What I hated the most was the stench of human excrement.
It was everywhere. The whole city reeked of it. After a while you could distinguish the difference between old, recent and the freshest remains of the ablutions of the residents. My colleague, Gabriel Muriithi, with whom we had driven all the way from Kenya, promptly threw up. Muriithi, a young, soft spoken Kenyan businessman afflicted with a phobia for the unhygienic, was suffering most from the malodorous air.
We arrived in Juba at around 8 pm, on the night of November 30th, 2005, having driven more than 2,000 kilometers in Muriithi’s double cabined Toyota pick up truck. There were five of us on that adventure. There was Gabriel Muriithi; light skinned, a little dour faced and reticent, a façade that belied the razor sharp mind of a trained engineer and a successful businessman. A graduate of Moi University, Eldoret, Muriithi had quit employment after a few years and went on to make a ton of money in business via his company, Kilimanjaro Enterprises.
Weldon Nasike was also a former classmate of Muriithi. Unlike the later, Weldon was gregarious and jovial. He kept the whole group entertained with his jokes and anecdotes. Without him, the long journey would have been that much more boring, unendurable. But like Muriithi, behind his buoyant personality resided a big brain. In addition to his information technology and communications degree, he had recently completed an MBA at the University of Nairobi. He also ran his own IT business in Nairobi, which was picking up well, and already boasted some blue chip companies in Kenya.
These two adventurous men, and I, were the Kenyans on this insane trip. The others were Southern Sudanese, who played the role of guides and interpreters. There was Dr. David Badi; short, rotund, dark skinned and easy going. Dr Badi was sixty three years old, born and bred in the Sudan. The first person to graduate with a medical degree in the whole of South Sudan, Dr. Badi escaped from Juba in 1965 when hostilities with the Northern Arab authorities re-ignited. He fled under a hail of bullets, camouflaged as a Muslim in a Kanzu and Hijab. A prime target of the Arabs due to his education, he was ferried hurriedly from the operating theatre in Juba Teaching and Referral Hospital by members of the South Sudan underground movement, ridden on a bicycle in Muslim garb, down to the banks of the river Nile and across by canoe. The Arabs were hot on their heels, and the crossing of the Nile was made under heavy fire. He escaped to Uganda and thereafter to Kenya, where he raised his family.
Dr. David Badi was an iconic figure in the history of South Sudan. Everyone knew and revered him, and having him on this journey was wonderful. Even those who had never met him, knew of him. It was also, for him, a sort of sojourn, for this was the first time he was visiting Juba in twenty five years. He was going to see his family after all those years. He was especially excited about seeing his mother, who was now one hundred and six years old, of whom he was an only child.
The other Sudanese was Sunday Christopher, an ebullient, fast talking man in his fifties with endless stories of life in the 70s in Juba; his days as a young man on a motorbike courting ladies at Juba university, and ferrying guns and ammo for the South Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in his vehicle when he worked with the Norwegian People’s Aid.
Then there was me, recently resigned from a high flying corporate job covering Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Zambia. Why would I want to resign such a position to drive to smelly post-war Juba? The action was determined by corporate tribal politics, a super huge ego and the conviction that I could put my experience to good use and build my own thriving business, like my friends Gabriel and Weldon. Ergo, this was a trip to find out about the business opportunities that were bound to arise after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of October 2005, the previous month.
The idea for the trip was mooted as soon as the CPA was signed. One month later, we left Nairobi one chilly morning, driving up the escarpment and down into the rift valley, through the towns of Naivasha and Nakuru, up the other side of the rift valley towards Eldoret and on to the border outpost of Malaba. We had done some shopping, mainly comprising long lasting foodstuff like Ultra Heated (UHT) milk in packets and baked cakes. There was an atmosphere of good natured banter and camaraderie in the vehicle, and the miles passed unnoticed. Armed with our Kenyan passports and South Sudanese waraga (an unpretentious South Sudanese visa issued on paper with a picture of the applicant by the SRRA-South Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Agency- in Nairobi) we were processed through the convoluted bureaucracy of the Kenyan side of the border and into the automated, organized Ugandan side. The NRA personnel on the Uganda side welcomed us with a smile and entreaties to sample their potent waragi (not to be confused with waraga) wishing us a nice transition through their country. We changed some of our money into Uganda Shillings.
