Kenyan trader: I lost two lorries to South Sudanese soldiers, turning me into a pauper
Ali Yusuf Kurbale wants nothing less than the State’s intervention to help him get compensation for his two lorries that were commandeered by South Sudanese soldiers in separate incidents in 2014 and 2017.
The losses have since turned the businessman into a pauper.
Kurbake was based in Uganda, dealing in the logistics and transport industry. The 63-year-old was well-known in the trade, plying all manner of routes in Kenya, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the then war-torn South Sudan.
Misfortune first struck in early 2014 when his Scania lorry registration number UAF 984N and a trailer registration number ZB 6307 were forcefully taken by some soldiers and detained at Jebel Police Station.
For one who had done his part in supporting the rebirth of the newest nation by supplying food at a time of immense political upheavals, Kurbale cannot believe that his recompense was have been losing his truck.
“I never carried a gun to help my South Sudanese brothers in their fight for freedom, but I believe I did my part by ferrying food supplies, risking my life while at it. I should have been thanked, not treated as badly as I was,” he says.
The troubled man recounted how he had on several occasions spent nights in the cold, hiding in the forest whenever they got wind of danger ahead, but never gave up because he believed his trucks’ supplies were crucial to saving many lives.
Alongside his colleagues, he had on the fateful day successfully delivered bags of cement for the construction of a church in Yei and received some goods to transport to Juba. They were accosted in Juba by some soldiers who threatened them at gunpoint to hand over the lorry’s keys before taking off with it.
Following this incident, the distraught businessman wrote to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which promptly responded by writing a letter to the Inspector General of Police of the Republic of South Sudan, General Daniel Deng, concerning Mr Kurbale’s vehicle.
A letter dated April 22, 2014, drafted by one PP Onyango on behalf of the Principal Secretary in the Foreign ministry shown to the Nation, requested the South Sudanese police boss to assist Mr Kurbale. It further stated that Mr Kurbale would leave Nairobi on April 24, 2014 carrying all documents to authenticate his ownership of the vehicle while accompanied by an official from the Kenyan embassy to meet with General Deng over the matter.
“The import of this letter is to request your esteemed office to accord him all the necessary assistance as appropriate in a bid to have the vehicle back in his possession,” the later concluded.
This never happened.
Kurbale says the police boss declined to meet him and the representatives from the Kenya embassy when they arrived in Juba.
“I later heard that the truck was dismantled by the people I had thought would offer my crew and me security and sold as scrap metal. I never felt so cheated,” he said.
Undaunted, he kept a brave face, acquired another lorry, a Volvo F10 model, and continued with his transportation business.
Though he cannot recall the exact date, he remembers it was in late 2017 when he delivered some relief food to Wau and was lucky to get another contract to transport a tractor. After the delivery, his lorry developed a mechanical hitch, forcing him to park it at Lipax Petrol Station in Gumbo and travel back to Nairobi to get the spare parts. The journey took him two days.
When he got back, he was shocked to find the lorry had been dismantled and sold off as scrap metal.
“This was now the second time something like this was happening to me,” he says tearfully.
The two trucks had cumulatively cost him Sh11 million.
On December 23, 2017, he reported the matter to Gumbo Police Station and a warrant of arrest was issued, however, those accused resorted to threatening him and no arrest was made.
He again reported the incident to Juba Police Station and it was filed as Case number 6465. Another warrant of arrest was issued but no one was arrested, and he suspects that remains the case to date.
However, through his lawyer, Kurbale and the security forces agreed that a compensation of $133,000 (approximately Sh13.78 million in 2017) would be paid to him.
“They only paid $7,000 (approximately 725,700) out of which $4,000 was paid to the lawyer who helped in filing the case,” he says.
Sensing his efforts would no longer yield any fruit in Juba, Kurbale decided to take the bull by its horn and began writing letters to South Sudan President Salva Kiir, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and Kenya’s former and current presidents Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto on diverse dates.
To President Kiir, he drafted a letter on January 20, 2020 detailing his distress and attached copies of the Juba Monitor dated January 19, 2019 and September 14, 2019 highlighting his experiences. To date, he has never received feedback.
In the letter sent to President Museveni on July 7, 2021, which was marked as received on July 8, he sought the assistance of the Ugandan government since the vehicles had been operating from Uganda. No help has ever come.
Kurbale wrote two letters to former President Kenyatta – one on September 14, 2021 and another on February 15, 2022. Both letters detailed his painful experience. He never received a response.
With the change of guard in the government, the determined Kurbale wrote to President Ruto on December 7, 2022over the matter. He explained to President Ruto how his efforts to get justice.
“Right now, I do not have any source of income. I am relying on well-wishers to eat and sleep. I kindly request you to assist me in this matter,” he wrote.
He is hopeful that maybe, just maybe, this last letter will not only reach President Ruto but will also mark the end of his tribulations.
“All I want is justice so that I can be reinstated to where I was,” he conclude.