Growing Pains for a City of Imports

by Jeff Kaiser:

(Jeffrey Kaiser ’12 is in Saybrook College. He is spending the summer researching the challenges of building a state in the South Sudan, which is set to officially gain its independence on July 9th.)

When I arrived in Juba nearly two weeks ago, I found a city in the early stages of a petrol (gasoline) shortage. The border between North and South Sudan had been effectively closed, and no trucks or barges carrying fuel were making it to Juba. The typical boda boda (motorbike taxi) ride had gone from between 2 and 5 Sudanese pounds to at least 10. Any driver I tried to bargain with simply said, “ma fi fuel” (there’s no fuel), so I started accepting prices pretty much as they were quoted. Quickly I started to see signs of the crisis.

After driving past three empty gas stations, this was the scene at the one station near town that had received petrol. You can see the station on the far left of the image past the large blue building. Some drivers would wait in line for most of the day. (Kaiser/TYG)

I’ve heard from various drivers that petrol can be found on the black market, but it is selling for as much as 40 pounds per liter, or about $50 per gallon (if the figure sounds staggering, here’s the math: the exchange rate is approx. $1 = 3SDG, so 40SDG/$3 = $13.3 per liter. There are 3.785 liters in a gallon, so 13.3 x 3.785 = $50.34). The normal price is 5SDG/liter (which is still an astounding $6.30/gallon).

Some petrol has begun to arrive by truck from other countries in East Africa. Word seems to get out quick when a station gets a delivery, and violence has been reported as drivers fight for what limited quantity there may be. These stations sell fuel at the market price of ~5SDG, so stocks disappear quickly.

The line of motorcycles at this petrol station blocked traffic on a main road in town. Some people arrived here with water bottles to fill with fuel and resell for a profit in the market. (Kaiser/TYG)

But soon enough petrol may not be the only good in short supply here. Some 30,000 people are expected to arrive in Juba for independence day, and hotels and restaurants are sure to be overloaded. Even water may become an issue: Almost everyone has water delivered by truck because city water rarely flows and many places aren’t connected. But the trucks and filtration facilities will certainly be overworked as most storage tanks for hotels and restaurants are small and require constant refilling.

Electricity use in the city might double around independence weekend, and with the entire city powered by generators, diesel supplies could become an issue as well. Apparently there is almost no pork in Juba today because of a stock shortage in Kenya. A city that survives on imports is always at risk for these problems, and the huge influx around independence day followed by the expected urban population growth after July 9 will no doubt exacerbate the challenges Juba faces.

For more on Jeff’s research and travels in Sudan, check out his personal blog here