Fatigue forced us to beak the journey at Jinja, after crossing the Nile at its source, where we sought out a cheap lodging for the night. We would cross the Nile many more times before our final destination. This was my first time in that country, and I was open mouthed in amazement when the waitress genuflected when taking my order of food, eyes averted. Weldon Nasike explained that Ugandan women always genuflect in front of men, and that they will never look a man directly in his eyes, as demanded by tradition. I was embarrassed by the show of deference. She was sorry that there was no food left, that she could only serve us chips and chicken. We told her that that sounded alright, and she proceeded to deliver to our table huge servings of chips and chicken! I wondered what she meant that there was no food left, to which Dr. Badi explained that she meant plantain, lots and lots of it, with even bigger quantities of stew.
Having eaten to our fill, we repaired to our shared rooms. I shared mine with Gabriel Muriithi. Having set the alarm on our mobile phones, sleep overtook us immediately, our bones tired from the potholes of Kenyan roads.
We were up at 5 am the following day, driving through Kampala and onwards towards Gulu. Before Gulu we branched left to drive through the national park, a huge expanse of woodland and open plains. The Chinese were building a highway in this part of Northern Uganda. Human habitation was minimal, except for National Resistance Movement (NRA) army camps every twenty or so kilometers. Soldiers clad in green army fatigues, black plastic boots and straw hats to keep out the sun patrolled the highway in between camps, armed with decrepit but lethal looking AK47s. The army camps consisted of crude earthen huts with grass roofing, filthy compounds with filthier hogs running around or rollicking in mud baths, and naked children playing games in grimy clusters. Sunday Christopher explained that this was Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) territory, where Joseph Kony ruled the bushes and forests between Northern Uganda, South Sudan, and North Eastern Congo, hence the need for army surveillance.
We crossed the Nile again at Pakwach, where the NRA checked our documents, before proceeding to a small town whose name eludes me after all these years. It was a vibrant little town; women adorned in brightly colored vitenges selling smoked fish, teenage boys selling beautiful carvings of toy cars, tortoises, lions and other animals, young girls skipping by the roadside. The Nile, flowing under the steel bridge at Pakwach, was deceptively placid and serene, a lone fisherman on the river in his canoe painting a picturesque, postcard scene.
We slept in yet another decrepit lodging at another little hamlet a little further on. The following morning I was made to understand that Weldon Nasike and Gabriel Muriithi had found some reserve of energy to sample the Ugandan nightlife, drinking Nile lager and, from the glint in their collective eye, probably sampling the nice Ugandan damsels.
Dawn found us on the road again, stopping at Arua to stretch and refuel. At Arua we saw the former residence of Idi Amin, a large farm now gone into disrepair, a rusting water tank still hanging from rusting steel structures and a dilapidated house the only remnants of a once glorious past where the former dictator loved to hold ostentatious military parades. We crossed the Nile for the third time at Karuma, where it cascaded through some rapids in a roar of furious sound, to which the locals told us the name of the town referred. We stopped to buy roasted groundnuts, roasted cassava and mchomo, delicious chicken pieces roasted on sticks on open fires. I was suspicious of the hygiene of the helping, what with the billowing dust and the grubby environment, but it was in keeping with the adventure.
A few kilometers out of Koboko town we ran out of paved road, and onto a murram surface that went all the way to Kaya, the border with South Sudan. Kaya was a nestled in a deep valley, on one side boasting, once again, an organized Ugandan immigration post, while on the other valley stood the chaos of a country just out of war.
