JUBA – Kenyan truck drivers say they will resume cargo transport to South Sudan after a two-week boycott over insecurity on the country’s highways.
This comes after the South Sudan government, which heavily depends on foreign supplies, assured the truckers of beefed-up security along the Juba-Nimule Highway. It is along this key road that several drivers were recently killed and their trucks torched by unknown gunmen, sparking the boycott.
While condemning the killings, the Kenya Long Distance Truck Drivers Union (KLDTRU) and South Sudan Freight Forwarders Association (SSFFA) confirmed that transport had resumed.
“We condole the families of killed drivers. We condemn the killings of our people in the line of duty. The union has been assured by South Sudan security agencies of intensified security,” KLDTRU chairman Nicholas Mbugua said on Tuesday, adding that the country has started heavy police patrols along the volatile routes.
After a crisis meeting held between the two unions in Mlolongo, Machakos County yesterday, the drivers said that more than 20 Kenyan drivers have been killed while ferrying goods into South Sudanese territory in the last three months.
However, even as their unions urged them to resume work, some drivers who spoke to the Nation said they still fear for their lives. They spoke of untold suffering after their vehicles were sprayed with bullets by gunmen while going to Juba earlier in the year.
“Let the two governments ensure truck drivers’ safety first. It’s a risky journey to Juba especially without being accompanied by armed security agencies,” said Joel Kamande, a trucker.
Pressure on South Sudan
On the government’s part, South Sudan Deputy Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister Deng Dau Deng told local reporters on Monday that the deal was reached after several negotiations.
He, however, didn’t specify whether it was a written agreement and if so, which countries had signed.
The strike pressured Juba authorities to act quickly after prices of goods sky-rocketed and the country ran out of fuel.
As of Monday, 1 litre of petrol rose from $0.75 to $2.5 at the pump, whereas 1 litre of the same goes for $4 at the black-market. Many South Sudanese are said to have parked their cars at home due to the biting shortage.
Fewer cars on the road, however, led to reduced traffic jams in Juba.
Goods sold at markets were also becoming scarce during this period and prices rose as cargo remained stuck at the Elegu border post with Uganda.
What sparked the strike
While this is not the first time truckers have withdrawn from the country, the latest boycott was sparked by the killing of two Kenyan truck drivers in an ambush along Juba-Nimule highway on Sunday August 22.
Reports indicated that five trucks were attacked by unknown people in a 5.30am incident about 45 kilometres from Juba. The attackers reportedly tortured the two Kenyans to death while drivers of three other trucks, two Kenyans and a Ugandan, had to flee for their lives. Two others went missing shortly after the attack.
On August 23, cargo drivers from Uganda, Kenya and other neighbouring countries withdrew their services from South Sudan after staging a peaceful protest. They demanded proper security along Juba-Nimule and Juba-Kaya Highways.
In another incident in May this year, three Ugandan drivers were killed along Juba-Yei road by unknown armed men.
In April, two Kenyans were killed and their trucks torched along the Yei-Juba route.
The South Sudan government has previously accused a rebel group known as the National Salvation Front of being behind the killings.
About Juba-Nimule highway
The Juba-Nimule highway connects Juba to the border with Uganda, the main route Kenyan drivers use to ferry goods to South Sudan.
The highway is notorious for ambushes and illegal roadblocks by some of the militia groups in South Sudan.
Since conflict broke out in 2013 and 2016 respectively, many South Sudan border highways connecting the country to the region were closed due to insecurity, leaving it as the only route where the country receives its goods via road.
However, the highway is notorious for ambushes and illegal roadblocks by some militia groups in South Sudan.
Hundreds of citizens and foreign nationals have been killed along the highway over the years.
South Sudan Freight Forwarders Associations chairman, Mr Emmanuel Kachoul Mayen, reckons the rebels’ motive is to disrupt the supply chain from Mombasa port to South Sudan and to discourage the business community and people of South Sudan who use Mombasa Port as their port of preference.
“The attacks are barbaric and in bad taste. Impounding trucks transporting fresh perishable goods is a big loss to our people in South Sudan. We have always enjoyed a brisk trade relationship with Kenya and it should not be watered by a few selfish people,” he said.