Thursday, 22 November 2012

Of Permits, Hand Sanitizer and Mines

Written on 16/02/2011 

Hello again everybody!

So the big issue upon arrival in Juba Port was having our horses checked by the State Vet from the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS) and updating our 2008 Ugandan Import Permits. Because the GOSS ministry did not know about us, they immediately quarantined us at the port. I had to bring all paperwork, of which we have in abundance, and meet with the Undersecretary and please explain… Once again, Yasir Arman’s fantastic letter paved the way and the Director of Veterinary Services was tasked to do the vet check. And I thought it would be just a simple process of dealing with the state vet…

Arrival at Juba Port
The second “simple” process was asking the Ugandan Consul to endorse our 2008 import permits. A couple of emails swapped between vet authorities in Uganda and the consul, a quick signature and stamp and we would be good to go… It shows you how much I know about veterinary health! Dr Wesonga, from Uganda arranged us a brand new transit permit, the only problem being that the internet did not like it and every time it was attached in an email, it would disappear! Dr Wesonga thought we had it, the consul thought we had left and we were politely waiting! Bad communication on my part! After 3 weeks it arrived by plane and within a day a good looking state vet in high heels did the veterinary examination hampered only by a slight fear of horses and the next day we were issued a GOSS health certificate at the cost of US$100.

I need to go back a bit and explain that the village of Jorda on the eastern bank is the northern border of Southern Sudan. It really is a border and was under full control of SPLA (Sudan Peoples Liberation Army). The town of Renk, just further south, had SPLM (Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement) flags flying and all government officials reported to GOSS. The Referendum regarding secession from Northern Sudan was therefore just a matter of going through the motions. In people’s minds, the split was already there and nothing would change that.

I thought the referendum was a waste of time, and money that could have been spent elsewhere. I suppose, however, one should do things formally. I just cannot figure out why George Clooney was so worried about it! A couple of days before the voting, the journalists descended enmasse in anticipation of huge problems like rioting, violence towards northerners, President Omar Bechir declaring war or bringing the LRA in or simply fiddling the count! But no, none of the above… People behaved themselves. It was so unanimous that there was no controversy amongst the voters. It was such a non-event for the journalists and to see them scratching for stories warmed the cockles of my heart!

Dressed smartly... off to vote!
One of the stories the journalists turned their focus on was the returnees (IDPs). Christine had a television interview about the living conditions at port for these returnees. She explained that they were not given good information on how to receive the benefits on offer from NGO’s. Obviously they needed to prove that they came from Northern Sudan, which one could do with a barge ticket but no, a specific signature was required from the IDP camps in the north and because the locals working for these NGO’s resented the returnees, they would make them go through a whole process with counter intelligence before giving them their WFP donor card and promise of transport to their home villages.

While waiting for all this to happen, the returnees were living in the port with no toilets, no clean drinking water, no shelter and very little food.  The TV interviewer, Khalid, wanted to introduce me to one of the directors of IOM (International Organization for Migration – part of the UN). Khalid felt I was a bit more aggressive than Christine and could explain the dire situation of the returnees with more intensity. When trying to shake her hand, she dropped her hand sanitizer, prompting Andrew, the cameraman, to quote the movie Blood Diamond. Leo Di Caprio’s character says to a bleeding hearted journalist, “You come to Africa with your laptop computer and hand sanitizer and expect to help!” I suppose it helped showing her that 30m away from my tent door was where everyone went and squatted, in the open, for their toilet… I mean the UN or its affiliates could have brought in portable toilets and tanker with fresh water – a simple solution, but no, ablution blocks and a water filtration plant were planned…all would take weeks or months to build.

Update on the returnee situation – there are currently 5000 returnees at the camp in Kosti waiting for a barge. None of them can pay for their tickets so are unable to board. There has been some shooting on the river near Malakal so all barge movement has been halted.

The 27 days spent on the barge really took its toll on the horses, in particular, Nali’s hooves and Chami’s old injuries. His muscle strength was also severely depleted and he could not hold himself together at the canter when being lunged. Our exercise regime everyday drew crowds of onlookers, majority of who had something to say!

