By Denis Ejulu
The bulging youth unemployment rate in South Sudan is a threat to national security following recent violent attacks registered in Eastern Equatoria state including in Upper Nile and Unity state.
In an exclusive interview with the Juba Echo on Friday last week, Louis Lobong Lojore Governor of Eastern Equatoria lamented the youth unemployment rate at the national and state level for being the reason behind restless youth attacking Non-Governmental Organizations and other humanitarian agencies in the state.
On April 28th this year, youth popularly known as Monyomijiphysically assaulted staff from a United Nations agency and a national NGO in separate incidents in Torit town, leading to some humanitarian organizations to relocate staffs to other areas.
The attackers were demanding humanitarian agencies to employ their own rather than recruiting local staffs from other regions of the country.
It’s such violent incidents similar to the ones that occurred in Jamjang in Ruweng Administrative Area in the same month, that Lobong feels should open the eyes of the national government.
The government in Eastern Equatoria briefly suspended operations of humanitarian organizations and constituted a committee to investigate details of all people employed within these organizations with the aim of ascertaining where these staffs come from.
Although, this was not well received by United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) which coordinates humanitarian activities in the country.
Humanitarian agencies have since resumed operations in Torit following lifting of their suspension by the state government.
“The attacks on aid workers have not been happening only in Eastern Equatoria but also in Panyijar in Unity, in Maban in Upper Nile. Youth unemployment is a national issue,” said Lobong.
“Our youth only see the NGOs as the only places to get jobs and also these NGOs pay decent salaries compared to government jobs,” he added.
The State of the youth report launched last year, reveals that 80 percent of the population is living in poverty (on less than one dollar a day), 90 percent of youth have no formal employmentand a majority of youth are unemployed and unemployable.
South Sudan’s population is estimated at 12.2 million people.
Lobong said that if unemployment is not tackled by politicians early enough such violent incidents against humanitarian agencies will be a permanent fixture going forward.
“These violent incidents are not only happening in Eastern Equatoria state they have been happening in other states and such incidents will continue unless the national government addresses the high youth unemployment,” said Lobong.
To prove his point, Governor Lobong in late March survived an armed attack on his convoy at Camp-15 as he returned to Toritafter addressing a rally in Budi County where he had gone to calm tensions following violent communal clashes. The ambush on his convoy killed two people.
“Sometimes back my convoy was attacked by some youth who had been intoxicated with alcohol. These youth were mobilized by some disgruntled politicians,” said Lobong.
Eastern Equatoria being a key trade corridor hosting the Nimule border area where most of the essential goods and movement of people into neighboring Uganda takes place, is vulnerable to COVID-19 as it neighbors three countries in East Africa region like Kenya, Uganda including Ethiopia.
Uganda and Kenya are experiencing the second wave of COVID-19 infections which are alarming with high number of deaths compared to the first wave. Lobong said they have taken measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, especially through movement of people across the porous borders.
“We are actually carrying out tests of several diseases that include HIV/AIDS and COVID-19. Eastern Equatoria is neighboring three countries in East Africa plus Ethiopia a member of IGAD so there is cross-border movement across these countries,” he said.
“The borders are managed by the national government and we have alerted them to do their best to protect South Sudanese from people crossing into our country,” added Lobong.
Lobong lists several achievements his government set out within the first 100 days after being established early this year.
The once rampant attacks on convoys and trucks along the Juba-Nimule highway and other major roads in the state have waned down due to security patrols set up by the state government.
“The situation improved and people started to move except that now again there is rise in highway robberies simply because of the prevailing economic hardship,” he said.
He blames these high way robberies on rogue soldiers from both opposition groups and South Sudan People’s Defense Force (SSPDF) who have been deserting overtime training and cantonment sites.
“Many of our soldiers particularly from different opposition groups who had gone for training and cantonment after staying for a number of months, some of these people deserted with their guns and also some from SSPDF and other organized forces are the ones participating in highway robberies,” he said.
Another challenge, he expects to face is on how to maintain the huge state government that includes, the 100 members of the state parliament that will be appointed soon.