In a series of well received social media posts, Professor Alfred Sebit Lokuji articulated what he believes to be the most urgent considerations needed to get South Sudan back on a forward looking and progressive path. These posts were presented as 12 dreams, and are captured here in four volumes – Mindset, Connections, Motion and Measures – which will be published serially over the coming days.
Dream #7: Let these Roads Bring Health Services to All Regions
Alongside education and all its manifestations, roads and power also promote the flourishing of health services and the health industry. Roads and power are a necessary condition, but insufficient without a robust pro-health policy. This area of responsibility is almost as challenging as attitudes to gender. Policy-makers have long lived in a cocoon of their own: no health insurance coverage from which one and all can benefit. Instead they rely on a net-work of officialdom that enables them and their house Negroes to go for medical service abroad. The partial evidence is the number of dead bodies brought back to Juba alone – by air – in boxes!
Just imagine for a minute that a policy indicating determination on the health of the nation begins by correcting some glaring scandals at the national “Teaching Hospital”! (With no clarification as to a mere hospital, versus, a referral hospital, or even Primary Health Care Centre / Unit). A morgue where flies comfortably live as if they were senior SPLM aficionados! Both out-patient and in-patient services where the sick are treated as a bothersome! A system where relatives equal or outnumber in-patients any day you visit the wards. A medical facility where doctors are seen as rarely as Haley’s comet; where most nurses behave as if they were either prison-warders or inmates themselves! Worse part of the reality is to find a pharmacy that has no aspirin – and patients are best advised to purchase their drugs at pharmacies often with close connections to segments of the health services profession.
With corrective policies in place, modern diagnostics should be possible where roads and power have arrived. This would make it absurd that anybody should come to Juba for x-rays or delivery by caesarean. Corrective policy would ensure that treatment at home is the primary option before seeking treatment abroad. As things stand, you can go to South Africa for a head ache; to India for tonsils; to Egypt for appendicitis; to Kenya for blood pressure; to Uganda for indigestion; and back to Juba having attained rigor mortis abroad.
Life is a right, so is health-service without which life cannot be sustained. Life is life – for the Rasta boy, the red-headed cattle man, the scarified girl, the emaciated grandma, the stubbornly critical professor, the bleached-white newly wedded; the blasphemous shopkeeper; and the heartless zol kabir! Life must be preserved at all costs, for all, until the creator turns the body once more into dust – when all are entitled only to a 3.5 by 1 meter peach of land. Cuba, in spite of the hostilities it has faced for years against its giant neighbour, is hailed among the top health service providers in the world! Did not SPLM begin life as a bosom body of Cuba?
Dream #8: Booming Trade on the Nation’s Highways
A third by-product of these roads criss-crossing the entire South Sudan is the usually un-noticeable phenomenon – goods, services, and travellers moving in both directions! There are the natural-borne traders who have figured out where their markets lie – just as consumers know where to get the best deals. They know what the Toposa need from Mayom, the Agar need from Pibor, the Jikany need from Kajokeji, or the Fertit need from Malakal. This point needs no furthering clarification; it is as sure as the rising of the sun in the east. In fact, towns are not “taken” to the people – simply create the right environment for producers, sellers, and buyers to meet – and you have a town springing up. We will have created such an environment by providing the infrastructural network with power and health services.
Our neighbour to the South, where many of my generation were refugees will be utterly shocked to discover that, unlike South Sudan, it is not the Uganda of the 1960s. Small busy towns have sprung up along the Kampala Gulu road and points beyond. Mseveni’s economic liberalism brings Kenyan, Tanzanian, Congolese, and Ruandan shoppers to Uganda – and no one harasses them at the border or along the roads they travel.