The town of Kaya consists of hundreds of little round huts, called tukuls, as Sunday Christopher explained. These, he said, are to be found all over the large territory that comprises Southern Sudan. At the three offices designated for immigration and customs, what one noticed at once was the confusion. We were tossed from one office to the other, the impression we got being that the officers, all dressed in untidy civilian clothes such that you could not differentiate them from the general populace, had no idea what the job entailed. What they lacked in job knowledge and dress they attempted to compensate by wearing exceedingly stern faces and a brusque manner. But the combination just made them appear more inept.
Language was a major hurdle. Whereas the Ugandans spoke English and Swahili, most of their Southern Sudanese counterparts spoke neither. The language here was Arabic. We were lucky that we had the company of Dr. Badi and Sunday, who acted as interpreters. We spent almost two hours going about the business of clearing.
From Kaya you keep right, unlike Kenya and Uganda where you keep left, and we had to keep reminding Weldon Nasike, who did most of the driving, to avoid serious accidents. Shortly after Kaya, we passed a village where a catholic missionary had been ambushed and murdered by the LRA (nicknamed tong tong in Southern Sudan). It sounded Chinese or Vietcongish to me. The shell of his burnt vehicle was still lying by the side of the road. Driving through the bush land and forests of Equatorial Sudan, over the track that passed for a road, and virtually the only vehicle on that road, we expected to encounter the dreaded rebels at each subsequent bend. Our excitement overcame the fear, and we motored on.
It was approaching 7 am when we reached the town of Yei, the largest town in Equatorial state. We were to spend the night here. Yei was a typical rural town, unsullied by the phenomenon of development, quaint little shops selling merchandise like mattresses, kerosene stoves, farm machetes and such humdrum ware. The bustling town bespoke of the resilience of the people; they had endured the intermittent aerial bombings by the Arab warplanes for decades, yet the people were healthy, good natured, and you could discern the sparkle of hope radiating from their eyes as they went about their activities with admirable vigor.
There was only one eating place, a restaurant-cum-bar operated by an Ethiopian gentleman. Dr. Badi, who was well acquainted with the town from his trips to Yei while working for various non-governmental organizations, went with Sunday and Weldon in search of our shelter for the night, while Gabriel and I made the order for supper. In broken English, the Ethiopian proprietor told us that all the food left was injera and stew.
The food was delivered in two big pans, just as the rest of the team was arriving to announce that they were able to get only two beds, which we immediately allocated to Dr. Badi and Sunday, the oldest among us. The rest of us, it was decided, would consider the matter after eating our dinner. I remember Weldon Nasike lifting the thin injera and looking underneath. It was hilarious to hear him explain that he thought it was a tablecloth in the darkness (there was no electricity or generator, the sole source of light a dim hurricane lamp) and that he had expected to find his favorite dish of ugali beneath. He took one bite of the fermented injera, declared it unfit for human consumption, and ordered for a bottle of Nile Special lager in disgust! Gabriel and I ate a little, while Dr. Badi and Sunday ate with relish.
Dr. Badi and Sunday retired to their rooms (a motel fashioned out of a cluster of tukuls) immediately after supper. The rest of us ordered a lot of beer, which we drunk until 3 am. The combination of tiredness and drunkenness, as we had planned, enabled us to sleep in the pick up truck.
After a breakfast of boiled eggs and black tea, we hit the road for the last leg of the journey. Out of Yei, beyond the sluggishly flowing, ash colored river Yei, the route to Juba was uncharted territory, not a journey for the faint hearted. This was the area that neither Dr. Badi nor Sunday Christopher had ventured since two and half decades ago. The road narrowed down to little more than a cattle track, snaking through the pristine forest, up and down deep valleys and steep inclines. We were doing ten to fifteen kilometers per hour, seldom going past twenty. Frequently we encountered signs with the deaths head and a warning to beware of mines. We had been advised to keep strictly within the tire marks left by other vehicles, lest we be blown to kingdom come.
