‘Life is miserable’: Even when there’s food in South Sudan, many can’t afford it

Women carry bags of food home after an aerial food drop by the World Food Program in the town of Kandak, South Sudan, in May. (Sam Mednick/AP)

November 18 at 5:00 AM

 If a teacher in South Sudan wants to buy a chicken for dinner, he would have to save everything he earns for two full months — and it still wouldn’t be enough.

Five years of intense civil warfare have decimated South Sudan’s economy and killed an estimated 380,000 people. A third of the population is displaced, every second person is going hungry, and hundreds of thousands are at risk of starving to death in the world’s newest country, according to the United Nations.

Parts of South Sudan — including key agricultural areas — are nearly emptied of people; they fled for safety or to find food. That means those who remain in South Sudan are relying on imports, even though a plunging exchange rate means imported food is overwhelmingly expensive. And despite the influx of billions of dollars in food aid, attacks on deliveries, bad roads, flooding and deliberate government interference mean that food often doesn’t get to the people who need it.

The result, according to United Nations data, is that even when food is available, many prices are so high — a single meal costs two times the national daily income, according to a report released this year — that people can’t buy the things they see in markets or shops. This is threatening to worsen a crisis that is already Africa’s biggest refugee exodus since the Rwandan genocide in the 1990s.

People are being forced to make difficult sacrifices to survive, said Nicholas Kerandi, a food security analyst with the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. Some eat only one meal a day. Others cut out education or health-care costs. Many become refugees.

“It’s a way of coping. You have less income, but you still have to eat,” Kerandi said.

For someone like John Leju ­Celestino Ladu, those difficult choices are all too real. Ladu is an assistant professor at the University of Juba. He makes the equivalent of about $40 a month.

“The situation is so terrible,” he said. “It’s very bad. It’s really hard.”

To take the bus to and from work costs about $10 a month. Like many South Sudanese, Ladu is caring not only for his immediate family members; he has also taken in about 10 others. Some are un­educated and can’t secure a job in the highly competitive market. Others lost family members in the war and need support.

A kilogram of beef to feed 15 people costs about $5. Rather than spend money on meat, most days they eat beans and boiled corn flour called ugali.

Ladu, who has a doctoral degree in environmental science, supplements his income by driving his motorcycle as a taxi or picking up work as a laborer. He is one of the highest educated in a country where fewer than a third of the population can read. But even he has thought of becoming a refugee to survive.

Last year, the United Nations declared famine in some parts of the country — and said millions more people were at risk. Already, billions of U.S. dollars have poured into food aid. The United States alone, the biggest donor, has given $1.78 billion since the beginning of the conflict, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development, including $336 million this year. In May, the Trump administration threatened to cut funding to South Sudan unless the country’s conflict ends.

But it’s not just getting food donations to the country. South Sudan is one of the most dangerous places in the world for aid workers. The government and opposition forces actively prevent food from getting to areas of urgent need, according to a statement from the U.N. secretary general. South Sudanese government officials have repeatedly said they don’t deny access.

Michael Makuei Lueth, South Sudan’s information minister, said that the U.N. estimates of people going hungry are unsubstantiated and that the reality on the ground is different. He acknowledged that some in South Sudan have become economic refugees but pointed to a recent peace deal as a sign of progress.

“Definitely with the agreement, the economy will improve,” he said. “Because whatever was being spent on the war and all these will be used for other issues, especially for the improvement of the economy.”

In July 2013, two years after the country became independent and before the war broke out, a teacher or government worker earned a salary worth about $350 a month. Five years after the war began, the same salary is now worth about $6 because of the devaluation of the South Sudanese pound.

For those teachers, half a gallon of milk now costs nearly half their monthly budget, at $2.70.

But not everyone’s salary is losing value. Peter Garang is one of the luckier people in South Sudan. He works as a security guard at a building in the capital, Juba, and he gets paid in U.S. dollars. That means every time the value of the South Sudanese pound goes down, he gets more money in exchange. But he says he still can’t survive without cutting back.

