Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The strike by truck drivers from Uganda and other countries in the region entered the third week on Monday, as a shortage of essential goods hit South Sudan over the weekend. Most of the drivers are from Uganda and Kenya.
In the latest development on Monday, South Sudan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation wrote to the embassies of Uganda and South Sudan pledging their commitment to providing security along the Juba-Nimule road.
Hundreds of trucks remain parked at the Elegu border town in Uganda, as drivers continued to protest the killing of their colleagues along the highways inside South Sudan. Following a meeting between representatives of the truck drivers and South Sudan government officials at the weekend, the government agreed that it will provide security to the trucks from Nimule to Juba.
They were also promised an end to other non-tariff barriers, including the many checkpoints along the roads, where unofficial sums of money are usually demanded from them.
“The South Sudan government will provide truckers with a permanent escort unit to every 15 trucks to and from the border, remove all unnecessary checkpoints and leave one tax clearance office,” said a statement from the country’s foreign affairs ministry. The escort will be provided by the South Sudan People’s Defense Force and South Sudan National Police Service.
The ministry also responded to concerns by the drivers that previous offers of escorts were usually abandoned, leaving the drivers exposed. On the other hand, truck drivers have also been accused of violating the convoy escort procedures in previous arrangements, which encouraged the government to abandon them.
“The government is committed to sustaining these safety measures and advise all the road users to adhere to government escort directives,” the ministry says, adding that it will be available whenever a review is necessary.
The East African Business Council-EABC says there are now about 1,060 trucks parked at Elegu, and calls on the EAC to establish a regional armed escort unit that would be more sustainable.
“A joint regional army patrol is a quick solution to guarantee peace and security for truck drivers, business people and their properties. This will ease and facilitate transportation of essential goods amidst the COVID 19 pandemic,” says John Bosco Kaliisa, the EABC Executive Director.
Following the assurances of the government in the weekend meetings and in the Monday communications to the embassies by the Juba government, the truck drivers said these commitments were still in principle.
“This has just come out and we are waiting to see what is put in place,” said the chairman Regional Lorry Drivers and Transporters Association. The two-week halt in cargo transportation to the country has led to a scarcity of essential commodities like food and fuel, with lines of motorists seen crowding at fuel stations.
The Chairman of the Central Equatoria State Chamber of Commerce, Robert Pitia told the media in Juba that there is cause to worry if the strike continues a few more days. “Prices of essential goods are on the rise because the cargo vehicles cannot leave Nimule. We hope the negotiations will see this come to an end soon,” he said.
A number of youth from South Sudan on social media are also expressing discontent over the foreign truck drivers, saying they are denying the citizen’s job opportunities.