On the rare encounter with another oncoming vehicle, we held our breath in trepidation and held our collective breath, exhaling with an audible sigh of pent up adrenaline once the other vehicle had passed. Even wandering into the bushes to take a leak was ill advised, since it was said that anti-personnel mines were scattered all over the territory. After we encountered a spanking new Isuzu truck with Ugandan plates blown up by a mine, its chassis lying askew like a forgotten monster, much of it’s cargo scattered about, we took the warnings even more seriously and ignored the demands of our bladders.
Every few kilometers we came across deep holes on the road, and opposite each hole we saw the skeletal remains of army trucks, tanks and personnel carriers in all their rusty glory. These were carrion from the war, and we were terrified that we could easily join the statistics of spilt blood and tortured metal, all in the name of money. Still we went.
At one point we found the road blocked by a truck that had stuck in the mud. We were the fifth vehicle in the queue behind it, while the oncoming side had three vehicles. Everyone had to help remove the stuck truck, for that was the only way all the rest could hope to proceed with their journey. It was a study in human co-operation, even though each of the seventy or so people was doing it for a selfish reason, the need to be on their way and avoid spending a night in the forest that the LRA rebels roamed.
A familiar mode of transport was a five ton Mitsbubishi truck, laden with goods beyond the top railings, men, women and children hanging precariously on every available space left. Due to the uneven nature of the road, the truck would frequently tilt at an acute angle that threatened to spill the human cargo. One such truck was among those stuck, and the passengers came out to help push out the offending vehicle. One light skinned young man (you could tell he wasn’t Sudanese by his complexion), upon seeing our Kenyan registered vehicle and assuming thereof that we were Kenyans, started a conversation with me, in Kikuyu. I could understand his assumption that we were Kenyan, given the vehicle DNA, but why would he narrow me down to a Kikuyu? Anyway, he disclosed that he was a teacher from Kenya, and that, tired of low pay and the hopelessness of ever making enough money, he had asked his wife that they travel to South Sudan and check out the opportunities. He introduced me to the wife, who was heavily pregnant, probably in her last trimester, and I was awed by his courage and at the same time sad at his recklessness, endangering his wife in this fashion. But I suppose, that is the stuff real pioneers are made of.
We got over that challenge and proceeded, with little to see other than thick bush, huge trees, the ghosts of war equipment and tall grass. Once in a while we passed a rickety little village with a few baked brick houses and lots of tukuls. We encountered a few crudely put together checkpoints by the SPLA, manned by red eyed soldiers in tattered uniforms and plastic sandals for boots, who invariably asked for, nay, demanded, money openly. Sunday Christopher explained that the soldiers were not receiving pay from the nascent Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS). Apparently the fifty-fifty oil revenue sharing largesse agreed upon in the CPA had not yet percolated down to the NCOs, corporals and sergeants.
We were pleased to come across a Bangladesh peacekeeping team. They had built a steel bridge over a ravine, and were busy de-mining the road. The main de-minor looked anachronistic in his space suit, scouring the ground with his electronic thingamajig. They stopped us for one hour. We sat there, in the sweltering air inside our vehicle, as he went about his painfully slow, painstaking chore. We didn’t complain. The spaceman had probably saved many lives in this manner.
The sun was setting when we drove around a huge mountain overhang with glittering black granite rocks, which Dr. Badi and Sunday described as Jebel Kujur. Jebel stands for mountain in Arabic. The mountain loomed out of the hazy distance like a colossal, incomplete creation of the gods, waiting for the deities’ life giving breath to rise up and dominate all other creations. The bright orange of the setting sun created a monstrous silhouette out of Jebel Kujur, below which the thousands of tukuls that comprised Juba city lined up like soldiers on parade. On this side of Jebel Kujur, there was a vast army camp for the SPLA, comprising makeshift dwellings and more battered army vehicles of various make and intimidation, including tanks. Apparently, this is the farthest the SPLA had advanced in large force towards Juba since the CPA one month before.
