Published: January 22nd 2012January 22nd 2012 My friend and colleague Robert Lindley is in Juba , South Sudan tackling the fisheries industry. Here are his musings on surviving and getting about in a town that is booming and said to be the fastest growing in Africa. My take is that Bob demonstrates the sterling English qualities and values that won us an Empire (which included Sudan, by the way); great to see that spirit still exists. Surviving Juba Robert H. Lindley in Juba, South Sudan
Sunset over Juba
Photo: Quartermaine's World
After peace (apparently) broke out and South Sudan achieved its independence last year there has been a huge influx of rich and poor returnees from the South Sudan diaspora, and the creation of a vast aid industry with almost every NGO, UN Agency and country aid body represented.
This expansion has led to an accommodation crisis at all levels. Informal housing estates (squatter towns) stretch miles from the centre of Juba town and markets, shops and service industries have established themselves in these areas to serve the needs of the new residents. Hotel accommodation is difficult to find and very expensive. Juba has sucked in large amounts of labour from all neighbouring states (except Sudan in the
Others may require an armoured car for Juba's dangerous and dirty streets, but Bob Lindley takes a "BodaBoda"! Spirit of Empire.
Photo: Bob Lindley
North) and almost all consumer goods and food is imported.
Most of the hotels are a complete rip off. What I can get in Kampala (Uganda) for US$85 costs $180 - 200 here in Juba - if there is a room available. Of course the big aid agencies fund their staff handsomely, paying all expenses, and the hotels are full of knowledgeable white persons. Those of us on a daily allowance, however generous, do feel ripped off since, as we all know, what you don’t spend of the allowance goes straight into the beer money account! So I live in a budget hotel that is secure, has an excellent restaurant and provides everything I need, though without the trimmings.
The Il Paradiso
(GQB: it is not the Paradise Hotel which claims to be very upmarket
) is on Airport Road (GQB: in the Tong Ping area
). The Ethiopian/Eritrean management and senior staff are all very friendly. The hotel isn't for anyone who wants a luxury stay but at US$85 for bed and breakfast its pretty cheap - for Juba
. The rooms are basic and quite small, but they have aircon and the usual washing facilities. The security is good
Fishy Tales of the Nile
How about this size to boast about in the pub!
Photo: Bob Lindley
because it's a family run place and everyone knows the guests. There's no TV in the rooms and the power and internet are not on 24hrs a day, and I have not yet found out whether there is any rhyme and reason for the outages whih are a pain except the one in the middle of the night which is no problem.
The restaurant good, Ethiopian/Eritrean with western food if wanted, and no gut trouble reported so far from two people over 3 weeks. It's full every evening which shows how popular it is. The quality/price is better than any other restaurant we have found on Airport Road (but we don't stray much in the evenings). Nothing has been nicked from the rooms. I note that some other (expat) people have stayed here for a long time, however fortunately there are no international development aid officials or diplomats staying here, which is a great plus point in my view.
The same problems of cost go for transport around town. A taxi to the airport, which from my hotel room I can see together with the planes taxiing on the runway, costs $11. Twice what it would cost back
A Great Bus System
Here's the other bit of the Juba transport system.
Photo: Bob Lindley
in the UK (GQB: Or Dubai!
), and the vehicle at home would be comfortable and roadworthy. The Juba taxi also has to be booked in advance, because there are no taxis running about the roads to be hailed. Hiring a car is no less than $120 a day in town; the driver and fuel are extra. A driver is a necessity to take the flak if there is an accident. Once again one feels completely ripped off.
In my case the Ministry I work in is 8km out of town in a suburb called Godele. Sometimes there is transport provided to and from by our hosts, and sometimes not. Things are really difficult for the Government departments here, their vehicles are old and break down and they get a pitiful allowance of fuel every week. They are not obliged to get me to work and back again but they do try. I greatly appreciate their efforts.
How to get to work if the Ministry can’t offer me a ride? Or get about at the weekends without a dedicated vehicle?
