‘Timebomb’ Highway Is Economic Lifeline in World’s Newest Nation
Okech Francis <http://www.bloomberg.com/authors/ASIJxU6BpR8/okech-francis>
September 21, 2016 — 7:01 PM EDT Updated on September 22, 2016 — 7:54 AM
EDT
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   - Series of ambushes disrupting supplies to South Sudan capital
   - Thoroughfare key to a country that imports almost everything

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When trucker James Okumu slams his pedal to the floor for the three-hour
drive between South Sudan’s capital and the Ugandan border, he feels like
he’s sitting on a timebomb.

“You don’t know when it will explode,” said the 37-year-old Ugandan, who
regularly plies the 195-kilometer (121-mile) route to transport vegetables
and rice to Juba from his home country.

Unidentified gunmen have ambushed buses and fuel-tankers on the winding
road this month, killing at least 13 people, according to a tally of local
media reports. It’s the latest violence linked to a civil war that began in
late 2013 and has claimed tens of thousands of lives while bringing the
oil-producing nation to the brink of collapse.

The fall in traffic on the Juba-Nimule road, a key route to the East
African region’s biggest port in Kenya, could mean disaster for South
Sudan’s economy. Inflation is already almost 730 percent and practically
everything, including refined fuel, is imported. Rather than risking the
route, many aid groups are flying in humanitarian supplies crucial to a
country where almost half the more than 11 million population face severe
food shortages
<http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-06-29/hunger-in-south-sudan-at-highest-level-since-war-began-un-says>
.

“It’s basically the lifeline of South Sudan,” Augustino Ting Mayai, an
analyst with the Sudd Institute, a Juba-based research organization, said
of what’s one of the few tarmacked thoroughfares in the nation that became
independent five years ago. “Any hindrance getting resources has adverse
effects on the country. This is an emerging issue which the government must
act on immediately.”
[image: MAP: South Sudan]
MAP: South Sudan

Roads linking the capital to key towns in the country’s southern Equatoria
region, including Torit, Yambio and Kajo Keji, have also been increasingly
insecure since fighting flared between armed factions in Juba in July. That
violence left at least 270 people dead and forced then-Vice President Riek
Machar, who’d only returned in April to join a transitional government
seeking to end the war, to flee. The number of South Sudanese refugees
seeking shelter in neighboring countries reached 1 million
<http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-09-16/un-says-one-million-south-sudanese-have-now-fled-war-torn-nation>
last week.

“When road routes are cut, humanitarian organizations have to increase
their air operations to be able to transport supplies, which is far more
costly,” Guiomar Pau Sole, a spokesman with the United Nations Office for
the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in South Sudan, said in an
e-mailed response to questions.
Economic Woes

The country’s economic woes have been exacerbated by falls in oil
production, which has declined by at least a third to about 130,000 barrels
per day since the war began, and the value of the South Sudanese pound.
There’s already been an effect on imports coming from Kenya’s Mombasa, the
most common shipping route
<http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-08-15/cargo-headed-for-south-sudan-plunges-to-all-time-low-on-war>
for cargo to the landlocked country. About 33,400 dead-weight tons were
bound for South Sudan in July, down from around 67,900 tons in March,
according to the Kenya Ports Authority.

Exports from Uganda, the country’s largest trade partner, have declined
from about $1.2 billion in 2008, before the territory became fully
autonomous, to $414 million in 2013 and $353 million last year, according
to the Ugandan government. Products shipped include cereals, sugar,
building materials, beverages and second-hand vehicles. South Sudan’s
government said in August that it’s seeking a $1.9 billion loan from China
<http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-08-09/south-sudan-seeks-1-9-billion-chinese-loan-as-inflation-rockets>
to develop its oilfields and roads.

The army has beefed up security on the highway and is providing escorts to
convoys, according to military spokesman Lul Ruai Koang. He said he had
reports that rebels linked to Machar had claimed responsibility for the
attacks. A spokesman for Machar’s former rebels said the assaults were by
armed civilians and disgruntled soldiers, caused by the economic crisis and
the failure of the government to agree on camps for the ex-insurgents.
Armed Groups

“We don’t have a policy of attacking civilians,” Mabior Garang said by
phone from Khartoum, the capital of neighboring Sudan. “The argument for
cantonment was we can’t account for bandits. If we do cantonment, we can
pursue the bandits.”

The unresolved inclusion of armed groups from the Equatoria region, through
which the road passes, in the country’s 2015 peace agreement continues to
drive conflict in the area, the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey said in a
July report. “No government can sit comfortably in power in Equatoria’s
Juba while facing robust, coordinated Equatorian opposition,” it said.

Mohamed Yusuf, a Kenyan who has driven fuel-tankers from Mombasa to Juba
since 2012, said he and others are considering suspending travel on the
route until security improves.

“You leave Nimule thinking, will I see this place again?” Yusuf said of the
border-town in an interview after arriving in Juba. The journey, he said,
is a “nightmare.”

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