BREAK-Through as trucks set for Juba
By John Agok and William Madouk
Truck drivers who had been camping at the Elegu border point refusing to enter South Sudan until properly and efficiently assured of their safety were expected to leave for Juba through the Nimule border last afternoon after a series of meetings that led to agreements and understanding among the parties.
However, with pending logistics of clearing and documentations, it was not immediately known when the first batch of the trucks would arrive in the capital city to save the already volatile fear of fuel shortage and other basic commodities, particularly, perishable goods.
Ugandan and Kenyan truck drivers carrying goods but who were stuck at the border point near Nimule have also set preconditions for proceeding to deliver goods saying they won’t travel to Juba until when the government has cleared the forests along the highways and asked the regional bloc IGAD to provide them with security escorts.
In a press conference at the border entry on Monday morning, the drivers said the forests and bushes around the highway hid attackers and also demandedc ompensations for the losses incurred, including for vehicles which were set ablaze, during last month’s highway attack.
“Our demands include, one provisions of security to humanity and goods in all parts of South Sudan including escorting drivers by approved IGAD security and clearing of bushes around the highway that hides enemies. They asked for compensation for all losses suffered by the families of all drivers who were killed including goods and vehicles burnt in South Sudan,” one of the truckers reading the statement said.
The truck drivers also accused members of South Sudan army of intimidation along the highway and said they had always been forced to carry heavy loads including logs and charcoal to Juba by members of the organized forces urging the government to stop that practice.
“They must also stop extortion of money from all drivers which always turns into beating, intimidation and harassment of drivers along the highway of Nimule-Juba Road. We also call for the removal of all road blocks along the highway where drivers are forced to carry logs and charcoals by military officers especially in Aswa Bridge, Moli, Toguro and Obamahouse,” he said.
The drivers called for the removal of well-known military officers whom they accused of intimidating and robbing them along the highway and vowed they won’t proceed to Juba if the government did not meet their demands.
“We also need the removal of recognized officers who have been creating insecurity along the Juba highway. So these are our demands and the crimes against the drivers. These are what drivers need to be stopped,” they said.
“Until when the government of South Sudan finished all these demands, then drivers will be free, will be ready to travel to inside the country thank you,” they said.
East Africa Business Community posed picture(CourtseyPhoto)
Meanwhile, on the very Monday, EABC issued a press release that read, “the East African Business Council (EABC) is urging the EAC Secretariat to convene the Sectoral Council on Inter-state Security in order to consider deployment of a regional joint army patrol for escorting and protecting truck drivers amid the cross-border trade impasse due to security concerns.”
The EABC condemned the harassment and killing of truck drivers traversing EAC borders.
A joint regional army patrol is a quick solution to guarantee peace and security for truck drivers, business people and their properties. This would ease and facilitate transportation of essential goods amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In April 2021, the East African Business Council commended the Government of the Republic of South Sudan and the Government of Uganda for escorting truck drivers and urged the Ministries in charge of interstate security to adopt a regional monitoring mechanism to analyze, monitor progress and emerging issues on trade and security in the region.
Peace and security are prerequisites to social and economic development in the region. Insecurity increases the cost and time of transporting goods, risks people’s lives, obstructs cross-border trade and negatively impacts the competitiveness of the EAC bloc.
Due to cases of insecurity in South Sudan especially along the Nimule-Elegu border route to Juba currently; over 1056 trucks are stranded at the Elegu border risking the spread of COVID-19 to border communities.
Each day a truck is stranded to deliver goods, the transporter and client incurs losses of appx. USD.1,000. Furthermore, the release costs for truck drivers who have fallen victim to the insecurity assaults range between $10,000 to $20,000 and sometimes their precious life.
Businesses can only reap the benefits availed by the EAC Common Market of 177 million consumers only if peace and security is guaranteed and flourishes.
In 2019, South Sudan exported goods worth USD. 6.8 million and imported USD.225.9 million from the EAC Partner States. Intra-regional exports grew by 0.6 percent in 2019 to USD.3.2 billion while total EAC intra-regional imports increased to USD.3.2 billion in 2019, from USD.2.8 billion in 2018 (EAC Trade and Investment Report, 2019).
However, the government of South Sudan responded to their statements by condemning the attack of drivers and calling it “a barbaric act”orchestrated by rebels who want to disrupt the movement of goods from Mombasa port.
