Ambushes on vehicles for civilians between Nimule at the border with Uganda and the South Sudan Capital Juba have dominated reports from that region, with several Ugandans and Sudanese traveling to and from Uganda being casualties.
The situation is no better in several towns south of Juba and along roads connecting them, as fighting groups attack communities either for political reasons or to rob their victims and fund the fighting.
In the end businesses have continually been targeted by the armed groups, with many leading to deaths.
However, it is also common for the attackers to ambush vehicles and set them ablaze.
The country gained independence from Sudan in 2011, but returned to war two years later when forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar clashed in the capital Juba. Efforts to resolve the on-and-off constant resulted in form of government of national unity in 2020.
This did not stop the insecurity and many Ugandans have been shot dead in the country since then, many of them in ambushes along the roads.
However, earlier this month, a group of senior commanders of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army In Opposition (SPLM-IO) declared the party’s head, Machar deposed, leading to intensified infighting.
A lot of the violent activities have been concentrated along the Nimule-Juba Road and the Oraba-Yei-Juba road, which are also common business destinations for Ugandans.
The number of Ugandans operating in the country is not exactly known due to lack of records of the movements across the border, but reports put it between 90,000 and 150,000, operating businesses worth about 900 million dollars.
Uganda imported from the country goods worth 86.72 Million dollars in 2020, and these were mainly pearls and precious metals like gold worth 82 million dollars. The same year saw Ugandan exports rise to 357.34 Million dollars, according to the United Nations COMTRADE database on international trade, with foods and beverages accounting for more than half, followed by vehicles and steel and iron.
This is the market at stake when the country’s crisis is not resolved early enough. Ugandan traders in South Sudan say what is worrying is that a conflict in a small part of the county affects the security everywhere as each of the dozens of factions takes advantage.
“When one part of the body is sick, the whole body is affected. You can’t say that there are parts in South Sudan that are more peaceful than others,” said trader waiting to set off for Juba from Kampala. He says however, that there seems to be places that are no-go places for vehicles since even the government seems to have given up on them.
“There are many places that have been abandoned for long. For example, from Yei to Parambusika. Vehicles stopped using that road long ago because of insecurity. Even from Yei to Juba, there are no vehicles plying the road. Therefore, you don’t expect trade there. How would the traders get supplies?” he wondered.
The Chairman of the Regional Lorry Drivers and Transporters Association, Byron Kinene also agrees.
“Most of the roads that connect Uganda to Juba have been infested by ambushes. But the common death traps for Ugandans are along the Kaya-Yei-Juba road because that where many Ugandans go, yet there are hardly any provisions of escorts by government soldiers,” says Kinene.
But Kinene also says there are ambush hot spots along the Nimule-Juba highway at Kitu where many Ugandans have been killed at. “In that place you do not feel any presence of government and the armed thugs operate freely,” he adds.
He says that unlike trucks which are the main targets, passenger buses easily get into convoys with other vehicles, and can easily get escort, because of their high speed it is hard for the armed groups to attack them. But the buses are also making losses because there are fewer people who are traveling due to the uncertainty about getting to their destination.
However, Kinene says the business operators find it had to leave the country because it is where their source of living is. Unfortunately, according to him, there are business people who have lost their merchandises to unscrupulous transporters taking advantage of the situation.
“A driver will tell you, ‘I got into an ambush and the men told me to either give them ten bags of cement, or they burn the whole truck. So I had to surrender them.’ And you have no way of proving him wrong,” he says, adding that even transportation has now become very expensive because of the risk.
So far there is no known effort from either the government of Uganda or a joint action with South Sudan. The Intergovernmental Authority on Trade, IGAD has called on the factions of the opporsition to find ways of solving the differences peacefully.
“I called on SPLM/SPLA-IO leaders to open the avenues of dialogue to settle differences in a peaceful manner so as to safeguard the implementation of the revitalised agreement on the resolution of the conflict,” IGAD Executive Secretary Workneh Gebeyehu said in a tweet referring to Machar’s party.