The road meandered around the military garrison that housed the Arab forces. It was, in comparison to the rest of Juba, a glitzy institution with paved roads and numerous flowerbeds in a riot of colors in full bloom. Dr. David Badi and Sunday Christopher were ecstatic with excitement.
“Juba was what is called a garrison town in military parlance, during the last twenty odd years of the war,” Dr. Badi explained. “Being the capital city of Southern Sudan, the Arabs built a garrison here to control the town as the first step towards control of the region. They established a perimeter fence around it, to keep out the SPLA and to keep the residents inside. The people of Juba could not access basic essentials like food and medicine. Nothing came in or out of Juba that the Arabs did not sanction. The people had to make do with grains and drugs delivered either by military cargo planes or by river boat from Khartoum -the Nile is only navigable up to Juba. Half the time the food and drugs were way past the expiry date. Juba was a dumping ground,” Dr. Badi said, the sadness in his voice and the anger just beneath painfully palpable.
“There was a permanent curfew all those years. Anyone seeking to leave Juba, even if it was to tend his or her vegetable shamba just outside of the town, had to get a written permit from the Arabs, and had to be back within the town gates by 6pm,” Sunday added in a tone strangled with emotion.
It was in this pensive mood that we entered Juba city. As our vehicle was being checked at a decrepit customs shack, guarded by a worn out Russian T72 tank, we lighted to stretch our legs. Away from the air conditioning system of the car, we were assaulted by a thick cloying smell which seemed to build up in intensity by the minute. I looked around, expecting to see some dead bodies, animal or human, but there were none. I turned to Sunday for an answer.
“What’s that smell”?
That is the signature smell of Juba city. It is the smell of human excrement,” he replied.
“How can that be possible,” I started to ask, “surely…..”
He cut me short in mid sentence. “The town has no sewage system. The Arabs didn’t bother to invest in one. People had to dig pit latrines in their compounds, but since the rock shelf is close to the surface, most of them are very shallow. In addition, many of the households do not have even these basic amenities, so many people simply just do their ablutions in the open, behind bushes, beside fences and on basically any open space.”
For the next one week, we would learn to live with the smell that seemed to hang like an invisible fog in the scorching heat; thick, syrupy sweet, ripe, its strangling presence seeming to cling to every surface and especially around the nostrils.
Once again we were faced with the routine of looking for food and accommodation. We dropped Gabriel, Dr. Badi and Sunday at a place that we were directed, some rickety restaurant by the name Kololo that boasted an open air discotheque. Despite our being bone weary, Weldon and I drove to some place called Bros, located at Riverside (on the banks of the Nile), to meet our business contact. Weldon had been on telephone contact with Dieng Kulet, a Southern Sudanese lawyer, who was to introduce us to the new GOSS minister for telecommunications.
Bros turned out to be a tented camp with about two hundred tents, each going for one hundred and twenty dollars per night, exclusive meals and air conditioning. The tents were stifling hot inside and tightly cramped. We asked around for said gentleman, who joined us after a few minutes. Dressed in a flowing white kanzu, he loomed out of the darkness like a gigantic angel sans wings. He was the biggest man I had ever had the pleasure to meet. Southern Sudanese are renowned for their intimidating size, especially the Dinka tribe. Per capita height topped 6’4. But even by their standards, Dieng Kulet towered mighty. His open shoes were the size of a small boat. He was accompanied by a very beautiful Dinka woman of similarly ample endowment, but I do remember being stuck by her near perfect physical dimensions. Dieng’s pleasant baritone and friendly mien contradicted his physical presence. He was nice and accommodating. He called the Minister, who informed him that he, the Minister, was away in Kampala and would be there for a while. It was a singularly disappointing bit of news, for we had driven all the way to meet him, Dieng having assured us on telephone from Kenya that he would be in Juba at that time. Dieng said that he too would be traveling to Kampala, and that we should plan to go and see him there, and he would arrange a meeting with the Minister. We had no option but to submit. Weldon requested Dieng to lend him his Thuraya satellite phone (there was no other means of electronic communications in the region), which he used to call a contact that he had in Yei, to book him a tukul at the same motel that Dr. Badi and Sunday had slept in. He intended to go back to Yei early next morning and wait for us to pick him up on the return journey. The disappointment had killed his mood.