The Central Equatoria State Chairperson of the Chamber of Commerce Robert Pitia told media that, they were collectively condemning the act directed towards innocent trucks drivers and assured government responsibility to escort and protect the safety of foreign drivers.
“Basically we are here to stand in solidarity with our brothers from Kenyan, Ugandan and Somalis long-distance drivers to strongly condemn this frequent attacks of innocent truck drivers and we called this “barbaric act” which is not in our culture, we don’t kill innocent ones”, he said.
Pitia revealed that, the motives of rebel along Juba- Nimule road were to disrupt the movement of goods from Mombasa to Juba and we as the government must not accept that ill intentions.
“ The motives is very clear , the motive is to disrupt “the supply chain” between Mombasa and South Sudan so that, the business community and South Sudan can opt to shift to another ports for example , the port Sudan and other ports which is the big loss to our brothers in Kenya. We as people of South Sudan are so much in debt with the support Kenya had accorded to us during the liberation struggle”, he added .
He slammed the act of wrongdoers who wanted cut off land lock Country from Mombasa port and hindered Kenya to compete with other ports in the region. He assured government readiness to escorttruck drivers safely to last destination in South Sudan.
“What I can advised to those disruptors is tell them that, what they are doing is automatically wrong, they should Mombasa port to compete with rest of the ports. Basically, I can assure that, my government is committed to safeguard the drivers along the road, we already talked to our Minister of Foreign Affairs, Inspect General of the Police, Minister of Trade and we are going to have similar engage trade minister of Kenya. The way forward is to adhere to what government agreed on and let goods move in order to avoid this losses incurred, especially from perishable goods”.
South Sudan and East Africa business community has called on truck drivers to call-off the strikes and resume operation as the government assured them security escort along the Juba – Nimule highway.
In a joint communique, South Sudan Freight Forwarders Association and business community in East Africa with offices based in Mombasa, Uganda and Dar El Salam condemned the killings and yet appealed to drivers to call-off strikes.
Kenyan and Ugandan truck drivers have entered sixteen days down the line protesting the killings and ambushes along the only road that connect Juba to East African countries, this came after two drivers were killed along the road.
“Striking or impounding trucks transporting fresh-goods which are perishable on a Border is a big loss to our business community. Hence since South Sudan Government hasbeefed up security along Nimule – Juba Highway hence ensuring safety of our drivers, we advise the drivers to halt the strike and resume their normal operations because continued striking is not the wayforward” read parts of statement.
The President of South Sudan Freight Forwarders Association, Emmanuel Kachoul Mayen said they stand in harmony with drivers and categorically condemned the inhumane accident that happened in the highway.
“We stand in solidarity with our drivers both Kenyan and Ugandan who have more than once suffered the wrath of bad characters along the transport route from Mombasa to Juba,” Mayen said.
The incident which took place along Nimule – Juba high way resulted into the killing of innocentdrivers was a very sad incident, and we in the private sector in East Africa strongly condemnthis act in the strongest terms possible. It is BARBARIC and EVIL ACT, which is completely not acceptable in our cultureto kill innocent drivers who are working very hard day and night to ensure the supply chain of essential goods and services to the landlocked countries,” he added.
They also reiterated that truckers were innocent people who were doing everything possible to make sure that they supply the country with basic commodities yet anti – peace group attack them to discourage the business community and people of South Sudan from accessing Mombasa Port as preference route of ferrying goods in the country.
The business community urged the Kenya port Authority, Kenya revenue Authority and private sector to work closely with government of South Sudan to guarantee the safety of road to road users.
“Finally, my message to Kenya Port Authority and Kenya Revenue Authority is to work closely with South Sudan Government and the Private sector to ensure the safety of our drivers,” he concluded.
On 23 Aug, Kenya Transporters Association advised the Kenyan truck drivers to immediately stop offering their service to South Sudan decrying an increased road insecurity which resulted into killing of two drivers.
The following day the Ugandan truckers joined their Kenyan counterparts echoing the same issue of insecurity citing that they will not cross to South Sudan when the security is guaranteed and their gunned down colleagues compensated.
On 6 Sept, the deputy minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said that they are in principles agreement with truck drivers among the listed agreement included security assurance by providing escort to every fifteen truck, the removal of unnecessary check point along the road and a one tax clearance office to void illegal taxation along the road.