Last week, we became the first online newspaper to have a reporter on the ground during the South Sudan independence celebrations. Christine Acen, our Kampala Special Correspondent, travelled to Juba by Coach from the Ugandan capital, arriving in the South Sudan capital a day before the country’s independence from North Sudan was celebrated. In the article that follows, Acen, who holds a Masters degree in law from Makerere University Kampala, narrates the problems she encountered in trying to get accredited, life inside South Sudan and the problems one faces on the road to South Sudan and what life really offers the citizens of the world’s newest independent nation. Her report is yet another confirmation of the efforts we are making in bringing to our readers stories as they are being told or happening. It shows we are always the first with news and go to great length to bring it to our esteemed readers.
Our trip from Kampala on the coach was rather uneventful until we reached the border, especially when we tried to get the accreditation press passes. On arrival in Juba, journalists were to register with the ministry of information and broadcasting. Here, we were suddenly told that we had to pay a sum of US$50 to be allowed to enter the celebration grounds or broadcast or even take pictures within Juba. Officials in Juba issued passes a day before the independence celebration and there was a struggle for passes. Those who had extra gadgets and equipment vans had to pay an extra SDG50 (50 Sudanese pounds) (approx.US$18.68) to get inside the Dr John Garang mausoleum including International Organisations and Institutions such as the UN and its agencies. Other specialized international Organisations who wished to participate also had to pay the same sum. At the ministry, there was a resource centre, but with no connected computer or internet. Journalists had to collect news and then leave the conference halls to look for the nearest internet cafes to send news. Some ended up buying USB modems from the internet service providers though many journalists had already spent a lot of money and relied mainly on internet cafés.
However, with the payments, we knew that the ministry of information had a place secured for us at the mausoleum but we got involved in battles with the army who manned security in the grounds. All of them had guns and some openly wore bullet belts on their chest so when they told us to move back, we did. At some point, the security officers refused us to take pictures of the event and warned us not to continue with what they called ‘this kind of behaviour’. Then each time a head of state or an invited guest appeared and the camera and video journalists ran to take pictures of the visitors, the army would push them back. All the time, the army stood with journalists, blocking us from taking a step from our spot and some went and stood with other journalists who had booked slots at the journalists’ pavilion.
We stood in the scotching hot sun from 7am till about 5pm. The function was scheduled to start at 10am but it started at 12.30pm and all invited guests, except the presidents and foreign ministers sat under the sun, with no tent above their heads. In the beginning, the organising officials had taken their own citizens serving in the country’s top offices to sit at the VIP area and when the foreign dignitaries arrived in large numbers, an announcement was passed that all South Sudanese should vacate their seats for the foreign visitors adding that ‘the South Sudanese skin is adapted for the hot sun’. It took some time for officials and army generals to vacate seats. When ambassadors and foreign dignitaries were directed to the vacated seats, they were not given umbrellas and no water was distributed during the ceremony, except a few people who got water towards the end of the function. Some few also got umbrellas to shield themselves from the hot sun. There was no water sold at the grounds and if one was to buy water, they had to walk a mile or two to buy water outside the mausoleum.
Juba gets most of its merchandise and groceries from Uganda, Kenya, Khartoum, Eritrea and Ethiopia. Khartoum is one week’s drive on the road and six hours flight by air and Uganda is only 40 minutes flight to Entebbe and ten hours’ drive to Kampala so most of the commodities are brought in the country from Uganda. South Sudan has no industries and everything is done at neighbouring countries. Most people who operate businesses in Juba are foreigners who have taken up virtually all sectors including construction, hotel business and tourism, telecommunication and commuter taxi (and motorcycles) and restaurant businesses.