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Economic Collapse And Government Paranoia In South Sudan


South Sudan is in crisis - famine, war, displacement. It's actually the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world, surpassing even the rate of people fleeing Syria. Eyder Peralta, NPR's East Africa correspondent, was just in South Sudan reporting on what's happening there. And he joins us now in the studio. Welcome.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So you were just in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. What struck you while you were there?

PERALTA: I think the first thing that strikes you is the long lines for gasoline. And what's happening is there is incredible inflation. So the economy has collapsed. And there's not anything in the markets to buy. And what's happening right now is that the government is incredibly paranoid. There are constant rumors of a coup that the rebels will attack Juba. And so everyone seems to be walking on eggshells, just really careful not to cross anyone and that that might leave them in a really bad spot.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And we should, I guess, remind people that South Sudan broke away from Sudan. And it was always seen as a sort of economic breadbasket. It was the more wealthy part of that union.

PERALTA: Yeah. This shouldn't be happening. One of the sort of stunning things in South Sudan is that it's - there's famine in the north. But when you fly over South Sudan, it's green. And this should be the breadbasket of the region. And so I think that sort of tells you the tragedy of what is going on there.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do we know about the scope of the fighting. Why are people having to flee to places like Uganda?

PERALTA: So since last year, since last summer, this war has been going on since 2013. There was a small break in 2015. And then it started again in 2016. But what has happened is it has spread, you know, across the whole country. And it's become really vicious.

You know, over and over, we keep getting reports from the United Nations and from the East African states that people are being tied up, thrown into their huts and set on fire. And then there's also the tribal aspect to this that, basically, government soldiers are going door to door and if you don't speak Dinka, you're killed. And these are civilians.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And that's the predominant tribe?

PERALTA: That's the predominant tribe. And I think the government will tell you that this is not happening. And it's true that the other sides in this war are also committing atrocities. But what reporting from monitoring groups set up by East African states has found is that the government is leading the charge.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Where is the mediation efforts? Where are other African nations? Where is the United States in trying to bring an end to this conflict?

PERALTA: Everyone is sort of putting their hopes on this peace agreement that brought momentary peace in 2016. The problem is that the former vice president is now in exile in South Africa and not part of these talks. So, you know, observers essentially say this is a dead end.

The one sort of idea that has taken hold within the sort of, you know, academics set is this idea of a trusteeship - that the international community would come into South Sudan and essentially take over. But the big problem with that is that, one, South Sudan dismisses it outright. They say they're an independent nation. And, two, it would take thousands of troops. And no one's going to do that - not the East African states, not the Europeans and, certainly, not the Americans.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Eyder, we should mention that your time in South Sudan was cut very short. You were actually arrested and jailed while you were in Juba.

PERALTA: I was. I mean, I spent four days in jail. But luckily, I'm out. And my fixer is out. And I'm OK.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, glad you're safe. And you went into detail about your detention recently on Morning Edition. Listeners can check out that conversation at npr.org. Eyder Peralta, NPR's East Africa correspondent, thank you so much.

PERALTA: Thank you, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And there's more of the world tomorrow on Morning Edition. Tune in for Mark Bowden, a "Black Hawk Down" fame, on what options the U.S. has as it tries to constrain North Korea. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.