SEATTLE — As a part of the most recent Dear World project with OXFAM, founder and photographer Robert Fogarty documented the messages for peace and hope that South Sudanese individuals wish to share with the world: Dear World South Sudan.
The country marks a rocky five-year anniversary after serious conflict sparked in December 2013 that began with disputes between the South Sudanese president Salva Kiir and former vice president Riek Machar. In 2015, a peace agreement was signed between Kiir and former Riek Machar calling for a ceasefire. Fogarty went in expecting to speak with women working in peacekeeping efforts but expanded the project when he was struck by the recurring theme of loss apparent in every person he spoke to.
Since 2013, South Sudan has been in a period of civil war with over 50,000 people killed and millions displaced internally, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. As a part of the former Sudan, before its independence, South Sudan was involved in intermittent conflict with the north since the former Sudan’s independence from British-Egyptian rule in 1956.
In a letter on the website for the Dear World South Sudan photo-project, Fogarty expresses his hope to share a human-centric view of South Sudan’s story in addition to the typical geopolitical details covering the country. He spent four days speaking with people in Juba, the capital, and Mangaten, on the outskirts of Juba, where there is a camp housing people who have been displaced by the conflict. He was deeply inspired by the messages for the world from the family members, students and activists he spoke with.
Those interviewed expressed their hopes for peace and stability. For instance, Edmund Yakani and Francis Taban whose arms read “stronger united” asked for the international community to continue pressuring the South Sudanese government to act in the best interest of its citizens by making decisions that ensure peace rather than self-interest.
Calls to the international community to not slacken pressure now that Machar has returned to the country come at a time when several analysts have expressed doubts about the sincerity of the politicians’ peace agreement. One expert told The Guardian that the peace agreement may be an effort from the South Sudanese government to receive aid money from the international community, but it continues targeting non-Dinka ethnic groups through the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). Some cite the continued violence despite the peace agreement as a failure to address its root causes or protect the rights of South Sudan’s multiple ethnic groups.
Fogarty’s Dear World South Sudan project displays the South Sudanese people’s call for peace and the desire for an end to a war that has involved forced cannibalism, sexual violence and recruitment of child soldiers and cost the nation thousands of lives. The messages show the world stories of loss and hopes for peace that have sprung from the conflict. In her portrait, Lydia Mukhtar writes, “bury our differences, not our people,” contributing to the expansive messages for peace displayed in Fogarty’s portraits.
Dear World was started in 2009 in New Orleans and has covered stories of a wide array of events including the stories of Syrian refugees and Boston marathon bombing survivors. The portraits and stories can be found on Dear World’s website and social media accounts. “Loss is universal,” writes Fogarty in his letter on the project website, “Yet, so is love.”
– Laura Isaza