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Thursday, 19 October 2017

In Juba after S. Sudan Separation (1-10)

I managed with great effort and difficulty to obtain an entry visa to the world's newest nation the republic of South Sudan from its embassy in Khartoum. I had to pay a hefty kickback to secure that next to impossible visa. I was driven like millions of other people by the lure of South Sudan's petrodollar bonanza. I dug deep into my bankruptcy stricken pockets. The hot money I paid unrightfully was siphoned off by shadowy figures and unscrupulous intermediaries who sprung up out of nowhere like fungi. They made huge amount of money by engaging in that dirty business which thrived without being noticed or being brought to account. The kickback although exorbitant and absurd had spared me the time, effort  and  cost of obtaining it elsewhere in neighbouring countries like Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda .The ones who were in a hurry had made the treacherous and costly journey to the  abovementioned  countries . I didn't even set foot on the premises of South Sudan embassy which I don't   know where it is exactly located up to this moment. 
A young bespectacled man dressed in an elegant blue jeans and white cotton T-shirt sounded the horn of a flashy Korean car in a busy Omdurman thoroughfare where I was told to collect the visa. For easy spotting I had to dress myself in an agreed on shirt and trousers .The sound of the vehicle's horn failed to create the desired result because I was in the midst of the city's pandemonium and hustle bustle. You can't tell who is honking his horn to which .When the man inside the parked car patience ran thin he got out of the car nervously surveying the passersby and the bystanders of the human flood. Sensing the sweltering midday sun heat, he quickly hid in the comfort of the car .This holdup was a direct result of the primary middleman poor coordination skills. I could have easily spotted the car if he had given me the plate number and the car brand and colour. This delay must had cost both men dearly by losing a potential victim.
Anyway I wasn't a loser in that situation. I was jobless and wasn't in a hurry. I actually needed something to distract me from the biting pains of my joblessness and it's resultant disorienting impacts. Suddenly I felt the vibrations of my poor quality Nokia mobile telephone ripping through my trousers pockets. It was a bad worn out mobile. It only alerted me to calls through unpleasant pinching and nudging. I reached out for it because I couldn't exactly tell in which pocket it was located. The caller at the other end was the middlemen. I didn't bother to register his name, I could only sort out Who he was through his number which had  four zero digits from the right .Such numbers  were  on high demand in Sudan  because they were  considered rare .Local culture tend to hold owners of rare numbers in high respect. People think they are economically and socially privileged. The voice rushed me to approach the car after barking out its description. I knocked at the car glass window because the guy inside was in a trance .He was dancing and singing to the car mp3 player .l didn't really heard him singing became the glass was soundproof .It was evident from his lips and upper body movements. He shook my hand casually. His other hand was frantically rummaging through the car's dashboard. He hurriedly handed me the passport and  put his car on high gear melting  away in the sea of other racing cars . The dearly awaited for passport felt very cold as if it was in a deep freezer. This proved how accurate my assumption about the passport man quickly cowering back to his car because of the heat was. I stealthily inserted the passport into my backpack .Guessing that I might have been followed by undercover policemen or intelligence agents .The transaction was reminiscent of pushers and contrabandist who are used to plying their illicit business with maximum precautions. With beating heart I jumped  into the nearest  moving minibus although it's seats were full .Any way it was a good chance for an escape .I was a law abiding citizen who feared and hated the long arm of the law.
