Checkpoint ‘taxes’ make South Sudan one of the most expensive places to move goods

December 13, 2021 4.23pm SAST

Checkpoint in rural South Sudan. This has been set up by government security forces. iStock /Getty Images Plus

When South Sudan became independent 10 years ago, oil revenues were supposed to fuel the economy of the world’s newest country. But shortly after, civil war resumed, oil prices plummeted, and the South Sudanese pound lost value.

While elites in Juba split the remaining oil revenues, ground-level civil servants, soldiers and rebels have to get by in other ways. They complement their absent or deflated salary through decentralised predation on long-distance trade. As a result, since independence in 2011, the number of checkpoints has nearly doubled and checkpoint taxes have increased by 300%. These ‘transit taxes’, as they are locally called, are mostly illegal. But in the absence of a functioning taxation system and as a legacy of decades of conflict, ‘government’ has become a financing enterprise, extracting cash from aid and trade. Indeed, any army deployment in practice is accompanied by setting up a checkpoint to feed the troops. Faced with a gun, transporters can do little else than pay up.

Over the past two years, we have mapped 319 checkpoints along major trade routes in South Sudan, of which 253 (79%) are roadblocks and 66 (21%) river checkpoints.

Checkpoints in South Sudan.

Examining these checkpoints is important because they sit at the heart of South Sudan’s war economy. Taxation is intimately related to state-building, and understanding how taxation works in practice therefore provides a unique window into the political economy of a country. For the South Sudanese government, allowing security services to engage in systematic illegal taxation is a cheap way of buying loyalty and gaining a weak but pervasive military presence along the country’s battered road network. But checkpoint taxes raise the price of aid delivery, make life expensive for poor South Sudanese, and stifle the domestic market for farming products.

The world’s most expensive roads

Government soldiers and civil authorities control most of the checkpoints along overland routes. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in opposition, led by Riek Machar, controls slightly more than half of the checkpoints along river routes: the White Nile, its branch the El Zeraf, and the Sobat.

Based on averages, a typical checkpoint in South Sudan is manned by six people sharing three visible weapons among them, and levies about SSP 48,000 (US$80). But as vehicles typically travel long distances, total checkpoint taxes for a trip can be enormous.

Take the White Nile. Barges typically shuttle between Bor and Renk carrying around 300 to 400 metric tons of humanitarian aid or foodstuff. For the entire return journey each barge will pay about US$211 at each of the 33 checkpoints, totalling a stunning US$10,000 for a round trip.

Similarly, while checkpoints on the road between Juba and Bentiu on average charge a truck about US$21, the total journey involves passing 80 checkpoints —- meaning a return journey easily costs over US$3,000 in checkpoint taxes. This makes transport in South Sudan among the most expensive in the world, with a price per metric tonne only rivalled by Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Living off the road

On the one hand, checkpoints make for a practical way for soldiers and civil servants to complement their absent, delayed or inflated salaries. As one soldier explains,

We should be paid every month. The food we’re getting — you wouldn’t even eat it. We live in poor health. Most of us survive only from the transit taxes we enforce on traders.

Soldiers like him earned a salary fixed in 2011 at SSP 1500, then worth about US$200. Today, that amount is only worth US$3. At every deployment, the first thing the army will do is raise a checkpoint to provide for subsistence. Explains one soldier,

I am happy here, as the daily collections I make here are far better than my salary. On a good day I can get US$25, while my monthly salary is US$3 and it doesn’t even come on time.

However, a big part of the checkpoint profits is channelled upwards the chain of command in opaque ways. As one checkpoint commander explained:

As for us who runs a checkpoint, we don’t consume all the informal taxes alone, but give to our own superiors. And that happens weekly or we even visit them in the evenings at their residence and give them in order to retain your duty post.

Like in other Central African countries, checkpoint commanders get to maintain lucrative posts if they reward their superiors with a cut of the money, who in turn have to pay their own superiors. In this way, checkpoints are a mechanism to transfer wealth from the commercial sector to politico-military elites, a symptom of a predatory war economy.

Side effects

A side-effect of high checkpoint taxes is that it’s not profitable to sell agricultural products such as sorghum over long distances, stifling the domestic economy.

On the other hand, checkpoints are also a form of self-help for local government officials, in a context where those in the capital don’t redistribute the national budget to local government. We found county representatives autonomously mounting checkpoints to raise revenue from trade passing through their county, against the orders from Juba. While understandable, on a whole such strategies lead to a proliferation of checkpoints and ballooning of transport costs.

