“I am tired”: Young South Sudanese are using art to protest the endless cycle of violence and death

Tired of war and corruption
Tired of war and corruption
Image: EPA/JM Lopez
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Ana Taban. I am tired.

That is the slogan for a new campaign, championed by young South Sudanese activists and artists, who are decrying their country’s degeneration into a civil war since it gained independence five years ago. The campaign, which was launched in the capital Juba in early September, promotes peace and denounces the violence that has displaced millions of people both inside and out of the country.

The artists say the campaign is a platform for young South Sudanese to have a discussion and contribute ideas and solutions to what is happening in their country. The campaign uses various art forms such as street theater, graffiti, sculpture and poetry to speak about social injustice, government accountability, and transparency.

By using the power of music and art, the artists say they hope to penetrate the country’s consciousness and speak directly to its leaders and people. Where negotiations and actions have failed, the hope is that the melodies of music and the significance of art will initiate a dialogue about how to change the status quo.

The words Ana Taban, which mean ‘I am tired’ in Arabic, were first used in a five-minute music video released by a group of well-known South Sudanese artists. Abul Oyay, an artist and one of the founders of the Ana Taban campaign, says the song was created as part of an effort to bring South Sudanese artists to come together and echo the will of South Sudan’s people.

The artists met in Naivasha, in the foothills of Kenya’s Rift Valley, to write, compose and produce the song. The town was symbolic because it was the site where the agreement that set South Sudan on the path to independence was signed. The song was then dedicated “to all those we have lost in this senseless war and to all those who are still here and are tired enough to make the changes we need.”

The slogan Ana Taban “is something that everyone that is South Sudanese can relate to,” Oyay told Quartz from Nairobi. “We are just tired.”

During the event to launch the campaign, Manasseh Mathiang, a renowned gospel artist and one of the performers who appeared in the music video, spoke on behalf of the cohort leading Ana Taban. Mathiang explained why as artists they decided to speak out about the unceasing violence and tribal animosity that has beset the country.

“We are tired of just sitting by and seeing our country burn,” Mathiang said. “We are tired of having a country with vast natural resources and yet a crashing economy. We are tired of having a starving population yet we have a fertile land. We are tired of being used to kill ourselves for the benefit of a few.”

The campaign comes as instability persists in the country, and the number of refugees seeking shelter in neighboring nations has crossed the one million mark, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

The activists are also speaking out at a time when the government is reportedly cracking down on civil society members for addressing human rights abuses and extra-judicial killings in the country. Activists who met Security Council officials who visited the country earlier this month have either disappeared or fled the country.

Given the traction of their campaign, Oyay says the government has already started asking about who is funding their campaign.

For now though, the street artwork and music is taking over the streets of Juba and putting a visible mark to the population’s discontent with the country’s status and leadership.