A woman accompanied by a half dozen children had motioned the absent-minded conductor to disembark.   which  he  did amid  a barrage of disparaging remarks and obscene insults .I waded my way into her rear vacant seat surveying the rest of the passengers faces for a prying eye .To my  relief everyone  was engrossed in his own world paying no attention to what went outside. But how can I quiet this growing sense of guilt. I summoned my courage by ejecting the passport from its save haven .Woo I got it the dear visa .It was my debut visa .I have never thought of leaving my beloved hometown , my beloved muddy house , naughty children, the ever demanding wife and noisy neighbors to the nearest Sudanese  city let alone traveling abroad. I used my thumb and index finger to turn the glossy pages of the passport. When I found a resistance in the process, I resorted to my tongue by harvesting the available saliva on its surface. The tongue saliva had proven to be a reliable paper opener. To my  amazement the visa was nicely designed sticker for a new country to afford . I have seen so many visas before .Because I have worked as a receptionist in the U.N. system. My former job gave me the privilege to hold as custody visitors’ passports .Those passports were varied. Sighting them gave me good information about how people looked, how cultures varied. Who were the best of them and who were the worst. I discovered through my reading of passports, who were the rising economies and who were the plummeting ones. I knew the more visas the owner of passport has, the more is the indicator that he is coming from a wealthier and freer country which guarantee its citizens the much sought after freedom of movement. My journey took place just days before the fratricidal  war between the two most dominant and powerful tribes of Southern Sudan the Dinka and the Nuer .The war broke out in mid December 2013 when the Dinka affiliated president Salva Kiir accused  his deputy Riek Machar who hails from the Nuer rival tribe  of staging a coup d’état .
The tragic secession of South Sudan was immediately followed by an economic downturn because much of Sudan’s budget depended on the oil proceeds. The oil wells fell in territories within the map of the newly born country. It has been a big catalyst in swaying Southern electorates to vote in favour of separation as well as been a fueling source of the current ethnic animosities and wars gripping South Sudan now .Sudan was left in the cold, although a great deal of Sudanese blood and sweat has been dropped in the way of its exploration, pumping and subsequent commercial exportation. This why president Al Basheer continues to remark "we have handed the southerners a country with the ignition key on " implying what was only needed from their part was just a turn of the key to start. The breakaway was like an earthquake. It's aftershocks are still being felt in the North like stone being thrown into stagnant pond. The Sudanese pound was dealt a heavy blow .It's value against the foreign currencies was immensely devalued. To make matters worse and add insult to injury the Southern army briefly occupied and set fire on Heglig which was the last   remaining oil field covering local consumption .The adventure led to complete shutdown of oil pipeline which carries the Southern oil to export terminal in Eastern Sudan.
In  a rare economic paradox the Sudanese pound  continued  it's steep decline, while the Southern pound rate was stable. Because in most secession experiences the economy of the predecessor state (Sudan) was invariably more stronger and viable than the successor state (Southern Sudan) that was the case in Eritrea, East Timor and the Balkan States. The economists attributed this paradoxical situation to the less need of the newly born country for the hard currency because it's institutions and production sectors were still being built from scratch with minimal imports to devour it. Therefore when l landed in Juba the capital of the republic of South Sudan, I found the U.S. dollar and the Euro evidently available in every corner like a commodity. It was exhibited in stalls and paraded by street vendors where ever I went .This was a major pull factor and a magnet that drew thousands of foreigners and migrant workers .They came in droves from all corners of the world and all walks of life .Their main driver was to line their pockets with the omnipresent hard foreign currencies.  I arrived at Khartoum airport before the cry of first rooster to an ever increasing gathering of South Sudanese citizens carrying parcels and cartoons .
They begged the passengers repetitively to deliver these things to their loved ones in Juba. I was adamant. Ihad turned down all requests however immoral they were because I didn't want to invite trouble to myself in a foreign land .The specter of being caught red-handed with a contraband loomed large in front of my suspicious and restless eyes .Who knows? My fears were justified I comforted myself. In such situations one must not play the role of the good Samaritan .My strong memory acted as a defense mechanism by bringing to life instances of people who out of chivalry volunteered in carrying such custodies abroad sadly their reward was an encounter with the heavyweight of the law which pays little attention to excuses. I was the last traveler to finish the cumbersome travel procedures because of the job contained in the passport information. I was an employee. Such a job needed a travel permit and release from my employer. I reasoned in vain with  the concerned immigration officers that I used to be an employee but now I am jobless person. I supported my  argument  with a pile of paperwork and documents , to my  puzzlement it  contained termination of contract letter. The standoff ended happily with the  intervention of a senior officer who through a skip on my documents knew who exactly I was .He barked his orders to his subordinates to immediately release me in order to  catch  the about to take off flight .He nodded to me  in  an apologizing way. I was deeply relieved to  escape the red tape and bureaucracy. I had almost missed my flight .I walked confidently brandishing the boarding pass in the face of the plane crew.