South Sudan independence day. Sarah Taylor/USAID. Learn more about USAID’s work in South Sudan on our website (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Republic of South Sudan is the newest nation in the world today and when I came here last year to work as a newspaper distribution consultant I was briefed by my employers Sudan Advocacy for Development) that I was coming to work under some of most difficult conditions I could ever imagine and the reason they had taken me on was the fact that had worked in places that were recovering from years of armed conflict like Northern Ugandan which had suffered the wrath of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army. Therefore I came here with a bit of mental preparation for some of the challenges that might come my way as I set about establishing a distribution system for the New nation newspaper whose maiden edition as weekly had just hit the streets of South Sudan on February, 20 2012. So, I garnered all the, courage, humility, love, strength and grace that I could and took on the responsibility of Distribution Manger for the New Nation.
By and by, I finally found my feet and got a distribution system up and running after much toil getting the vendors to accept the paper, traversing this geographical mammoth called South Sudan promoting the paper and educating/establishing rapport with the beneficiaries who were to receive the free complimentary copies sponsored by the Belgian government. We got also enlisted the help of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to airlift the complimentary copies to various state capitals for free distribution to schools.
Primary school pupils back home in Uganda scramble to read newspapers during a similar project (Newspapers in Education) like the one of the New Nation.
Satisfied with my service to the people of South Sudan at the end of my contract back in February this year, I returned home to Uganda and back to farming and forestry in my village in Eastern Uganda to carry on from where I left off when I returned to formal employment having had two years break when I left the New Vision Printing and Publishing Company where I had served for more than twelve years. After four months, though, my predecessor at the New Nation was discontinued and I was called back to help temporarily sort out the distribution. Thus I have been at the distribution helm once more, travelling back and forth from Juba where the paper edited and distributed to Kampala where the paper is printed.
It has been an exciting quarter to see the paper grow in copy sales by leaps and bound and also to see the complimentary copies diligently delivered by the UN and public transporters who have very much become familiar both with our paper and operations. The FM radio stations too are reviewing our paper in their morning and evening press reviews and there is more acceptance of the paper by the general public than ever before when it was largely perceived as the “Kawaja’s” (White man’s newspaper). Even at Juba International Airport where I used to be stopped and checked, nobody has lately come up to me to ask if I was distributing an East African newspaper like the Red Pepper or the New Vision which often confused with the New Nation. So, everything has been ship-shape until yesterday.
Yesterday was quite a day, so has been the past week for me here in South Sudan. Yesterday was much worse than the time I fell sick on a field trip in Malakal the capital of Upper Nile State and could neither get proper medical attention nor an immediate flight to Juba.
We have had some break-ins in the past few weeks and just last week a group of strangers knocked at the gate at about three O’clock in the morning demanding to get in and asking which people where residing in our premises, asking whether they were of the same tribe as that of the guards at the gate and how many we were. That was so scary that one of my colleagues who is white decided to leave the premises and spend the night in town until he returned to Kampala yesterday. I have been all alone in our official residence for five full days and I have been sleeping with my eyes wide open – even the sound of a newt on the window has kept awake till day break.
A youth like this one selling newspapers in Uganda would probably be idle and vulnerable to poverty or worse still crime if newspapers had not provided job opportunity even if it is just being a vendor.
As though the precarious security and consequent sleepless nights were not enough, when the 43rd edition of the New Nation arrived in Juba yesterday in the afternoon and got about distributing the papers to the vendors, delivering to various sales points and dispatching to various destinations, I was apprehended at the Taxi park by two plain clothed men who claimed to be security operatives and questioned why I was distributing “Ugandan” newspapers in South Sudan. I told them it was not Ugandan newspapers but they insisted that it was Ugandan despite pleas from vendors and taxi operatives who said New Nation is South Sudanese and has been around for two years. I was taken to an office next to the police post inside the taxi park, questioned as somebody who seemed in charge went through the paper and I was later released. But the two men who taken me there followed me outside and asked for money and told me that they should never see me again at the park distributing Ugandan papers, for the government banned all newspapers printed outside South Sudan, so they claimed.
Well, after pressure, threats and irritation, I gave them forty pounds but they asked for hundred and finally let me go. As I prepared to leave the park, though, with our driver, another two men claiming to be customs officials stopped us and dragged me to the customs office at the park where I was held for more than one hour and was asked to 355 pounds in taxes despite of the tax exemption our newspaper is supposed to have.
As I drove back to office, I remembered how just over a month ago I told to go back to Uganda from at an immigration office at Kaya border post because an officer claimed my visa that I had been issued from the South Sudanese embassy in Kampala was not valid because I did come along with the receipt. I told the officer that I left the receipt at the office for purposes of accountability but he could have none of that and asked to apply for another visa. However, when I went over to pick up the form from the cashier, the person in charge in that office said that I did not need to apply for another visa because I had a valid visa. Thus I went back to the officer with that explanation, expecting him to stamp my passport and let me go. He refused and told me to go back home. Before I could go back over to Uganda, another officer came over and handed my passport to the very officer to stamp it but he instead kept my passport in his drawer. As I stood there,wondering what I should do, fortunately the officer who asked him to stamp my passport returned and asked why I had not proceeded on my journey to Yei and I said the immigration officer had kept my passport. This officer went over to the counter, asked for my passport and picked up an entry stamp, stamped it and told me to go.
Even though I was relieved both to have my passport back and stamped, I was pretty scared that this guy would somehow followed me on my journey, for he seemed, for whatever reason not to like my face a bit. As we drove on, I kept on wondering who truly is in charge in South Sudan, for that was not the first time I witness a junior disobey orders from a senior. I have been a law-abiding immigrant, always having the right documents even though I am frequently mistaken because of my looks for South Sudanese.
Now, I have been left wondering whose authority to trust if juniors are often disobeying their seniors, not even could somebody trust their own officers at the embassy or was it just an act of xenophobia?
On the farm.
Probably I should not have looked backed like Lot’s wife. It is popularly said winners do not quit and quitters do not win but come to think of it; it might be time to quit some things and go back home to the land.