Ransom: The Deadly Trade on South Sudan’s Highways

By Okech Francis

Trucker Al Hadji Mohamed hits the road between South Sudan’s capital Juba and the border town of Nimule-his prayers are he does not fall preying to kidnappers and murderers marauding the 195-kilometer stretch.

“That is the one thought that keeps lingering on my mind, the fear of being kidnapped or even killed,” Mohamed said in an interview in Juba on May 6.

Security, much hyped by the peace accord the country is implementing, has been elusive on the country’s highways, including the Juba Nimule highway that links the country to the East African region.

In the last month, several truck drivers have been abducted travelling on the roads and others killed.

In April, six Kenyan truckers were kidnapped in Terekeka by assailants demanding hefty sums in ransom for their release, 15 million South Sudanese Pounds each.

The month earlier, 13 people were killed in different incidences while travelling along the Juba-Nimule and Juba-Yei highways. Majority of those killed were drivers from neighboring Uganda.

The abductions for ransom and killings are trends that date back to 2020 when two Ugandan drivers were kidnapped and murdered by armed men along the Nimule-Juba Road.

Ransom and extortion were foreign to the country but it is picking up like hot cakes and failure to pay means certain death for the victims, Mohamed said.

“I am afraid that money is simply too much and we really fear to move on these roads because of the high stakes on our lives,” he said.

The sporadic armed ambushes of vehicles travelling on roads outside of Juba, including on the Juba-Lainya-Yei and Juba-Nimule roads, has led the UN Mission in the country to mobilize peacekeepers to provide a protective presence for civilians and to try and deter further violence, the Mission spokesperson Francesca Mold said in an emailed response to questions.

“The mission has established temporary operating bases in Lainya and Kajo-Keji as well as carrying out many peacekeeping patrols, including to Lainya, Ganji, Lologo as well as Lokiliri, Lobanok, Karpeto and Nimule,” Mold said.

“UNMISS is also continuing to engage with local authorities, security forces, and communities to restore calm and build confidence in the affected areas.”

The highways carry the bulk of trade with the rest of the world and such attacks on truck drivers would effectively limit services to the country leading to social unrest, Prof Abraham Kuol Nyuon, the Dean of the School of Social and Economic Studies at the University of Juba said.

“As the highways continue to face insecurity, truckdrivers will not accept to cross over and companies supplying commodities will stop doing so ending up in a shortage of supplies,” Nyuon said.

“People having goods in the country will begin hoarding and shooting prices high and the end result is that it will lead to social disobedience,” he said.

Noting that its persistence could create suspicion among leaders implementing the peace agreement, Nyuon urged them to “be able to identify the source of the insecurity and address it effectively.”

The highway leading from Juba to Yei, a town in Central Equatoria State has also witnessed abductions and killings.

About 18 people including 9 children were picked by kidnappers while travelling along that road this month, the army announced on May 7. The attackers demanded ransom for their release, it said.

Recently the government vowed to provide physical escort to the truck drivers to ensure they are not attacked on the roads.

Still, South Sudan’s highways remain the most dangerous stretches to travel on, Joshua Muhangi who travels over 1200 kilometers between Juba and neighboring Ugandan capital Kampala every fortnight said.

“Between Juba and Nimule, it’s a nightmare,” Muhangi said.

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