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South Sudan: Police conscript 'idle youth' to work on farms

Charlton Doki | 9/13/2012, 3:01 p.m.

JUBA, Sept. 5 (IPS/GIN)--Police in South Sudan have begun forcing every "idle" youth they can find to provide labor on police farms. The State Police Commissioner in Northern Bahr el Ghazal state says young men cannot be left to drink tea and play cards all day while food insecurity threatens the country.

"Anyone who does not want to cultivate will be captured and brought to plant for us. Whether you are a soldier, or a policeman, or a member of the prison service ... if you choose to put on your best clothes to come and loiter in town, we shall take you to work for us. Whether you want it or not," State Police Commissioner Akot Deng Akot told IPS.

A staggering 4.7 million South Sudanese--almost half the population--are food insecure, according to the United Nations.

"One million of these people are severely food insecure, meaning they can only afford to eat one meal once in two or three days, while the other 3.7 million people are moderately food insecure, meaning they can at least afford to eat a meal per day," the U.N.'s humanitarian coordinator in South Sudan, Lise Grande, told IPS in an earlier interview.

The countrywide food insecurity is being blamed on a number of factors, including a cereal deficit. According to the U.N., the deficit doubled from 200,000 metric tons in 2011 to 470,000 this year. In addition, high fuel prices and a weakening local currency have contributed to the situation.

According to data from the National Bureau of Statistics, more than 80 percent of Northern Bahr el Ghazal's estimated 790,898 people are affected by food insecurity.

And it has resulted in drastic measures by state authorities attempting to encourage farming in the region. Akot even warned people against attending local courts dealing with petty disputes.

"This also applies to people who go and crowd at local courts in disputes over ownership of cows. Such courts will not be allowed to operate during cultivation [which lasts from October to December] so that everybody goes to their farms to produce food," he said.

In fact, some arrests have already been made. A local journalist from Northern Bahr el Ghazal state, Hou Akot Hou, said that police arrested dozens of youth under the orders of a local chief, Atak Awan Anei, who is also the brother of Northern Bahr el Ghazal Governor Paul Malong Awan Anei. The arrests occurred in July in Warwar--a market near the South Sudan-Sudan border.

Some locals are supportive of the policy.

"The government should force older boys who are capable of taking care of themselves and are loitering in town to go and cultivate," local resident Justin Ayuer told IPS.

Local teenager Titotiek Chour concurred: "We as youth have the energy to produce food. We have a chance to do more, and we should use this opportunity to produce food and improve the lives of our people."

Northern Bahr el Ghazal state is not the only region trying to institute policies to encourage food production.