lined with litter and semi-permanent structures, while scaffolding-clad building projects are common, each seemingly unfamiliar with safety standards as metal skeletons wave in the wind. In September 2011, two months after independence, the government announced that they were moving the capital to Ramciel, in Lakes state, a place described by the Sudan Tribune as “almost no man’s land”. And so Juba’s fate, too, appears uncertain. For now, NGOs wait and continue to operate out of shipping containers as air conditioned hotels spring up around them. This may not be our makeshift home for much longer.
And what of the Jubilee? While it might not be mine to celebrate, in a context such as this I can appreciate the pleasure that this expression of patriotic sentiment brings to my friends and colleagues, and the comfort of a tangible reminder of home, even while disagreeing with the idea of monarchy itself.
And so I find myself in South Sudan, coloniser and colonised enjoying a scone.