When South Sudan was birthed after a long civil war, there was much its midwives had to do to bring it into its new status. Germany replaced the tents housing government ministries with buildings, fellow oil exporter Norway advised the government on the perils and prospects of petro-statehood, while everyone contributed to improving some of the world’s worst health and education statistics through the United Nations. China built the capital’s airport, Japan built bridges, and the United States, a country of Cadillacs and Chevys, built the country’s first highway.
The 192-km paved motorway snakes through the south of the country from the capital, Juba, to the Ugandan. It was built by USAID - at a quarter-billion dollars - to reduce dependence on north Sudan and deepen regional ties. The American ambassador in Juba, Susan Fine, called it the country's "road to prosperity." Despite delays and cost overruns, it was touted as the largest project in South Sudan, effectively doubling the amount of paved roads in the country. I chose to focus my project on the social effects of this new goliath road.
There were benefits, such as bringing distant schools and hospitals within reach and creating new drinking wells from boreholes drilled for the construction process. Meanwhile tukuls, mud-and-straw homes, can stock up on essentials from stores that are serviced by a stream of trucks. The road also brings home South Sudanese refugees who fled the war and now see an opportunity to resettle.
But a cash crunch amid a renewed civil war have made maintaining and policing the road a low priority, turning the Juba-Nimule road into one of the most dangerous stretches for accidents on the continent. East African drivers are on the road for days with no designated rest-stops, and are fatigued by the time they cross the border. Suddenly they have to drive on the opposite side, over gaping potholes, with zero streetlights and almost no police.
One telling story was that of a bus from Kenya that hit and killed a half-dozen and did not stop. Villagers up the road blocked the street, dragged the driver out, and stoned him to death. The chief explained to me that there would be no justice otherwise, as dozens of drivers who kill pedestrians simply drive away with no police to chase them. The bus is still parked in the village square, near the road, as a reminder to those who would drive recklessly.(This story was reported and photographed in 2012-13, and is part of a 8000 word multimedia masters project on the failings of USAID and the government in Juba, and how those shortcomings cost taxpayers millions of dollars. It was done for the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University's Journalism School. I am currently seeking funding to return to South Sudan and broaden the story to show how the lack of infrastructure has contributed to the persistence of war and poverty in the country. I can provide the original master's project on request.)