I have, up to 2018, lived and worked for two years in North West Uganda, in a refugee camp where 99% of the refugees originated from South Sudan, comprising of many of the different ethnicities found in this country, out of which the vast majority were Dinka and Nuer. During this time, I came to know closely the South Sudanese people and it gave me a better understanding and opportunity to start exploring their country which I had long wished to do.
As a new photographic project,I have started focusing in February 2019 on the Toposa, neighboring ethnic groups and their region, including from an environmental and nature conservation perspective. The Toposa are an ethnic group in South Sudan, living in Eastern Equatoria State, Kapoeta region.
The Toposa belong to the Turkana group, which also includes Karamojong of Uganda, Nyangatom of Ethiopia and Turkana of Kenya. They are semi nomad pastoralists and share many similarities in terms of culture, way of life, language. The Toposa economy and social life revolves around herding livestock, including cattle, camels, donkeys, goats and sheep. The Toposa also pan for gold and other precious minerals in stream beds. They may travel considerable distances seeking water and pasturage. Possession of cattle, along with possession of a loaded gun, are the main measures of status and wealth. Cattle are central to Toposa culture. The Toposa have always competed for water and pasturage with their neighbors. They have a tradition of constant low-level warfare, usually cattle raids, against their neighbors who do the same.
South Sudan has recently gone through several civil wars and great instability. The last crisis erupted in June 2016. A peace agreement between the fighting parties was signed toward the end of 2018, however the conditions for implementation of a sustained deal are likely not there. South Sudan is a very young nation and does not benefit from appropriate State of law and good governance. On the other hand, the country has significant wealth potential, including oil and minerals.
Due or thanks to this instability, South Sudan has largely remained unaccessible over the years to the foreign wold and hence to international industrial consortium and their economic interests as well as mass tourism. South Sudan and especially the region where the Toposa are found is still largely « virgin » or untouched. it is also a very large area where wild life is still found and not parked like in some many national park in Africa. It is still one of the very few area in Africa that has not yet been spoiled by consumer society’s and international industrial groups’ greed.
When South Sudan will somehow stabilize it is almost certain that the combination of those industrial groups’s interests together with the absence of good gouvernance will start impacting at a much larger scale the country, the environment, the people’s culture, the wildlife.
The Toposa, their way of life, their culture, their natural environment have long been altered by evangelization, the global warming, climate change, foreign influence, « african development », global monoculture; altered by human’s obsession for domination, control over ressources and competition. Likewise and even though being one of the last and largest reservoirs of wildlife in Africa, the animals in the region have already greatly negatively impacted by human activity over the last 20 to 30 years.
What will be the world for the next generations? How do we value diversity, nature, environmental issues, cultural diversity, biodiversity, wildlife? Are South Sudan and more specifically here the Toposa and their region next to be necessarily scarified on the agenda of mass consumerism? This photographic project is also a snapshot of what already no longer exists within the toposa society their way of life, their culture and in their region, what is still there today, and what will no longer be tomorrow.