My colleague and co-worker on this project, Paul, is a Ugandan of many years experience. He would never dream of dipping into his per diem and hiring a car. “We go on the bus” he said firmly on the first day when the Ministry informed us that the vehicle allocated to pick us up was completely inoperable and could not be got running. I didn’t know where or how far away Godele was and neither did he, nor where one gets a bus to Godele. We soon did.
A five minute walk to the main road from the hotel and we can flag down a 16-seat minibus to "Custom", which is an important bus terminal. There is a bus every few seconds - every few seconds! The bus has the route written on the side. Ours is “Custom - Ministries” or “Custom-Juba”. The buses go to and from their two destinations all day every day. It’s 1 Sudanese Pound for the trip to Custom, a least a mile and a half. A South Sudanese Pound is worth about US30¢
At Custom its all sound and hustle and bustle just like any busy African market. But there is method here in Custom. The bus terminal is organised so that lines of buses going to the same place line up and are filled with passengers, strictly in order, next to a post with the destination written on a cardboard notice nailed to it. Do not try and board any old bus, only the first one in the queue is to be boarded ! When it’s full off it goes and the next takes its place.
From Custom it’s another bus to Godele, the bus marked “Custom - Godele”, and get off just past the Petrocentre filling station. 2SSP this time as its about 6 miles. This deposits one at the bottom of a long hill that leads up to the Ministry. The road (needless to say) is unmade, very hot and dusty. Not an attractive walk and not a bus route.
But Paul knows his stuff, and in a moment it’s on the back of a 125cc Chinese made motorbike, locally known as a "BodaBoda", and for another 3SSP one is dismounting at the Ministry gates 3 minutes later. 6SSP to get to work, another 6SSP to get back to the hotel. Less than $4 a day to get to and from work. Beats $120 for car hire.
Now I own my own crash helmet which I carry with me always just for this 1km up the hill, and in case I find I need a BodaBoda somewhere else to get me home; I have seen too many BodaBoda dump the passenger and driver into the road for my liking.
A little research and the location of the various bus stations in town can be found out. In our case the starting terminal is Custom, and from there the buses run to about 15 other destinations. From each of those destinations there is another selection of destinations, so one can get just about anywhere nearby Juba.
Now at weekends we go off and do our shopping and visit the wholesale and retail markets (my work means I have to familiarise myself with the retail and wholesaling of fisheries products in town). We do all this by bus, with the occasional BodaBoda ride. We get close up to the people, I have started (long way to go yet) to understand their transport problems and frustrations, and I know a lot more about fish marketing in Juba than I did a few weeks ago.
Interestingly I have never ever seen another white expatriate in a market here in Juba, or on a bus, or on a BodaBoda, though there is a strange man (English) in the hotel who takes a BodaBoda to work in a nearby Ministry every morning (GQB: you see! English!
). That’s not to say there are few expatriates here, there are huge numbers, mostly Ugandan, Kenyan, Ethiopians, Eritrean and also from a miscellany of other African states. A large percentage of Juba’s population isn’t South Sudanese. Much of the business seems to be transacted by African expatriates and the skilled labour is mostly expatriate. They mostly travel on buses and BodaBodas because its cheap & reliable and they probably don’t have any option, just like the locals.
Now that I am accustomed to the bus system I find it to be most excellent. It’s cheap, very efficient, reliable, receives no government subsidy and moves vast numbers of people over long distances all around town every day.
A win for private enterprise I say (GQB: and not a hopeless NGO in sight
). GQB’s afterword: Bob points out that the latest US State Department travel advisory tells people (a) not to go to South Sudan, (b) if they must, stay safe behind the walls of the hotel or compound, and (c) if they really MUST venture out - be afraid, be very afraid - only do so in an armoured car. In contrast the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office advisory merely says to take sensible precautions and “respond in a calm, patient and deferential manner”. Doff your bowler hat (Panama in Bob’s case) and don’t whack the guy with your brolly. I rest my case.