Home | Comment & Analysis    Tuesday 19 June 2007

The Woes of Kajo Keji County


By Steven Wöndu

June 14, 2007 — It has always been tough for a little chap to have a juicy share of the meal in the party of big boys. That is why little Kajo Keji at the far rear end of the Republic of the Sudan experiences the woes of smallness.

According to history books, 1964 and 1965 were the years of massacres in Khartoum, Juba and Wau. My generation witnessed what the records do not have; that this was also the period when all homes, schools and churches in Kajo Keji were gutted by government forces. Hundreds of people were killed including my uncle Duku, my two cousins Legge and ‘Bajo, my classmate Jokwat, and my elementary school teacher Toro. This tragedy never captured the attention of the Republic of Sudan. It was only when the Kuku population fled to Uganda that a refugee problem was noticed. To get attention, the Kuku had to go to some other country first. That was ages ago and all that had been forgiven by the Addis Ababa Agreement of 1972. So let that matter rest in eternal oblivion since it could not make it to the dark pages of history.

During the liberation struggle in the 1980s and 1990s, Kajo Keji was known, relevant and important. Today, Kajo Keji is detached from the rest of the Republic. The Kuku are stranded by lack of access to Kajo Keji. The road that was used by the armies between Juba and Kajo Keji during the war is no longer available. There was a road during the war. There is no road during the peace.

Those who feel very strongly about reaching Kajo Keji have three options:

Charter a plane. So far, I do not know of a Kuku man or woman who has been able to afford a rental aircraft. This option is therefore available only to high profile guests. Kajo Keji does not have any. It is not Fashir or Rumbek.

Walk through the bush. This is the good old way we used to travel in the 1970s and 1980s. Some folks could afford the metal horse “ajila” (or urgency in Arabic), which could indeed expedite the journey. Back then there were no land mines which have now rendered the “footing” and cycle options very hazardous. In any case, the options have numerous other drawbacks. The elderly and citizens with special needs are excluded. Commercial merchandize and even heavy personal effects cannot be moved this way. Given that trade and agriculture are the main employers in Kajo Kejii, the absence of a road connection to the Republic destroys livelihoods.

Detour through Uganda. Avery one including the commissioner is forced to travel through Ko’boko, Yumbe, Moyo to and from Kajo Keji. There are immigration implications. For those who actually do have passports, the cost of visas and the absurdity are tolerable. The vast majority of Kuku people do not even know what this fussy thing called passport is all about. Their ancestors have roamed these hills and valleys for centuries. The argument is out of date so the Kuku have to suffer all kinds of harassment, humiliation and frustrations. Imagine these modern realities dawning on grieving families with human remains at the border on the way from Juba to Kajo Keji for burial.

This situation has totally prohibited commercial traffic between Kajo Keji and the Republic. Farmers have no market access and everyone knows the adverse effect of this on agricultural production, and social welfare. The Kuku could procure their manufactured consumer good from neighboring Ugandan shops. That means paying sales and other indirect taxes to Uganda. That is good for Uganda and our Republic does not feel the pinch. Today, the Ugandan authorities have established formal immigration and customs control at the Afoji border crossing. This has made it harder for Kajo Keji inhabitants to “import” small parcels of domestic purchases like soap, sugar, and exercise books or “export” their fruits and crops. Our side of the border at Jale is controlled by a bunch of gunmen whose source of authority is dubious at best. Their apparent mission seems to be more related to extortion than taxation. The minimal courtesies expected of persons in position of power are replaced by brute arrogance and indiscipline. However, there is a board with the consolation “Welcome to New Sudan”.

It is financially prohibitive to take any capital goods or even essential consumables like pharmaceuticals and fuel from the Republic to Kajo Keji. In the unlikely event that the Ugandan authorities permitted passage, then one would have to pay customs duties thrice. Assume you want to take your pickup truck home. You will have paid customs duty when you bought it from Toyota in Khartoum. You would then have to pay import duties at Ko’boko because you are truly importing a vehicle to Uganda. You would them pay customs again at Jale because the gunmen will charge you for importing “ Arabia ” into the Republic. They give you the impression that it is a criminal offense to do such a thing; unless you surrender a bundle of cash, off record that is.

The authorities in Juba are aware of and sympathetic with this situation, I believe. The Kajo Keji-Juba-Terekeka road was in John Garang’s construction plan. Back then, nobody knew the World Bank’s procedures about the Multi Donor Trust Fund were going to be so restrictive. Garang did not know what we know now, that there would be so many investigations into financial mismanagement in our government. These constraints notwithstanding, the Republic shall eventually reconnect with Kajo Keji, sooner or later, I hope. Meanwhile, now that I can write, let the woes of Kajo Keji be on record this time.

*The author is the Sudanese Ambassador to Japon.

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