In my hideout for about 200 displaced people near the
town of Bor in South Sudan, our day usually started with questions like ‘What
have you heard?’ or ‘What is new today?’.
But information gleaned from news reports or phone calls
with relatives all too often fuelled terrible rumours.
While I was in the makeshift camp in late December, the men
of our group gathered each day under a big tree to talk about new developments,
shifting their position with the shade, frightened or soothed by what they heard
from each other.
Women, meanwhile, usually sat under a separate tree and became
restless when they heard the men’s conversation.
Panic and fear
Deborah Anai, a mother who was breastfeeding her baby, told
me she was very frightened when she heard a rumour about a possible attack by the
White Army – an army that is loyal to Riek Machar, the former vice president
and head of the forces who have been fighting government troops for the past
month. (The militia is known as the White Army because of the white ash they
put on their skin.)
“My intestines twist whenever I hear people talk of attackers coming,”Anai said.
“You could hear people saying ‘The White Army is coming, the
White Army has attacked a neighbouring village.”
I also met a young man, a 20-year-old student, who told me how
he lost his appetite and stopped eating when rumour of another attack started
Isolated and afraid
Like most hideouts, ours was in an area that’s out of reach
for local newspapers or radio stations in Juba, about 130 miles away. The local
FM stations in Bor had also already been looted and reporters forced to leave.
The only news outlets available to displaced people are United
Nations radio station Miraya FM and the BBC World Service.
But while they report what officials from both side of South
Sudan’s conflict are saying about the peace efforts, they don’t broadcast the
immediate information people in hideouts like mine desperately want to know -
details about when the armies would reach their areas of the bush.
Thousands fleeing Bor by boat.
No reliable information
Even in the capital Juba, which has experienced four weeks
of relative calm, rumours have led many people to flee to neighbouring border
towns or refugee camps in Uganda.
According to the United Nations, nearly 500,000 civilians
have fled their homes over the past month – and they’re all desperate for
reliable, trustworthy information and news.
People across South Sudan simply don’t trust what the local
media tells them, as it solely depends on official sources to get news – news
which is usually twisted to suit the political parties’ agendas.
Instead, people only trust what they hear from friends and
And as long as that continues, fear and confusion will
continue to dominate daily conversations in both the bush hideouts and towns of