Over The Cliff-hangers Of Juba; Pt 1

Alex Kinyi’s feet were charred in dust, locked under three-strap brown flats whose sole had borne the marks of a long journey walked.

The sun pelted hard onto his pronounced cheekbones balancing out his shade-black skin with the browning white shirt on his body. The tufts of his moustache covered his lips often choking his pronunciations.

He had been, until the day we met him, a government worker serving the youngest nation in the world. His English was polished and his logic tallied on many arguments.

“I schooled in Uganda, I’d never be this perfect” he retorted to my compliment on his good diction.

In South Sudan, where Alex came from, almost three quarters of the country could not read or write. 70 percent of those aged 6-17 had never set foot in a classroom and UNICEF reported that only one in ten who stepped into primary school would actually finish the course.

Alex was, by all means, lucky.

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Alex, 33, stares at me as I ask him a question during our interview at the reception centre

Four years before Alex was born, alleging marginalization, a grey-bearded soldier called John Garang would rally a force of soldiers in mutiny and start what would later be named the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement. That force, would make sure that Alex was born into one of the longest and bloodiest civil wars of modern time.

Alex, by induction, became one of its fighters. It was here that he eased into an education in Uganda and would later return to the country for the last leap to independence.

But, months after the independence, the country’s conflict would force Alex to jump out of his house in Juba, leaving behind his father and wife to trek to a safe haven at Elegu’s reception centre, again, in Uganda.

 

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Elegu town is a small border town in the Northern region of Uganda. It sits, on the edge of South Sudan’s Nimule border and shares its people equally. Between Uganda and South Sudan, from that border, are two checkpoints – a stick one on the S.Sudan side and a poster one on the Ugandan side.

At the Ugandan side, officers dressed in black uniforms and shiny boots greet you as they halt your car, their eyes buried beneath black sunglasses. Searches are mounted on the car and its contents and often, questions asked.

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A Ugandan police officer walks past the border point as an SPLA soldier (back right,yellow seat) looks on

On the South Sudan side, a no-smile officer, in green army uniform robbed with   rounds of bullets steps up to your car muttering words in Arabic that point to ‘present your documents’. He’s browning slippers almost hard to skip notice.

Once he’s done perusing them, he withdraws the stick letting you into a short distance before meeting a rope roadblock – it too, manned by soldiers, just in different uniform. Their task, is the customs.

 

“You’re journalists?” an officer peering his gun mouth through the co-driver’s seat asked

My heart, uneasily, started to race at this moment.

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Watch the story we did on Alex, here