Another problem is the implication of humanitarian organisations in the checkpoint economy. The international community finances humanitarian relief and peacekeeping to a level of US$1.4 billion annually (or 7% of all global humanitarian spending), an important influx of resources in a cash-strapped economy. It should not come as a surprise that bulk transport of humanitarian relief figures as a major source of checkpoint revenues across the country.

Humanitarian logistics makes up a big part of the transport sector in South Sudan, with aid agencies outsourcing food deliveries and other bulk transport to national or regional trucking companies. We found that these subcontractors are systematically taxed at 157, or 49%, of all South Sudanese checkpoints.

This means that scarce aid money is appropriated by South Sudan’s soldiers and rebels, ending up in the pockets of military elites. Locals in Juba often gist, ‘aid is the new oil’. Large volumes of humanitarian relief travelling overland may also constitute a factor driving the checkpoint phenomenon, as they constitute stable sources of revenue as well as flows of food that can be used strategically in struggles for control over people.

Early in 2021, the Dinka Jieng Council of Elders, a group that advocates for the rights of the Dinka community, stated that ‘corruption in South Sudan is the driver of political competition and hence the war’, fuelling fragmentation of elites as well as ground troops. The long-distance transport of bulk trade and aid, which because of the volumes involved represent concentrated wealth, sits at the heart of South Sudan’s militarised political economy.

Given South Sudan’s long history of conflict, it is likely that checkpoints are an endemic phenomenon, and that they will remain a key interface between international trade, aid and parties to conflict in the country.

Link to web article.

Sudanese PM replaces acting state governors named after coup – document

Reuters

KHARTOUM, Dec 12 (Reuters) – Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has replaced all acting state governors appointed by the country’s military leader after a coup in late October, a document seen by Reuters on Sunday said.

The decision is part of efforts by Hamdok, who returned to the premiership under a deal with the military, to roll back changes made by the military following the takeover.

Hamdok’s office confirmed the decision.

Hamdok has also replaced most of the caretaker deputy ministers appointed by the military, some of them veterans of the rule of Omar al-Bashir, who was toppled amid a popular uprising in 2019.

However, Hamdok has yet to name a cabinet of technocrats as stipulated by the Nov. 21 deal he struck with the military, and faces a challenge in doing so due to opposition to the deal from political parties and protesters.

The agreement was announced after mass protests against the military and wide condemnation by the international community of the coup, which upended a transition towards elections.Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz Writing by Aidan Lewis, William Maclean. Editing by Jane Merriman

Link to web article.


Analysis: Under fire, Sudan’s Hamdok battles to save political transition

By Aidan Lewis and Khalid Abdelaziz

Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok addresses the media at the Chancellery in Berlin during an official visit to Germany, February 14, 2020. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke//File Photo

KHARTOUM, Dec 9 (Reuters) – Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, reinstated after a coup, must now pull off a political juggling act if he is to realise his ambition of forming a government to secure a civilian foothold in his country’s turbulent transition away from autocracy.

To salvage the process – as well as his reputation – the softly spoken economist needs to establish his independence from a military leadership that placed him under house arrest and detained some of his former cabinet for several weeks before striking a deal last month for his return.

Failure could lead to further turmoil in Sudan, where the suspension of international economic support threatens financial disarray at a time when nearly a third of the population needs humanitarian aid. Renewed unrest threatens to destabilise regions, including the eastern border with Ethiopia, and Darfur, where dozens have been killed this week and displacement has surged this year. read more

Hamdok’s Nov. 21 deal with military leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan angered a large protest movement that has pushed for democracy since the 2019 overthrow of former Islamist President Omar al-Bashir, as well as alienating political factions that had been sharing power with the army.

“The Burhan-Hamdok agreement legitimises the coup and it will not stand,” said Khalid Omer Yousif, who served as minister of cabinet affairs until his arrest in October.

“We call on Hamdok, who made a big mistake, to return to the side of the revolution and the people.”

As local mediators try to chart a course for a redesigned transition, the protest movement has denounced the military from the street under the slogan: “No partnership, no negotiation, no compromise.”

Though high-profile political detainees have been released, activists say others outside the capital Khartoum are still held.

At a rally on Monday in Bahri, Khartoum’s twin city north of the Blue Nile, several people said they had nothing against Hamdok personally but would continue to march until the military left power, whatever happened to the economy.

“For a while we considered Hamdok one of us,” said Asjad Omer, a 31-year-old accountant. “As soon as he took the side of the military, for us any agreement became useless.”

At sunset, a large convoy of riot police armed with sticks crossed the river into Bahri in the direction of the protests.

APPOINTMENTS FROZEN

Hamdok has issued decisions to freeze or reverse appointments of Bashir-era veterans made between the coup and his return, but it is unclear how much influence reformists can recover in the state bureaucracy.

Some senior officials appointed under the transition are unwilling to return and others have yet to decide, contributing to uncertainty at ministries that emptied after the takeover.

Hamdok is meant to name technocrats to a new government.

But while the civilian coalition that emerged from the uprising against Bashir is excluded, former rebel groups aligned with the army are widely expected to retain posts gained through a 2020 peace deal.

Jibril Ibrahim, who became finance minister after his Justice and Equality Movement signed that agreement, expressed support for the military before the coup and has continued to operate out of the ministry after it.

A new ruling Sovereign Council has been appointed by the military and a 2019 agreement to hand over leadership of the transition from military to civilians ahead of elections in 2023 has been dropped.

“He (Hamdok) has put himself in a very complex and very limiting situation,” said Kholood Khair of Insight Strategy Partners, a Khartoum-based think tank. “What he needs very quickly is a functioning cabinet that people can get behind.”

Hamdok could not be reached for comment but sources close to him have said he will quit if his agreement with the military fails to win political backing. read more

Burhan has indicated that economic reforms will not be reversed and told Reuters an investigation into protest casualties had begun. read more

But the coup has frozen development plans aimed at pulling Sudan out of a long economic crisis and rescuing public services and infrastructure.

Most primary health care centres are not functioning and even in some areas of Khartoum, broken pipes spill sewage water onto potholed roads.

Diplomats said Hamdok, who has a reputation for seeking consensus through lengthy consultations, had limited time to win back support from the street and show he was not simply doing the bidding of a military with a history of staging coups.

“Even if you get back on track, how is anyone going to trust that this isn’t going to happen again?” said one.

Link to web article.


Sudan’s Hamdok would quit if post-coup deal not implemented – source

Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok attends a news conference during the International Conference in support of Sudan at the Temporary Grand Palais in Paris, France, May 17, 2021. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier/Pool/File Photo

Reuters

KHARTOUM, Dec 1 (Reuters) – Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok will quit if a political agreement he signed with the military last week is not implemented or fails to receive backing from political factions, a source close to him said on Wednesday.

Hamdok was released from house arrest and restored to his job under the deal reached on Nov. 21, four weeks after he was removed in a military takeover.

The takeover ended a 2019 power-sharing agreement between the military and political groups involved in toppling former leader Omar al-Bashir. Those groups have rejected the agreement, as have resistance committees that have organized a campaign of protests.

The latest of those protests, on Tuesday, drew tens of thousands of people to central Khartoum under the slogan “No partnership, no negotiation, no compromise”.

Further protests are planned for December on key anniversaries from the 2018 start of protests against Bashir.

Opponents say the post-coup agreement favours the military by leaving the army chief in charge of a body, the Sovereign Council, that was meant to pass to civilian control.

The agreement lets Hamdok appoint a new technocratic cabinet, and calls for the release of political detainees and investigations into crackdowns on protests in which medics say 43 people died.

Hamdok has said he signed the agreement to stop bloodshed and preserve much-needed international financial support.

On Wednesday Hamdok issued a decree replacing most of a group of caretaker deputy ministers that had been installed by the military after the coup. The decree did not include the finance, federal rule, and information ministries.

The Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors said on Wednesday 98 people had been injured the previous day, mainly from tear gas canisters and stun grenades. The group, which is aligned with the protest movement, also said that doctors had noticed stronger reactions to the tear gas used on the day.

State television quoted police as saying there were some cases of choking from tear gas and injuries due to crowding, and that 44 people had been arrested.

Most high-profile politicians held after the coup have been released, although lawyers say many protesters are still detained.

Link to web article.

Juba University discontinues hundreds of students!

The administration of the University of Juba has decided to discontinue hundreds of students from their studies after failing exams for two consecutive semesters.

by STAFF WRITER

November 30, 2021

University of Juba [Photo via Norad]
University of Juba [Photo via Norad]

This is according to the Juba University Vice-Chancellor Prof. John Akec.

“If your Cumulative Great Point Average (CGPA) is equal or above a cutoff point, you are promoted to the next class, irrespective of number of subjects you failed,” Akec said in a tweet seen by Sudans Post.

If your CGPA is below the cutoff CGPA, you repeat the year by retaking only the subjects you have failed,” he added.

He further said “All students are entitled to repeat the same year only once. If you failed to move to next class for a second time, you are discontinued.

He added that “anyone who failed to move to the next year for first time in the same year and has been discontinued is entitled to repeat.”

https://www.sudanspost.com/juba-university-discontinues-hundreds-of-students/

2 SPLA-IO commanders sentenced to 7 years for torture!

Two senior Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA-IO) commanders in Ruweng Administrative Area have been sentenced to seven years in jail by a mobile court for torturing a 19-year old man in June, a senior government official there has said.

 by SUDANS POST EDITORS

November 30, 202

A Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) commander dons the new insignia of the 4th Division petroleum defense unit in Bentiu, Unity State, South Sudan on Friday, May 11, 2012. [Photo by Peter Muller/AP Photo]
A Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) commander dons the new insignia of the 4th Division petroleum defense unit in Bentiu, Unity State, South Sudan on Friday, May 11, 2012. [Photo by Peter Muller/AP Photo]

JUBA – Two senior Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA-IO) commanders in Ruweng Administrative Area have been sentenced to seven years in jail by a mobile court for torturing a 19-year old man in June, a senior government official there has said.

Ruweng director of information Miakol Makuach said in June that a man identified as Atem Mayiik Manyil was arrested and tortured in Agarak, an area in Ruweng controlled by the SPLA-IO, over a disappeared cell phone three weeks earlier.

He said Brigadier-General Alek Yai Guen, the commander of SPLA-IO in Agarak, had ordered Lieutenant Colonel Monykoang Miakol, a SPLA-IO officer, to arrest Atem, claiming he took a phone to make calls but did not return it.

Monykoang then reportedly arrested the 19-year-old man and detained him in a container, torturing him overnight and subsequently lost his arms.

Minister of information of Ruweng Administrative Area James Arop confirmed the two men have been sentenced to seven years in jail and will pay a fine of 24 cows to the victim.

“The verdict is already done. Those two soldiers, the Bridger General and the Lieutenant colonel were in prison for seven years each then there was also payment of 24 cows and I think it’s done customarily or customary law that is what they told me,” Arop said, according to Eye Radio.

SPLA-IO spokesman Col. Lam Paul Gabriel dismissed in an interview with Sudans Post, as baseless, the incident.

“This is a wild, negative and baseless accusation against the SPLA-IO. The SPLA-IO is a national movement that cannot be reduced to such criminal acts,” Colonel Lam Paul said at the time.

“Secondly the accusation shows complete lack of military chain of command; how can a Brig. Gen directs a Maj. Gen who is more senior than a Brigadier?” the senior opposition media official asked.

“The Ruweng Administration Area’s Information Director Miakol Makuach should find the right criminal and avoid tarnishing the image of the SPLA-IO to advance his political ambitions,” he concluded. https://www.sudanspost.com/2-spla-io-commanders-sentenced-to-7-years-for-torture/

Top Sudan general warns country could be source of refugee influx to Europe.

General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo says the government will stabilize its refugee situation — for now.

SUDAN-POLITICS
General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo | Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP via Getty Images

BY MATEI ROSCA

December 1, 2021 4:00 am

Europe and the U.S. may face a refugee surge from Sudan if they don’t support the country’s regime under the new military-led government, according to a top Sudanese general.

Senior General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo told POLITICO that Europe and the U.S have little choice but to support the latest government to avert a refugee crisis — and he noted that Sudan’s borders are kept in check by the military, which is coming under criticism from the West for staging a coup.

He made his comments as his country is buffeted by political turmoil. In October, military leaders took control of the Sudanese government and placed civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok under house arrest, drawing international condemnation.

Last week, however, Hamdok was restored to his post under an agreement between the military and civilian government — a deal that failed to quell pro-democracy protests in Sudan and left western allies uneasy.

“Because of our commitment to the international community and the law, we are keeping these people together,” he said, speaking via video-call from Khartoum, the country’s capital. “If Sudan will open the border, a big problem will happen worldwide.”

The remarks play on the international community’s increasing wariness toward refugees. The EU in recent years has become loath to take in many migrants, unable to agree on how to distribute them throughout the bloc. And the U.S. dramatically slashed its annual refugee intake under the Trump administration, before raising it earlier this year.

Dagalo said his message for Europe and the U.S. is to set aside their suspicions and regard him and Burhan as sources of stability, pointing to Sudan’s large refugee population. According to the United Nations, Sudan hosts over 1 million refugees from other countries. The international agency also notes that nearly 7 million Sudanese and South Sudanese people have been forcibly displaced, either within their own country or throughout the region.

Dagalo, who serves as the deputy to Sudan’s top general Fattah al-Burhan, isn’t a trusted figure in international circles. As commander of the country’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, Dagalo has long been linked by human rights groups to war crimes and other atrocities, especially in Sudan’s Darfur province.

In the interview through a translator, Dagalo denied such allegations, saying he was the target of “fake news” campaigns.

More broadly, western allies are skeptical of the Sudanese Army, which has yet to fulfill its promise to step away from politics and allow the country’s fledgling democratic movement to take root following the ouster of dictator Omar al-Bashir in 2019. 

A neighborly solution?

The EU and U.S. have both strongly condemned the military’s October coup. The U.S. and World Bank swiftly paused their financial support to the country, while the EU threatened to follow suit. More recently, a spokesperson for the EU’s high representative in the Horn of Africa told POLITICO the bloc has registered its displeasure with Dagalo directly.  

“The EU has been engaging with [Dagalo] bilaterally in this capacity at several instances, messaging our support for the people of Sudan demanding a civilian government,” the spokesperson said.

In response, Dagalo is making public overtures to assuage international concerns. 

He recently vowed to hand Bashir over to the International Criminal Court, where the former leader faces charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. And during his interview with POLITICO, Dagalo insisted the military will allow free elections in July 2023, describing the recent takeover as a “corrective action” in that transition. 

“We need elections. The country needs an elected president,” he said, justifying the military’s recent actions as part of their “duty” to prevent Sudan’s “collapse.”

Moreover, Sudan’s army can help end conflict in neighboring countries such as Libya, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Eritrea, Dagalo claimed, arguing that Sudan — and its army — should be included in international discussions about the region’s future.

“These are our neighbors, we understand each other so we can contribute to the solution,” he said. “We can play a big part in solving all this conflict around Sudan, because Sudan is in the center [of the region].”

“Sadly the international community does not give Sudan the right attention in such big matters,” he added. “Their efforts are well appreciated, but I don’t think they will solve the problem.”

Ongoing unrest

Beyond his military activities, Dagalo, also known as “Hemedti,” has also come under scrutiny for his business connections. Reuters reported in 2019 that a company owned by Hemedti’s family was flying gold bars worth millions of dollars to Dubai, despite criticizing Bashir for lining his own pockets at the people’s expense. His office denied any link between the commander and the company.

Now he is vowing to remain on the side of the Sudanese people, even as thousands of protesters take to the street to oppose his military’s ongoing involvement in the government.

That pledge has been tested in recent weeks amid numerous reports of violence at pro-democracy protests. Earlier this month, the civilian-allied Sudanese Central Doctors Committee said 10 people were shot dead by security forces during protests against the military coup. 

Dagalo has pledged to conduct “a real investigation” into the matter and denied any military involvement in the violence, instead blaming “a third party.” The military, he argued, would have nothing to gain from such behavior.

“In 2019, when we took the people’s side, we protected the peaceful protesters, otherwise millions would have been killed,” he said.

Human rights groups, however, disagree. They argue military leaders bear responsibility for violence that has occurred against protesters and in the country more widely in recent years. 

“Over the last two years, only low-ranking officials have been prosecuted in a handful of cases of protesters killings,” Laetitia Bader, Horn of Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “The last two months offer a dismal reflection of justice delayed. If this legacy is to end, those most responsible for these cycles of abuses can no longer get away scot-free.”

For Western allies, the situation is likely to only grow more complicated. While Hamdok, the civilian prime minister, has signed off on the political power-sharing agreement with the military, pro-democracy protesters continue to take to the streets in opposition. That has left the international community without an obvious leader to back. 

“If Europe is to maintain this stance, it will have to urgently find ways to square the circle of maintaining fidelity to democracy and healing the split between the prime minister and protest movement,” wrote Theodore Murphy, director of the Africa program at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “Europeans should bring pressure to bear to wring the maximum out of the military and treat the Political Agreement as a positive start to expand upon, rather than an end in itself.”

https://www.politico.eu/article/mohamed-hamdan-dagalo-sudan-refugee-borders-military/