Caption for the landscape image:

Kenyan truck drivers face new danger in South Sudan

Scroll down to read the article

 Truck drivers park their trucks at Maungu Parking station in Taita-Taveta County, Kenya on July 13, 2023. PHOTO | FILE | NMG

Truck drivers plying the Nimule-Juba route into South Sudan are facing a new threat after a militia group circulated leaflets warning they won’t move without its permission or risk being shot.

The leaflets are dated April 26 and attributed to a group calling itself People’s Freedom Movement (PFM) led by Philip Omon Bartholomeo, an upcoming rebel leader in South Sudan.

In the notice, the group said all pedestrians, cyclists, motorists, passengers and their buses as well as drivers of commercial trucks must stop using the highway immediately.

“Your use of the highway and other roads entering Juba should come to hold with immediate effect as from the date of this notice,” the leaflet says, indicating any new movement of trucks along the highway is subject to PFM permission.

“Any person who will contravene these orders shall be considered by the People’s Freedom Movement for an enemy on surveillance, and the PFM forces along the highway and those other roads leading to Juba will have no reason to spare such a person.”

PFM’s actual demands are unknown, and neither is the group’s size or base. However, the leaflets add to the continual risk truck drivers, especially from Kenya and Uganda, face in supplying goods to South Sudan, a country that has faced militia and rebel problem since it gained independence in 2011.

In the past, truck drivers have been extorted, robbed or burnt to death.

It forced to truckers to adjust security arrangements for drivers, including moving in convoys and seeking security escorts in South Sudan.

“South Sudan is a young country and until its security stabilises, we have been asking for these security escorts and to work in groups of vehicles,” David Masinde, chairman of the Kenya Drivers’ Association, a lobby for truck drivers, told the Nation on Tuesday.

Drivers should be escorted to the destination and back, he said but the drivers must also carry a responsibility by sticking to the rules of working in convoys. When the leaflets emerged last week, however, the drivers say there has been confusion on who actually constitutes genuine security escorts.

“Those attacking our drivers were wearing what looked like authentic government security uniforms. On the other hand, drivers are being asked to pay $50 at makeshift toll stations, each controlled by different groups.”

Under the Customs Union of the East African Community, to which South Sudan, Uganda and Kenya belong, road toll fees have to be regulated and communicated to the partner states. They should also not violate the policy of freedom of movement of people and goods. South Sudan has not provided these tariffs officially, which suggests they are being levied illegally by criminal groups.

Videos circulated on social media by some of the drivers showed a pile up of trucks a Nimule, a border post between Uganda and South Sudan, and which is the main artery of transportation between Kenya and Uganda with South Sudan.

On Tuesday, South Sudan’s government sought to assure drivers of adequate security. It dismissed the PFM as a briefcase rebel group with no capability to stall transport along the Nimule-Juba route.

“Consider these (leaflets) one of the idle threats. Nothing is a reality here and the so-called PFM are clones,” James P Morgan, South Sudan’s Foreign Minister told the Nation.

“Physically, there is nothing called PFM on the ground. This is one man’s dream or wild imagination.”

South Sudan’s civil war has seen plenty of group's splinter, each targeting to reap from its violence. In 2018, a peace deal mediated by regional bloc Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) helped create a coalition government between President Salva Kiir and various armed groups.

Still, some groups held out of the peace deal and continued to fight. Earlier this year, South Sudan reached out to Kenya’s President William Ruto to help mediate between the unity government and the hold-out groups.

Retired Kenyan army commander Lazarus Sumbeiywo is the mediator. PFM is not among the groups, however, and South Sudan has labelled the group as a charade.