“That’s not enough to buy food,” he said. “When you clear your salary, you cannot buy anything.”

Garang has four children, but only one is in school. The fees are too high. He’s also responsible for his three brothers, two sisters, and his and his wife’s parents.

He doesn’t buy chicken or sorghum grains anymore. Even the price of a cup of tea from a street vendor forces him to think twice.

Since the start of the latest round of peace discussions between South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and the leader of the opposition, Riek Machar, Garang says the prices have gone down slightly. He’s hopeful that this time the agreement will hold.

The South Sudanese leaders have made numerous attempts at peace talks — and nearly all have broken down. After the last peace agreement collapsed in July 2016, more than 1 million people became refugees.

Hopes are higher for this peace agreement because it was negotiated with Sudan, which South Sudan seceded from in 2011 after decades of civil war.

Oil is South Sudan’s primary export and a main driver of its economy. When the country separated from Sudan, it agreed to pipe its oil north. The fighting shut down several oil fields, but Sudan promised to get them working again as part of this peace agreement.

“There’s of course an incentive for Sudan to help,” said Thomson Fontaine, the senior economic and financial management adviser for the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, the group responsible for monitoring the implementation of the South Sudan peace agreement.

“There is a sense that with peace, the economy could really take off,” Fontaine said.

Aside from oil, the country could rely on exports of natural resources such as gold; agricultural exports such as vegetables and gum arabic; and hardwoods such as mahogany and teak.

But much of South Sudan’s most productive area, called Equatoria, has nearly emptied of people since fighting spread there two years ago. For fear of being accused of helping opposition soldiers or to avoid getting caught in the fighting, many people left their farms unharvested. The U.N. food agency estimates that the harvested area was reduced by nearly 50 percent since last year, distorting market prices even further.

“It’s affecting my family terribly,” said Ladu, the university professor. “Life is miserable. Very miserable.”

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ATMs Run Dry as Sudan Economic Rot Goes Beyond U.S. Embargo

Chronic cash shortage. Link to web article.

Going by his bank statements, Isam Ali isn’t short of money — but in Sudan’s cash-strapped capital that’s exactly what he is.

Several times a week, the 45-year-old accountant lines up at one of the few ATMs in Khartoum still dispensing banknotes, waiting hours to withdraw the daily maximum of 2,000 Sudanese pounds ($42). That sum’s being spread increasingly thinly to feed his family, as inflation in the North African nation hits its highest in two decades, quashing hopes 2017’s lifting of U.S. sanctions could spur an economic revival.

The reality: three devaluations for the Sudanese pound this year, the central bank rushing to print more money and a government that can only promise further austerity as President Umar al-Bashir periodically hires and fires his ministers.

“Things are going from bad to worse and the government is changing the cabinet only to buy time,” said Ali. A father of two, he’s feeling the trickle-down from a dearth of foreign investment in Sudan and a chronic lack of liquidity in its banking system.

In a torrid decade for Sudan’s $117.5 billion economy, which included the south seceding in 2011 with three-quarters of the united country’s oil reserves, the past year may have been its worst.

Economic Contraction

Despite lifting most sanctions, the U.S. still lists Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism, a designation that officials blame for the lack of significant new investment. Inflation is almost 70 percent, and the pound trades at 47.5 per dollar, plunging from 18 in January. The International Monetary Fund says the economy may contract 2.3 percent this year.

“People lost confidence in the banking system,” says Hamid Eltagani, a Sudanese economics professor at the American University in Cairo. “The economy is becoming more of a rudimentary system of barter-exchange and the government has no instrument to entice cash into the banks.”

Sunset view of Khartoum

Bloomberg

While the U.S. sanctions — imposed in 1997 on terrorism allegations — hit Sudanese government agencies that provided essential services, the nation’s elites often found ways to circumvent them, setting up companies that benefited from preferential access to hard currency and contracts.