With a guaranteed “laissez-passer” policy enforced on the highways, South Sudanese will have the urge to travel from Juba to Pariang, via Terakeka, Leer, Bentiu, and Manga to see the birds that god has ordered to come and find their rest in Unity State. In the process, they will drink tea, eat and sleep along the way – living cash behind. Tembura students, professionals and traders will want to witness the famed kob migration from the Boma plateau to the Nile. Once more, Didinga tobacco, and Lopa dried cat-fish will find their way to markets westwards, most certainly to Morsak. Children in Yirol, Padak, and Nasir will relish the sweetness of Ezo pineapples. Names such as Kafia Kingi, Moyo Sukun, Shambe, or Owiny Ki Bul will pull the curious to engage in travels of discovery of what is right under their noses. Very few will remain under the same old Nim trees in Juba discussing promotions in the next decrees. Easy and speedy connections to the waters of Lakes, Jonglei and Upper Nile could pull in professional fishermen from around the world for Nile Perch fishing competitions with affordable yet attractive prices.
Commerce loves nothing better than the unhindered mobility for raw materials, access to markets, availability of local labour, and user-friendly laws and regulations that bring about a boom to everyone connected, however indirectly. Officialdom has yet to turn positive towards such development. When you see someone sternly warning a new-arrival taking a picture in the arrival lounge at Juba airport, and Garang’s tomb not yet a friendly tourist attraction – you know those in the driver’s seat don’t get it yet. But we dare dream anyway – that we will see ant-like movement in the human ant-hills of South Sudan – and to our surprise, everyone will be living longer.
Dream #9: Unobstructed Passage
All previous dreams come to naught, without the unhindered movement of goods and people. Freedom of movement is a natural right – obvious even to animals and birds. Why, why, why, must a road-user be always asked “mashi wen?” What business is it of yours where I am going? If there was danger ahead I would have heard about it! Sometimes I want to be Mr. Nice Guy and respond to Mashi Wen: “Your XXX sent me an urgent love SMS, I must go see her!” and let’s have a go at it right there. That maybe a more glorious way to go, than wait to be shot for no known reason on your way from Church by Mr. Unknown Gunman! Even IN TIME of PEACE “Mashi wen?” Freedom is far until you do not hear this anymore any time of day, night, week, month or year! There are official ways to record your movement if need me – Not this way.
And who is asking this? Generally and obviously untrained persons! Where are you going? Perhaps some nuts just enjoy the shrieking sound of a whistle to stop drivers! Even in peace time, “mashi wen?” – coming from the parched lips of a person with questionable authority! All that is clear is that he is wearing some kind of uniform or slung an AK47 on his shoulder.
You might get hit by a recklessly driven numberless vehicle, full of unkempt young men who rush out to tell you that you have to pay for their damaged vehicle at a location of their choosing – even if it is their driver’s fault. They never heard of insurance! You know this is part of “your government”, and so you feel overwhelmed, helpless. You are out of luck if you are a “foreigner” bringing goods into the country without gifts or very expensive shai for them.
If you are not convinced about this reality, assume you are going to Rejaf to build a tukul with some very ordinary wood you purchased from Suk Jebel in Juba. You are stopped by white-dressed robbers as you exit the market area. As you enter the cross-roads in front of the barracks, you meet some more who want more; at the exit of Suk Sitta you meet yet more; as you turn towards St. Theresa’s Cathedral some more; at the Davinci crossroads, you meet another group; and as you are about to thank your god that it is all over, you find some more at the Rejaf junction, and maybe even more at Gumbo Market! They always begin with “mashi wen?” Do they represent one government? You are out of luck if you are a long-haul truck driver bringing the country’s much needed goods from Mombasa in a gruelling slow journey to Wau via Juba and points beyond – and your reward is “mashi wen?” or “kalas shuflena shai?” Even diplomats, under clear immunity rules, “mashi wen?” As you enter a public office as a citizen “mashi wen?” This IS a nightmare – and the dream is that it will stop, to allow new towns to spring up! Pre-requisite: equal protection of the law; and freedom of movement for persons and goods guaranteed.
Coming soon: Dreams Volume #4 – Measures.