in Juba, odd jobs and big contracts for foreigners

Juba is booming again. It is certainly not on the scale of Kampala or Nairobi, but every day the capital of South Sudan swells and expands. Along its congested streets, buildings and multi-storey houses are sprouting up like mushrooms. A new bridge spans the Nile, two highways connect the city to those of Bor and Rumbek, further north. They are the work of Chinese companies, just like the university hospital, whose new, imposing building was inaugurated in 2019, and the premises of the national television. The brand new power station was built by an Ethiopian company. Because here, the hand of foreigners is everywhere.

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They began to flow in 2005, when the civil war which had opposed South Sudanese rebels against the government in Khartoum since 1983 ended. At the time, what was to become South Sudan was said to have only ten kilometers of paved roads. Apart from the oil installations on the border with Sudan, almost everything had to be created in this growing state like France, sparsely populated and endowed with significant natural resources (oil, minerals, gum arabic, forests, fertile land ). It was necessary to build roads, import food, provide water and electricity… A cake that whetted the appetites of investors and drew a whole army of workers from East Africa along the Nile. .

“Konyo Konyo” means “crowded” or “mixed up”, in Juba Arabic.  This is the capital's main market, where thousands of residents shop for their daily groceries, here on June 29, 2021.

While in 2005, around 120,000 people lived in Juba, the city exceeded one million inhabitants just two years after the proclamation of independence in July 2011, according to city hall figures. Any well-established organization capable of compensating for the lack of basic infrastructure could then hope to win contracts and markets. The economy and corruption flourished for a few years, until civil war broke out again in 2013, this time seeing supporters of President Salva Kiir clash with his main opponent, Riek Machar. Many foreigners fled the hostilities, but the most stubborn remained, providing services that the authorities, corrupt and mired in conflict, were never able to provide. Companies, but also private individuals who have tried to make their hole in this country ultra-dependent on international aid and which imports 90% of what it consumes.

Violence and looting

It was during the period of effervescence preceding the civil war that Adiru Joséphine landed, alone, in the capital of the youngest state in the world. Originally from Arua, in northwestern Uganda, the 40-year-old widow and mother of two now runs a small stall in the Konyo Konyo market. The stall stacked with mountains of passion fruit, oranges and pineapples is no more than 1.50 m wide, but it has enabled the shopkeeper to build up a little nest egg. Every week, she brings in the equivalent of several hundred dollars worth of produce from Kampala for resale in Juba. Thanks to this activity, she acquired land worth 3,000 dollars (approximately 2,500 euros) in Arua. ” Now, she says, I work so that I can build a house there for my children. “

Adiru Josephine, a 42-year-old Ugandan vendor, at Konyo Konyo market on June 26, 2021.

Making his hole in Konyo Konyo was not easy. First installed away from the “official” market, covered and secure during the night, the saleswoman had to fight to get a place inside. But that was just one problem among many. “Selling fresh produce is risky, because when they rot or arrive in bad condition, the loss is mine. “, explains the shopkeeper, who details the long list of charges she must pay to exercise. But Adiru Josephine still manages to keep his cool when South Sudanese customers accuse him, a little aggressively, of inflating prices: “We can try to explain that it is because of the fluctuation of the local currency that we adjust our prices constantly, but generally, it is better not to respond to provocations. “

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Adiru Joséphine was in Uganda, with her children, when a second episode of violence ravaged the South Sudanese capital, in July 2016, after the failure of the first peace agreement signed in 2015, which degenerated into fighting in the city. . Looting took place, perpetrated by the armed forces against traders. While many Ugandans, panicked, fled the hostilities, the shopkeeper returned. ” I was scared, she remembers, but I lacked the necessary capital to relocate to my home. “

Tank trucks

Abdullahi Mahmoud, a 28-year-old Somali, also experienced these incandescent episodes. Manager of the company that built the Konyo Konyo market building, he adapted to survive. “When I arrived in 2012, he says, I had just finished my studies in Uganda. With others, we had set up a company to deliver construction materials to all parts of South Sudan. When the war broke out, this project collapsed ”he said, keeping an eye on the CCTV screen set up in front of his desk.

A South Sudanese worker rebuilds the roof of a hotel for its Eritrean owner in Juba on June 26, 2021.

Outside, traffic jams paralyze the historic center of Juba. Between Konyo Konyo and the mosque of the same district, the agents who regulate the traffic near the small roundabout surmounted by a statue representing Jubek, chieftain and supposed founder of Juba, take pleasure in stopping the truck drivers -cisterns. These blue vehicles surmounted by a tank, a long hose rolled up at the back, deliver water to households in the capital. The drivers are mostly Ethiopians or Eritreans and their tanks provide a vital service to citizens, in the absence of a distribution circuit capable of serving all the districts. During the 2013 fighting, the inaccessibility of some areas caused an immediate water shortage, demonstrating how much the city depended on them.

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“We are in Juba because we cannot be elsewhere! “, drops one of their representatives, Malek *, surrounded by a dozen delivery men gathered at the end of the afternoon in what is both their parking lot and their place of life. “We sleep in these windowless jails for $ 100 a month!” “, complains one of them, a graying beard, in Juba for eight years. He earns, he says, about $ 250 a month, “And once all the costs are covered, there is nothing left”. A precariousness to which is added, sometimes, the fear of being targeted because of one’s nationality in the event of a problem. “I had a little accident with nothing at all and people hit me on it, testifies a driver. I ran away and then they broke the truck. “

“I hate this job! “

It is also foreign companies, mainly Eritrean, which purify the water of the Nile before reselling it in a dozen stations of the city. At the one near Juba’s only bridge, Nabay Abraha waits for his tank to fill up while tinkering with the engine of his truck. “I hate this job! “, launches this 25-year-old man with golden highlights in his hair, who arrived from Eritrea via Ethiopia only six months ago. “You have to get up at 4-5 in the morning and do everything: drive, climb up to the tanks at people’s homes, roll up the pipes and go back… it just keeps on going. “ For him, this passage in Juba is only one stage, because he is above all a painter. What he wants is live of [s]we talent and teach “. It was his brother who started this water delivery business four years ago; he now owns two trucks.

Most Eritrean companies purify Nile water before selling it to tankers at a dozen stations in Juba on June 29, 2021.
Nabay Abraha is preparing his drawings on June 26, 2021 for an exhibition in Kenya in the coming months.  This 25-year-old young man, who arrived from Eritrea via Ethiopia, works as a tanker driver in Juba.

These small businesses that have taken the South Sudanese goods and services market by storm can prove to be very profitable despite the underdevelopment of a country where 76% of the population lives below the poverty line. According to the information gathered, a driver with his own tanker could make a net profit in the tens of thousands of euros per year. They are not playing in the same court as the companies that win contracts for large public markets.

China, the main investor in the country, signed a new contract with the South Sudanese government in March to continue the expansion of the Juba University Hospital over 16,000 m2, including the creation of six specialized medical units. As for Morocco, it pledged in 2017 to finance the construction of the new capital, Ramciel, at a cost of $ 10 billion over five years, according to government estimates. But the project is still waiting to see the light of day.

* The first name has been changed.
At the Konyo Konyo market, June 29, 2021.

Summary of the series “South Sudan: The Unfinished State”