South Sudan war turns Oraba into ghost town

A section of the road in Oraba where trucks used to park to and fro South Sudan. Ahead is Kaya Town in South Sudan. PHOTO/FELIX WAROM OKELLO

What you need to know:

  • Several truck drivers had been using the Oraba-Juba-Kaya route, which also connects to Torit and Wao in South Sudan.

For more than 10 years, Mr Ibrahim Mawa was a currency dealer at Oraba, a border point about 18kms from Koboko Town and a major route to South Sudan’s capital Juba, and DR Congo.

Through his business, Mr Mawa was able to pay school fees for his children and dependants, and meet other family demands.

But since December 2013 when the war broke out in South Sudan, Mr Mawa’s business at the border has been limping and he now wants to look for alternative sources of income.

This is because the war has thrown the once pulsating Oraba Town into a slumber.
“Life has become difficult economically. I used to change currencies from Uganda, US, Sudan and others for those travelling to and from several countries. Since the war broke out and the route became unsafe, there is no business,” he says.

Mr Mawa says some of his colleagues abandoned the business and moved to Elegu border.
“Since the conflict in South Sudan in 2013, the value of the South Sudanese pound has dropped. Before this conflict, 1,000 South Sudan Pounds would be valued at Shs7,000 but now it has dropped to Shs3,500. This has affected business a lot,” he adds.

Several truck drivers had been using the Oraba-Juba-Kaya route, which also connects to the busy towns of Torit and Wao in South Sudan. The route also connects to the Central African Republic. But since the 2013 war, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA-IO) and National Salvation Army of Gen Thomas Cirilo, control a section of the route, making it unsafe for travellers.

On several occasions, taxi and truck drivers and passengers have been attacked and some killed by gunmen operating on the route. 

For instance in March 2021, four Ugandan drivers travelling to Juba on Koboko–Yei- Juba road were killed by gunmen believed to be from National Salvation Front (NAS) camp, a renowned rebel group in South Sudan.

Again in June 2021, three Ugandans were killed along the same route by gunmen that the South Sudan government said belonged to NAS.

Hence, authorities in South Sudan discouraged travelling to Juba via the route, making it redundant.

Now the Elegu border point acts as an alternative route to Juba via Nimule town. Business has then shifted to the side of Amuru District.

The businesswomen who had established hotels at Oraba have since closed. Others shifted to Koboko town.

Trade in Southern Sudan started growing after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace agreement after the 24-year civil war came to an end. As a result, about 200 trucks and cars from Uganda pass daily through the borders of Oraba and Elegu carrying foodstuffs, construction materials, groceries and beverages from Uganda and Kenya.

The acting Oraba Town Clerk, Ms Gloria Kimuli, observes that they are losing more than Shs10 million every financial year, resulting from the restrictions on the movement of trucks crossing the border.

“We have experienced a significant drop in local revenue because of the war in South Sudan. We used to collect between Shs1 million every month at the parking yard but since the trucks have been restricted from passing through this border, we are now collecting Shs50,000 a month,” she says.

She said the parking yard has become idle because few trucks now park there.

A truck crosses from Koboko at Oraba border to South Sudan. The route from the border to Oraba is no longer safe.PHOTO/FELIX WAROM OKELLO

In 2015, the government of Uganda constructed a Shs132 billion 92 kilometre Vurra-Arua-Koboko-Oraba road in order to facilitate movement of trucks and passengers from Uganda to South Sudan. The economic gains on the road are now rendered fruitless since no driver wants to risk crossing to South Sudan using the Oraba route.

According to Mr Paul Bebe, a South Sudanese national who works as a clearing agent at Kaya customs, several youths have also lost jobs at the customs because there is little work now.

“Since fuel tanks and trucks were stopped to pass via Oraba, many of us have become jobless as well in South Sudan. Some have turned to become brokers. We need peace to return so that trucks begin passing this side again,” he says.

Mr George Baiga, a clearing and forwarding agent at Oraba customs, says: “The governments of Uganda and South Sudan are to work together to end the war in South Sudan so that the tax base at this border is increased.”

The Koboko District chairperson, Mr Asirafu Mambu, believes the increased rate of smuggling is a result of the restrictions of movement of heavy trucks, which has made Oraba customs less busy.

“The youth who used to engage in different business activities at Oraba have now resorted to smuggling as sources of survival. The leaders from the two countries should find a lasting solution and ensure that peace prevails in all parts of South Sudan so that business resumes,” he says.   

The Commissioner for Lanya County in Yei River State, Mr Morris Kenyi, says: “When people are coming for business, they should use Nimule route and not this one (Kaya-Yei-Juba) because it is not safe. We ask all the rebel groups operating along the routes not to attack civilians who are doing business with us. It is unfortunate that some drivers were killed.”

Though the alternative Elegu-Nimule-Juba is unsafe, the South Sudan authorities had encouraged movement via it because the government army-South Sudan People’s Defence Forces escorts the trucks to pass the dangerous route, as opposed to the Oraba-Kaya-Juba route. 

The Oraba route is mainly controlled by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA-IO) where there is no guarantee of security.


Oraba border point is 18kms from Koboko Town and it is a major route to South Sudan’s capital Juba, and DR Congo.  It is situated 2km from South Sudan and 26km from DRC with a population of 208,000 people.

Bank of Uganda (BoU) Survey in 2009, Oraba border in Koboko was the dominant border crossing for Uganda’s informal exports during 2009, accounting for 40 percent of them. However, it recorded a substantial decline of 77 percent to a 13 percent share in 2010.