Chami performing for his audience!
  • We heard that your horses used to speak Arabic, but now they speak English! (Speak = Understand)
  • Horses don’t eat maize! (We feed 4-5kg per day!)
  • Sorghum is the best food for horses because it makes their blood run!
  • What is this thing? It’s a horse. Can it run fast?
  • We have never seen horses before!  You must wash it, feed it sorghum and dates and you must make it run fast.
  • Is it a camel? No, it’s a donkey!
  • Here are some mangoes for your cattle…
  • Which one is the female?
  • Can we eat it?
Here are some mangoes for your cattle!
There was also a fascination with Chami’s hoof boots! They would pick them up and examine them closely remarking to each other how clever the world had become.

The horses, after 3 weeks, were not fit enough but would have to get fit on the road. Travel was going to be very slow. 5km per hour, 25km per day! When asked for our documents by police or SPLA, I would hand over 3 things – Yasir Arman’s SPLM letter, the veterinary health certificate and most importantly it turns out, the receipt for US$100. It has a GOSS stamp on it and therefore acts as a road permit or so everyone thinks! I have not been asked for my passport… There are quite a few people who are reminded of how the Arabs attacked them on horseback and when they see our horses, either run or become highly aggressive.

There have been major battles fought in this area and unexploded ordinance and mines are everywhere. We can only go off the road at settlements or well-worn tracks. However, I am told by a villager that, “The mines have expired now and the best way to remove them is by hoe! And to test that it’s expired, you can jump on it like this!” What do you do with them once removed? “Throw them in the bush, or down a hole or we just put them on the side of the road!” A grader hit a landmine at the end of last year while working on the road. Unfortunately, the driver was killed. The other day a tipper truck dumped gravel on the road and lying nicely on top of the heap was an anti tanks mine…

Remnants of war everywhere!
Southern Sudan is a land locked country and this 200km stretch of road from Juba to the Ugandan Border is most important for import and export. USAID is currently pumping in millions of dollars to tar this road with 3 different companies doing a third each. LBG is the overseeing contractor and they were the first road camp to take us in, give us a hot shower and food that we grew up on in 4 months. What a treat.

USAID funding the road from Juba to Nimule..
Most of the country we are traveling through looks a lot like northern Kruger Park’s (South Africa) bushveld. There are sometimes long stretches of absolute silence apart from the clippety clop of the horses’ feet. Villages are grouped together around wells with hand pumps called a ‘donkey’. These donkeys fill up hundreds of jerry cans per day starting before first light and running up to 10 or 11pm. The water is sometimes very brak and the horses will either not drink or only drink a little until they really are desperate and then they finish off 50 liters between the 2 of them! Ra, a New Zealander, who is LBG’s security consultant, was kind enough to bring us fresh water for the horses along with apples and oranges straight out of the fridge. I cannot begin to tell you what that means to a weary traveller!
The weary traveller...
Currently we have stopped 24km from the border to rest Chami. There are 2 different road construction companies who have built camps overlooking the river, which is a tributary to the Nile. This river is famous for having been a major obstacle to the Northern Army. Because of it, the SPLA could attack their forces as they forged the river. This was the beginning of the end of northern rule. We were invited into the Turkish road camp (ANT), by our friend Johan Koch their head of security. We then moved 600m to Civicon, a Kenyan company also organized by Johan. The camp is being dismantled but is very quiet and feels like an expensive guest lodge with kind Ugandans, Kenyans and Sudanese looking after us.

Relaxing at ANT
Johan, a South African, works for VSS (Veterans Security Service) who are the only armed security company in Southern Sudan. They are security to the construction companies. All their guards are ex SPLA soldiers, which I think is a brilliant way of integrating bush fighters back into society. A lot of South Africans turned to being mercenaries in the nineties because they only had a military trade… The next step should be Adult Education! SPLA soldiers command a lot of respect for having liberated the country and if they are educated or given a civilian trade, they will have a massive influence on how this fledgling country develops. It will also stop them poaching and turning to a life of crime…

Together with Johan and Eduan
Although Southern Sudan has oil wealth, the backbone of any country is its ability to produce food for its citizens. Commercial farming is completely different to subsistence or sustainable farming. All foodstuffs are imported and Juba is a hellishly expensive town to buy good quality food. Most people buy poor quality because that is all they can afford. We could definitely see the difference in our diets. Cattle farming is attractive because you can pay lobola (bride price), have status and there are no fences. The government however, is going to have to create the environment for commercial farming but tribalism and its customs are not going to make this easy.

Christine is looking after Johan’s two orphaned Duikers…I hope she does not expect me to take them along with us when we leave for Uganda on Sunday…

Aren't they cute?
Kind Regards
William (Billy) and Christine (Christy)

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