Our business concluded, we bid farewell to Dieng, and drove back to Kololo, to encounter yet another disappointment. Our colleagues had had their supper, and instructed the restaurant management to keep our share warm in the kitchen. Somehow, the food had disappeared, and there was no more. It was midnight. We were informed that there was no other place we could get food. Like we had done at Yei, we ordered beer to fill the belly and dull the hunger pangs. As we drunk our beer, Gabriel regaled us with the story of the big snake that had appeared on the dance floor when a group of revelers was dancing. The party had broken up to murder the intruder, and resumed as soon as the job was done.
After our beers, we dropped Sunday Christopher at his home in Munuki, and Dr. Badi at his in-laws’ house at Atlabara. We left both families in the midst of loud and exuberant jubilations, as expected after seeing their loved ones after twenty five years.
The following morning Weldon left for Yei on board a returning, empty Canter truck-there being no goods exported out of Juba towards the South. Gabriel and I were left to do the due diligence for our proposed businesses. The foremost aspect of the due diligence was to monitor the security situation. Peace prevailed, and it vindicated our assessment that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement would hold and make room for business.
Groups of Arab soldiers in brown camouflage could be seen strolling about the hot, dusty and dirty streets, speaking softly in guttural Arabic. They walked alone, never mixing with the local Southern Sudanese, and only visiting business premises operated by fellow Arabs. They seemed to look at the Southerners with suspicion. They didn’t talk with the Southerners, and the favor was returned. We were told that, just a month before, when the war was still ongoing, they walked with a swagger, and ordered the Southerners about, and threatened them in equal measure. Now, many SPLA soldiers roamed the streets with affected arrogance, brandishing AK47s. Before the CPA, not a single SPLA soldier could have been seen. It was strange indeed, the abrupt shift in the pecking order. In fact, we were told by the locals with a smirk of satisfaction, it was a whole paradigm shift from the old days.
The Arab soldiers viewed the Southern visitors (Ugandans and Kenyans) with even more suspicion and dislike, even loathing; one could tell just by the way they looked at us and listened to us speak English and Swahili. This was the first time they were hearing the two languages spoken in the streets, since even the Southern Sudanese spoke Arabic as dictated by law during the decades old siege. Their non-too-subtle sneers thrown in our direction said that they considered the languages loathsome gibberish, especially Swahili whose origins were from the East African coastal heathens. Thinking that maybe paranoia was getting the better of me, I checked with Gabriel. It wasn’t. He too had seen the restrained snickers, noses turned high at our pagan lingo.
During the course of the five days that Gabriel and I spent in Juba, we witnessed a perplexing paradox. The locals from Equatorial further south were already becoming disenchanted by their Dinka brothers who hailed from further North, complaining in hushed tones that the Dinka now comprised the majority in the new Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS). They complained that the Ministers and other top government and military people-SPLA was majority Dinka- spent all their time at Bros restaurant, where accommodation was USD 120 per night, and expensive meals, wining and dining through out the week, all paid for with the new income from oil sharing revenues with Khartoum, while the citizens continued to suffer post war hardship..
The Equatorians, in their explanations to us, were already getting worried that the Dinkas were on the way to colonizing them, just like the Arabs had done. Some even went as far as reasoning that they might vote for a united Sudan of old come the referendum as envisaged by the CPA, arguing that they were better off colonized by outsiders than by their own!
