Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

SS Fire


With all the talk of government shutdown, threats to democracy and governing by crisis in the United States, it has made me reflect on life in South Sudan. South Sudan is a fragile state. This can be seen in everyday life in the world’s newest country. Just this week, I was in a meeting with a leader of a political party in the capital city of Juba. In the course of 15 minutes, he received six calls alerting him that a fire had broken out at the hotel where he had taken up residence. Initially, he thought that the fire would be contained but a few calls later, he was warned that the fire was much larger than previously assumed. He was at risk of losing everything. He had already sent his car back to the hotel to assess the situation and my driver had the daring task of racing across Juba to get him to the hotel.

I knew from the start that this would not be an easy journey. The dirt road that led to the office where we were meeting was washed out from rains over the weekend and it was hard to maneuver at a slow pace, much less racing to a fire. But our driver, who would later inform me that he once served as an ambulance driver, was a rockstar in navigating Juba’s washed out roads and horrible traffic. In less than 10 minutes we were arriving at the hotel that was completely engulfed in flames. Despite the fact that the fire had raged for nearly 30 minutes, there was not a fire brigade in sight. In the end, the hotel was completely destroyed, along with various other buildings. There was very little the people could do to save the hotel. In the aftermath of another catastrophic hotel fire in Juba, the fire brigade in South Sudan is soliciting financial assistance from the outside world to help them purchase trucks and supplies. It was recently reported that there are only two fire trucks in Juba and there are only 5 trucks in the entire country.

I live on a compound in a country where poverty meets you at every turn. At times, it is easy to forget that I am in South Sudan. But each day that I leave the compound to attend a meeting or to do some shopping, I am reminded of the hard life that 80 percent of the population lives. The city of Juba is growing and expanding so fast that with each new building that rises from the earth, several hundred citizens are displaced, often forcing them into slum like conditions. Just outside my compound is a cemetery that has become a make-shift slum. Each week the cemetery community expands with new residents. These types of communities are rising up all over Juba. Despite the poverty, South Sudan is a country with a very important resource – oil. At full potential, annual net oil export revenues total roughly $9 billion. However, South Sudan is a land lock country and the current oil pipeline runs through its nemesis, Sudan to the Port of Sudan. The relationship between the two nations hasn’t improved very much and the oil revenues for South Sudan suffer when the relationship chills.

I have to remind myself that South Sudan is only two years from independence. As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day and it will take South Sudan sometime to gain its footing. I am not sure what the future holds for this country but the potential is limitless. However, poverty, internal and external insecurities, lack of infrastructure and power struggles among political leaders will make it a difficult for this country to advance as quickly as the international world expects. Citizens are proud that they are an independent nation but realities are starting to set in for citizens and the NGO community that long lasting peace and a democratic government will take some time to achieve.

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