In a recent interview with the BBC’s Megha Mohan, Nykor Paul, a South Sudanese fashion model, weighs in on the ongoing conflict in her country as well as who is responsible for the renewed spate of political and ethnic-related violence in South Sudan.
Paul has modeled for brands, such as Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga, Rick Owens, and Vivienne Westwood. In addition to her successful modeling career, Paul has earned quite the reputation for being vocal, speaking out against racial discrimination as well as the challenges of her homeland.
On Thursday, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir swore in Taban Deng Gai as his new vice president, replacing former Vice President and main opposition leader Riek Machar in a curious move that Machar supporters say amounts to a betrayal of trust; Deng Gai and Machar are both members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-In Opposition party.
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Since July 8, Machar has gone into hiding, citing fears about his own safety.
Nykor left Africa in 1998 at the age of 14 to join her uncle in the United States, after being a refugee in Ethiopia with the rest of her family to escape the second Sudanese civil war. Even though Nykor left her country as a child, she still has fond memories of what life was like before the war. During that period, she enjoyed close relationships with her grandfather, who was a fisherman, and her father, who was a preacher and pastored a church in South Sudan.
Nykor believes the new violence in South Sudan is fueled by selfish politicians fighting for their own interests.
As a child, she remembers both Machar and Deng Gai visiting her father’s church. “When I was growing up, Riek Machar and Taban Deng Gai both used to visit my father’s church. I remember them coming to sing hopeful songs about the country.”
But clearly both Machar’s and Deng Gai’s actions have changed since then. Nykor says, “And now they are part of the cause of chaos.”
South Sudan became the world’s newest country in 2011, when it finally broke away from Sudan after years of a bitter civil war. However, the joy and pride of the nation’s citizens was cut short in December 2013, when fighting broke out between forces loyal to President Kiir and his Vice President Machar.
After two years of skirmishes that killed several thousands of South Sudanese and displaced nearly 2 million more, both parties signed a peace accord in August 2015. Kiir and Machar agreed to work together to create a coalition that kept their respective positions.
However, the peace deal has all but collapsed in recent weeks. Nearly 300 people have been reportedly killed in renewed fighting between soldiers loyal to the leaders in Juba, the capital.