‘The UN didn’t do anything wrong’: Peacekeepers in South Sudan respond to Covid-19 criticism

South Sudan has recorded five cases of Covid-19. The first case was confirmed to be a United Nations staffer, leading to bitter public criticism of the organisation.

For its part, the UN introduced tough measures to protect their staff, including a complete lockdown in UN camps and restrictions on internal travel. There are nearly 20 000 UN peacekeepers in the country under the auspices of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS),

“They are pretty harsh comments. [UN staff] didn’t do anything wrong. It is like catching a cold. They did not do anything deliberately on purpose,” said UNMISS chief David Shearer, in an interview with the Mail & Guardian.

Tensions are so high that President Salva Kiir has had to warn citizens against using hate speech or making racist remarks towards UN staff and other foreigners residing in the country. “I must warn you that Covid-19 can be brought into the country by anyone, including South Sudanese,” Kiir said in a speech on national television. “I call upon you to exercise restraint and avoid hate speeches and xenophobic utterances against our guests and those who have come to provide services to us from other countries and organizations.”

These tensions were exacerbated when one UN staffer, who had come into contact with a Covid-19 patient, fled quarantine and left the country — potentially putting others at risk in the process.

“Any United Nations staff who fail to adhere to the requirements for testing and self-isolation will face disciplinary action,” the UN said in a statement. “He received one test that confirmed him as negative and then left Juba on a flight without the knowledge of the United Nations. The flight was commercial, not a United Nations flight.”

South Sudan’s government has said that it will hold the UN accountable if this incident leads to a further spreading of the virus. It imposed an indefinite nationwide lockdown in March, closing schools, religious institutions, non-essential businesses and social gatherings; as well as banning international passenger flights and imposing a night-time curfew.

Foreigners working in the country have expressed concern over being targeted in xenophobic attacks, as a result of the rise in tensions.

Caroline Wanjui, a Kenyan businessperson, said that the comments she has been noting on social media are blaming nonresidents like herself for importing the virus.

“When they start such xenophobic remarks we are not safe. I am worried about my life,” said Wanjui.

Tyson Otieno, a Kenyan barber in Juba, said that the virus should be bringing people together rather than driving them apart. “Different foreign communities living in South Sudan are exposed to the same risks of contracting coronavirus as the nationals. The virus does not mind whether you are white or black, or whether you are from whatever country, it affects all the human race.”

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Climate science’s blind spot for heat waves in southern Africa

The lack of detailed information on extreme heat impacts hinders disaster response and preparedness.

Big retailers need to step up to the plate

To stave off a multi-generational malnutrition crisis, the food industry must work with government to provide highly nutritious foods at cost during the pandemic

Students, we will need your critical thinking after the Covid-19 hard reset

Economically disadvantaged students suffer most from disrupted education, but they also have the most to contribute to lessening inequality when we build the new normal

The unbearable sadness of lockdown

Loneliness can seem like a hopeless hole that increases anxiety, depression, fears or thoughts of suicide

Now is the time for true innovation in education and the economy

Because of the government’s indecisiveness, we have missed the boat on charting new territory for learning

Cellphones, Covid-19 and zoom calls: The making of ‘Cabin Fever’

‘Cabin Fever’, written, directed and produced by Tim Greene, was filmed on cellphones during the hard lockdown earlier this year. It’s a no-budget triumph

Shongweni stink: EnviroServ bosses back in court

Managers charged over landfill emissions want charges set aside

Jailed journalist a symbol of a disillusioned Zimbabwe

Hopewell Chin’ono backed President Emmerson Mnangagwa when he succeeded Robert Mugabe. Now he’s in jail

Covid-19 a ‘catalyst for closing the pay gap’

Executive directors earn 66 times the national minimum wage and are overwhelmingly white, a report by assurance, advisory and tax services company PwC has found

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday