I wrote this story for “In Sudan” magazine October 2010 edition. To see the full magazine please click on the image below & my story is on page 11.
The onset of the rainy season is a welcome event for farmers in Upper Nile State. But for minibus taxi drivers and other motorists in the state capital of Malakal, it can be a curse.
The clay soil of the city and environs has poor drainage and turns slick, sticky and heavy when the skies open up. Not only is Malakal transformed into one big mud bowl, but the roads leading out of the city are soon rendered impassable.
That cuts into the monthly income of Malakal taxi driver Famed John, who must forego the more lucrative fares he charges for out-of-town trips during the rainy season and settle for the one-pound per passenger rides in and around the city.
“Our income decreases during the rainy season because we are unable to drive passengers outside Malakal,” he said. “We limit ourselves within the town because of the road conditions.”
His colleague Simon Red dreads the effects of precipitation on grounds of safety. “The roads are very slippery,” said the veteran taxi driver. “It can cause an accident if we cannot control our (steering) wheel.”
During this time of year, the only options available to Malakal residents wishing to get out of town are the Nile River or a sturdy pair of legs.
“If the (destination) is by the river, such as Doleib Hill, I can go by boat,” said journalist Andrew Bang of the Upper Nile State Ministry of Information and Communication. “Otherwise I have to walk, no matter how far the place is.”
Kun Minylang Ding has heard it all before. As the Upper Nile State Minister of Physical Infrastructure, Mr. Ding is the point man in the cabinet of Governor Simon Kun Puoch for road conditions in the area.
But relief is on the way for the longsuffering denizens of Malakal. According to the minister, five of the city’s 67 kilometres of dirt streets will be paved with funds donated by the national government in Khartoum.
A feasibility study by the China Sinohydro Corporation is underway and should be submitted to the minister during the course of September.
The actual paving is scheduled to start with the arrival of the dry season, which begins in the final weeks of the year. “We plan to change Malakal to be a better town,” said Mr. Ding. “I assure you that, after the rainy season, you will see (it) with your own eyes.”
The Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) has promised the minister another $600,000 for additional street pavement works in Malakal.
The state government also has plans to improve driving conditions outside the capital.
At present, the road from Malakal to the towns of Nasir and Jikou can only be used during the dry season. The same holds true for the road between Malakal and the northern Upper Nile State town of Renk as well as the artery connecting Maiwut and Longuchuk counties in the southeastern portion of the state.
The state government wants to transform the three roads into all-weather corridors that can be used throughout the year.
The China Sinohydro company has won a contract to upgrade the Malakal-Renk road. The cost will be covered by the Unity Support Fund, which was set up under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement to promote economic development throughout the north-south border areas.
Funding for similar work on the road to Nasir and Jikou on the Ethiopian border is coming from the GoSS, which selected the Khartoum-based Eyat Company for the project.
No money has yet been found for improving the Maiwut-Longuchuk counties road, but work on the other two routes and the dirt streets of the capital is all set to go forward.
“We cannot tell you the exact date when we are going to start,” said Minister Ding. “(But) the contractors are ready now with their heavy equipment, and they are waiting for the rainy season to finish.”