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Habba, Habba!

Habba, Habba!

Literally, grain by grain, means step by step. On the eve of their long-awaited independence day, South Sudan authorities are eager to show the world
they are ready for the challenges ahead says Ghaleb Cabbabe.

January 11, 2012 2:22 by

The next day, along the Nile, in the “Afex complex” – where George Clooney stayed during his visits in South Sudan – privileged expatriates, having witnessed these unique moments, share their independence stories, pictures and anecdotes over “Tusker” beers. The drink, imported from Kenya, is served in a large elephant-tagged 500ml glass bottle. A more eclectic clientele enjoys Asian food or crispy pizzas on the large, but crowded, terrace of “Paradise Hotel”. Unlike imported goods, restaurants are relatively affordable. You’d rather not be a big lover of branded snacks and delicacies as $13 can buy you a three-course lunch, but only one can of Pringles and a pot of Nutella.

Although a feeling of serene agitation is filling Juba town, the challenges ahead are considerable. During official independence celebrations on July 9, Salva Kiir opened his speech by apologizing to guests who had to stand for hours under a merciless sun. The first president of the Republic of South Sudan argues that although his newborn state doesn’t yet have the experience to organise such events, it will do its best to improve step by step, year after year.

A visit to the Northern area of the country in October confirms the president’s assessment: Malakal, one of the country’s major cities, is the perfect example of South Sudan’s lack of infrastructures. Apart from the few hundred meters of a dusty asphalt road leading to the airport, it is sometimes just impossible to drive during the rainy season, even with roaring 4x4s. From July to November, Mother Nature’s heavy showers, falling on a dark and compacted soil contrasting with colourful grasshoppers and chubby lizards, have the magic power to bring all walkers, drivers and donkey riders to the same level: immobility. Only the Nile offers an accessible channel of transportation through breathtaking sceneries and colourful wildlife mirrored in its sleek surface.

In Malakal, rain is not the only constraint: traders and trucks drivers are also facing insecurity due to clashes between the SPLA and rebel groups in Blue Nile and South Kordofan states. In addition, capricious border relations with Sudan, the new northern neighbour, have made Malakal all but a safe haven. Freedom’s other side of the coin is that imported goods are scarce and their prices in Malakal and other “border- dependent” cities, such as Wau and Bentiu, have been dramatically increasing since independence.

From less than a dollar back in June, the price of petrol in Malakal’s market went up to US$2.5 per litre in July, before reaching more than US$6 per litre in early October. The price of sugar is even more spectacular, as prices increased from US$0.5 per kg in July to almost US$5 in october. On top of that, the statement from Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) officials at the end of September, threatening to shut the borders with Sudan from December 2011, makes us anticipate more difficulties at the borders.

The fading rainy season signals the end of this memorable journey. From Malakal muddy roads, it’s back to Juba airport. It seems that visas on arrival have already replaced the constraining temporary travel permits procedure, and the X-ray scanner users look more confident as the flow of luggage runs more smoothly than a few months earlier.
“Habba Habba,” as the South Sudanese like to say, a new state is making its mark on the world,
little by little.
By Ghaleb Cabbabe

First published in Aficionado-now available in stores:

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