It was an ominous chrysalis morphing into full bloom, this pupa of ethnic bigotry, the dark wings of the future adult likely to cast a shadow of grief over the skies of the newest African country in the coming days. Every evening we held discussions centering around this topic with Chris, a brave Caucasian who had partnered with a Southern Sudanese to start Capital radio, the only radio station. Under the shadow of Jebel Kujur, behind the setting sun, Chris described a people who were difficult to understand, who did not comprehend the concept of law in its most basic form, a people who were governed by the most basic human instincts as opposed to reason. I initially thought he was being condescending until I witnessed some incidents that left my jaw hanging.
We listened to the stories with the interest of investors, for it is such stories that describe political risk. But we knew that the peace would hold, at least until 2011 when the referendum was held. In the mean time, we could make hay while the sun shone.
Food was difficult to come by, and expensive. It was also hawked in the most unhygienic of conditions one can imagine. One evening we went for dinner at an Arab restaurant, one of the few operating in the town. Gabriel, in search of a place to wash his hands, happened to pass by the kitchen where he saw mounds of bluebottle flies covering the meat and droning around lazily. The rest of the space not covered with flies was coated with a thick film of dust; dust was everywhere, swirling in furious dust devils, and I imagined it broadcasting bacteria from the thousands of mounds of human excrement. Gabriel led me out of the restaurant in a huff of disgust, and henceforth we lived on a diet of UHT milk and cakes. Gabriel had a lively imagination, and he imagined those flies feeding on the abundant human excreta before snacking in the restaurant kitchen.
We left five days later, retracing our long drive. We picked Weldon from Yei town, where he had spent the five days in a pleasant haze of discovery and inebriation. He did recount a few interesting anecdotes, such as the grenade that had gone off in the market square and sent Kenyan and Ugandans scampering for safety, while the Sudanese just looked on. He mentioned a Kenyan who had slept with a Southern Sudanese girl, only to find himself under arrest. He was guarded by soldiers under a mango tree for a full day, as he tried to negotiate the terms; pay the equivalent of USD 10,000 in dowry and marry the lass! He was already married with children in Kenya, and while the first requirement could be surmounted by some stroke of luck, the second would surely ruin him. As we left he was still attempting to bargain his way out. Such are the tribulations that awaited unsuspecting Kenyans in the land of opportunity.
We drove back to Kenya, our peaceful country, which too, unbeknown to us, just like Southern Sudan, her hour of dalliance with catastrophe was beckoning.
Still, what I remembered most was the offending smell of excreta.
Since that week of November, 2005, over one hundred thousand Kenyans are working and doing business in Southern Sudan. It is a treacherous terrain for the Kenyans especially, given the stories of ‘rule of the jungle’ that appear in the press. The Kenyan press has reported numerous incidents that point towards a spontaneous spate of xenophobia, wondering why the cousins they gave shelter and succor to all those years now turn against them with little regard to law or natural justice. Many of them have returned home in body bags, and some of the incidents have caused high level diplomatic rows.
I have traveled to Sudan many times since, and witnessed how ruthlessly the rule of the jungle is applied there, especially to the detriment of foreign workers and investors. This is a story that can make hilarious reading, a tragic-comedy of modern times.
Gabriel Muriithi went on to set up a number of businesses in Southern Sudan, and made a lot of money between that first safari and today. He is still making money.
Weldon Nasike made great initiatives to meet the GoSS Minister for Telecommunications. He met him in Kampala, and sent me back to Juba in February of 2006, to make further initiatives. They amounted to nothing, due to strange ways of doing business in that region. One day he ‘cut his losses’ a phrase he was much fond of, after various misadventures, and forgot all about Southern Sudan.
Sunday Christopher has continued to offer his services to Gabriel Muriithi, as a consultant.
Dr. David Badi enjoyed the re-union with his family in Juba. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and died while under treatment in Nairobi, in May, 2006. His mother outlived him, but the shock of losing her only child was too much for her, and she too passed away a few months later. Dr. David Badi’s story, the story of a veritable icon in the medical field in Southern Sudan and Kenya, with some links in Uganda, cannot be done justice as a short story, and requires a full length book. He was truly an East African man.