Click here for more about how Sudan’s elites escaped the worst of U.S. sanctions

Al-Bashir has repeatedly blamed Sudan’s economic troubles on alleged plots by the U.S. and other Western countries. He’s said “fat cats” including unidentified bankers, black-market traders and smugglers also bear responsibility.

Prime Minister Mutaz Musa in October announced a 15-month plan to trim inflation, cut spending and tackle corruption while defending those on lower incomes. The government said on Saturday it was raising flour subsidies to protect the price of bread. A January decision to lower subsidies on that commodity and electricity sparked protests and dozens of arrests.

For Abdullah Ismail, 55, his day job isn’t enough to make ends meet. The Sudan Railways Corp. workshop employee spends half his 4,000 pounds monthly salary on rent, then has to eke out food, transportation, electricity and school fees with the rest.

Debtor’s Prison

He borrowed 10,000 pounds from a local bank to buy a small taxi and make extra money. But the fresh earnings were eaten up by rising expenses; he hasn’t been able to make repayments for six months. “I failed and I’m in danger of being imprisoned” for the outstanding debt, Ismail said.

Losing oil plunged Sudan into crisis, but the country’s involvement in a new deal to end South Sudan’s five-year civil war could bring compensation.

As landlocked South Sudan boosts its crude output, that may mean extra revenue for Sudan, which collects fees for transporting oil by pipeline to a port on the Red Sea. Sudan pumped about 86,000 barrels per day of its own oil last year, according to BP Plc.

Gold has been touted as a replacement to oil, and exports of about 10.7 metric tons brought in $422 million in the first half of 2018, the Minerals Ministry says. But the government complains most exports don’t go through official channels and has promised steps against smuggling.

Lacking Policies

“The political machine has run out of lubricants,” said Eltagani, the academic. He described an “aging regime” with a “bankrupt ideology and a lack of clear policies to fix the ailing economy.”

In the meantime, Sudanese like Zahra Ahmed — a 21-year-old arts student at the University of Khartoum — are looking for any work available to cover their expenses and tuition.

“My family can’t manage to provide that for me as well as my two sisters,” she said.

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South Sudan rebel leader Machar back in Juba after two years

2018-10-31 11:30 AFP

Machar

South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar returned to the capital Juba for the first time in more than two years on Wednesday for a ceremony to welcome the latest peace accord for the war-ravaged country.

Machar, who under the terms of the September deal is to be reinstated as vice president, had not set foot in the city since he fled in July 2016 under a hail of gunfire when an earlier peace agreement collapsed.

The latest deal aims to end a civil war that erupted in the world’s youngest country in December 2013 and uprooted about four million people – roughly a third of the population.

The rebel chief was welcomed at Juba’s airport by President Salva Kiir, Machar’s former ally turned bitter enemy. The two rivals then joined regional leaders at the ceremony to publicly welcome the most recent agreement, signed in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) chief David Shearer hailed the moment of cooperation and said that building trust would be crucial, according to a statement.

“To see parties that have previously been divided by violence coming together here in Juba, in a public sign of unity, sends a strong message to the citizens of this country that you are genuinely committed to end the suffering and build durable peace,” he said.

 ‘Chance to restore hope’ 

Several thousand people gathered for the ceremony at the John Garang Mausoleum, built in honour of the independence hero who was killed in a helicopter crash in 2005.

Among regional leaders attending were Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, Ethiopia’s newly appointed President Sahle-Work Zewde, Somalia’s head of state Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

South Sudan gained independence from its northern neighbour Sudan in 2011 after a 22-year civil war pitting rebel groups against Khartoum.

“Sadly, the hopes and dreams of that moment were lost in the outbreak of the war that has plagued this country for five long years,” Shearer said.

“This ceremony is a chance for the leaders here today to restore that hope and to secure a peaceful and prosperous future for their people.”

