It is a Saturday afternoon. I am at Ebony Restaurant, along Gaba road chatting with a one Ali Tutta, a South Sudanese citizen. She is one of those who found their way to Uganda with her family due to the ongoing war at Bor, South Sudan. She says: “My home is at Malakal, South Sudan. When the rebels fought from Bor to my home town, my family had to find a way of getting out of town. We successfully got to Juba where we stayed in our relative’s house for over two weeks since there is no war at the capital. Shortly after, my uncle called us to join him and his family in Nairobi, Kenya.”
She adds: “We then left Juba for Kampala by road. Right now we are sleeping at Malaika Hotel which, surprisingly, has a number of Sudanese. We plan on leaving for Nairobi as long as the flight bookings are done,” Tutta narrates, in fluent English.
If one is keen is enough, they are bound to realise that there has been an overwhelming influx in the number of South Sudanese in the country. In addition, the number of fancy cars with South Sudan number plates has gradually increased. Being the socialite kind of people who love to flaunt their money, parading porsche and classy cars around town is just one of those ways they have chosen to exhibit how much they have.
So how did they find their way into the city? Pamela Ankunda the Internal Affairs Spokesperson says that Ugandans have built a strong rapport with South Sudanese in terms of trade. The traders have become close to each other. By the time the war broke out, it was easy for them to cross the border. “We obviously notice an influx in the number of South Sudan residents in the country, most of who are staying with their close business partners, relatives and family friends,” Ankunda said.
Today, if one visits Sun City Hotel, Kikuubo; Palm Hotel, Old Kampala; Malaika Hotel, Old Kampala; and Ebony Bar and Restaurant, Kansanga, they will be overwhelmed by the number of tall, thin and dark-skinned individuals and will find out that there is really an increase in the number of Sudanese citizens in Uganda. Those that don’t have relatives in the country spend their nights in lodges and hotels, and it looks like their favourite spots are Palm and Malaika hotels.
Where are they residing?
In case one is wondering where the new South Sudanese citizens live, Peter Awadri, a turn boy at Gaaga Coaches, Arua park says they either move in with their relatives who are already settled here or spend two or three nights before proceeding to Kenya or Egypt where their other relatives stay. “There are few of them who come without a final destination. Most of them who do not have relatives in the country and are not proceeding to Kenya or Egypt settle for lodges and hotels,” he says.
He adds: “I always offload and help them with their luggage to hotels they checked in. They always inquire how they can make a flight booking and most of them always say they are proceeding to Nairobi or Cairo. Uganda acts as a stopover for some of them,” Awadri narrates.
Most of the new South Sudanese have hastily settled in the country with a number getting admission forms from schools for their children so they can be enrolled in the next term. “We have received an overwhelming number of South Sudanese picking admission forms for their children. They are determined to pay any amount of money just to make sure their children are admitted,” a teacher at Tropical High School, Kabalagala, who preferred anonymity told this newspaper. Others have brought Porsche and fancy cars and are not afraid to flaunt them in the streets. They also seem to be able to easily tell who their fellow countrymen are and come to each other’s help.
I witness this along Ggaba Road, next to Cavendish University when one pulls over to give his fellow South Sudanese, who happens to be going the same direction, a lift. Most of the citizens however do not seem as comfortable with Ugandans. It took me over two hours to convince her to talk. Our conversation only started after I asked her if it was safe for me to travel to Juba. The ones I had earlier spoken to never gave me audience.
“They immediately walked way after I greeted them. They are more outgoing, cheerful, and happy when they are in their own company. That explains the reason as to why they are always in cliques even when they rent an apartment. Most of my tenants hail from South Sudan. They cleared up in time but my only problem with them is they are not tidy. They litter the compound without cleaning it. Most of them sometimes bring their friends for a sleepover and end up messing up the lavatories,” Richard Iloco a landlord at Kansanga says.
They are also trying to buy homes here in pursuit of a place to call home in Uganda. Phyllis (not real names) reveals how a Sudanese couple wanted to buy off their house in Munyonyo.
“They came, knocked on our gate and I opened with a curious look on my face. They stood, scanned around the house before I queried what they were looking for. Before I was done querying, my father intervened,” Phyllis narrates.
She adds: “They were of the view that we sell to them our house at a lump sum Shs120m, which they were ready to pay in cash. The couple was so serious that they even suggested looking for a new homestead for us. My father of course declined their offer because he also likes the location and the neighbourhood.”
The reason this Sudanese couple wanted to buy off the house, according to Phyllis, is because many other South Sudanese live in the neighbourhood and they probably felt they would feel comfortable staying around there.
Since the war in Bor broke out, business around Arua Park had ceased to boom, with most bus trips being halted, until recently when the government assured the public that Juba town was peaceful. However, the parking space opposite Katumwa Sports has since turned into a small stage where cabs wait for specifically South Sudanese passengers.
Joseph Ssemakula, who acts as a tout calls out for potential passengers in Arabic.
“We transport those passengers [Sudanese] who are new in the city and do not know where they’re heading. Since we know most Sudanese hangouts around, we drop them there. We also transport those who have been here before but do not have means of getting to their final destinations,” Ssemakula explains. Asked how the he learned Arabic, he replied; “I travel to South Sudan a lot and I also stayed there for about three years,” he replied, before hastily calling a potential passenger.
Their relationship with Ugandans
Tutta praises Ugandans for being welcoming and empathetic. “Ugandans are social, I don’t know if this is how all of them act but with the few I have managed to interact with, they seem so caring. Apart from of course the issue of charging abnormal prices when they see you’re Sudanese ,which most of my friends warned me about,” she adds with a grin.
The tale of unaccompanied children at refugee camps
A dark tall girl stands by her tent in Dzaipi Refugee Camp in Adjumani District with her hands at the back of her head. For a few minutes she is lost in thought until a baby’s cries wake her from the day dream and she turns her frowning face, decorated with cultural scars to look at the baby. This is Annie Maguang Adhieu and she is 15 years old.
Maguang constantly looks worried. You cannot blame her at all. Having to leave one’s home suddenly and settle in a refugee camp in a foreign country is tough enough. And yet Maguang is in a worse situation, having lost touch with her parents. She was totally dependent on them and so feels completely lost. “I lost contact with my mother Ms Akonbuor Deng and father Deng Makual as I went to collect my report card from school in Bor. I just joined the rest fleeing the fighting,” she says.
Maguang is lucky to have reached humanitarian aid workers in Sudan who evacuated her to Uganda. But she is alone. She normally roams through the camp searching for her kin, but so far, there is no sign of any relative. Unfortunately for her, even her neighbours were not willing to accommodate her because of the little resources they have.
Another boy, Daniel Deng Chol, 16, last saw his mother when she told him she was going to look for food and never returned. There was gunfire that day and all the children in the household run in different directions. He also was lucky to get aid but does not know where his siblings are.
“I am worried that my brothers and parents could be dead; if they are alive they should appear on TV or papers,” Deng says.
The Red Cross disaster response manager, Simon Peter Anyanzo, says many children were evacuated to Adjumani refugee settlement without their parents.
“They came here alone while hundreds of them are unaccounted for or they might be trapped in the bushes,” Anyanzo says.
The Red Cross has confirmed that 292 registered children have lost contact with their guardians in the first bunch of refugees who were evacuated in December last year.“We reunited five children with their parents from Juba to Dzaipi refugee settlements,” he says.
The in-charge of the Office of the Prime Minister, Titus Jogo, says out of the 35,000 refugees, 90 per cent were children, half of whom lost contacts with their parents.
He says the government only budgeted for 10,000 refugees but at the moment the number has overwhelmed them.