The deal has encountered delays on several issues including the reactivation of a joint committee on borders and the number of regionals states.

It was not immediately clear how long Machar would remain in Juba, as his aides have expressed concerns over his safety in the city.

Lam Paul Gabriel, a spokesperson for Machar’s SPLM-IO rebel group, had said on Tuesday that he would be accompanied by around 30 political figures.

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“Never in a million years I thought he’d get the death sentence”

Photo credit: AFP

Photo credit: AFP

The wife of former South African soldier, William Endley, who has been sentenced to death, has appealed to the South African government to extradite her husband.

The 55-year-old Endley was sentenced to hang by a South Sudanese court for his role in assisting rebels during the country’s civil war.

Judge Lado Sekwat found Endley guilty of espionage and conspiring to overthrow the government.

His wife, Sana Endley is pleading with South Africa’s international relations officers to bring back her husband “for our daughter”.

ALSO READ: Former SA soldier sentenced to death in South Sudan

In an interview with Jacaranda FM News, Sana says she is yet to break the news to her daughter: that her father might be hung.

Endley describes the verdict as a “mockery of justice”.

“He is a South African man and ex-retired colonel. I have not had any contact with the South African government today. My request would be is to do the best they can and at least clarify,” says an emotional Endley. “I just heard from a mutual friend in Juba that when the sentence was given the judge even declared that all evidence against William will be destroyed. Why will they do this?”

William has been in South Sudan for the past 18 months. He worked as an advisor to former vice president and now rebel leader Riek Machar on the integration of the rebel forces into the national army under the then peace deal.

The peace agreement collapsed in 2016 where he was arrested.

His sister, Charmine Quinn says the family has been left broken.

“We are very broken. We are emotionally very tired, financially we are under strain. It’s has been really tough.”

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Freedom for political detainees James Gatdet, William Endley

Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir walks with South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir as he arrives to the Juba international airport to attend a peace ceremony in Juba, South Sudan, on October 31, 2018. PHOTO | AKUOT CHOL | AFP

By JOSEPH ODUHA
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South Sudan President Salva Kiir on Wednesday declared the release of two political detainees who had been sentenced to death.

James Gatdet and a South African William Endley, who were sentenced by a Juba court in February, will be freed on Thursday.

ACCUSATIONS

President Kiir made the declaration during his speech at a peace ceremony in the capital.

“Today, I declare the release of two political prisoners James and Endley,” he said.

Mr Gatdet, a former spokesman of rebel leader Riek Machar was arrested in 2017, after his deportation from Nairobi, for allegedly engaging in subversive activities against the Juba administration.

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Mr Endley, a retired South African army colonel and for adviser of Mr Machar, was accused of providing him with military support.

William John Endley, a South African national and an adviser to South Sudanese rebel leader Riek Machar, stands inside the dock in the High Court in Juba, South Sudan February 13, 2018. REUTERS/Samir Bol

“I will release him tomorrow [Thursday] and deport him back to South Africa,” Mr Kiir said.

PEACE DEAL

Dr Riek Machar — who returned to Juba for the first time in more than two years to take part in the ceremony — reaffirmed his commitment to the implementation of the September 12 peace agreement.

“We come here today to confirm to you that we are for peace. We want peace and unity,” he told the crowd at Freedom Square.

“The peace agreement will bring you federal system of governance,” he added.

Notable among the special guests at the ceremony were Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, Ethiopia’s newly sworn in President Sahle-Work Zewde, Somali’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

WAR

South Sudan won independence from Sudan in 2011 but plunged into a civil war in 2013 after President Kiir accused Machar — then the vice president— of plotting a coup against him.

The five-year civil war has killed an estimated 380,000 people and nearly two-and-a-half million others displaced.

A Mo Ibrahim Foundation report recently ranked South Sudan as the second worst governed state in Africa after Somalia.

Several peace accords have been signed but faltered immediately. They include the last one in 2016 that forced Mr Machar to flee into exile.

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