Tuesday, 11 October 2011

The road to Wau

I like travelling by road. You see more, you stop in interesting places and you meet and talk to fellow travelers (because you are bumping along with them in an intimate fashion for hours and hours). Road travel gives me more of an illusion of safety, because I am not thousands of miles above the air in a metal shell. Although I realise it is the least safe way to travel.

I have found road travel and the condition of roads is also a hot topic of conversation in South Sudanese towns. This is partly because people in towns use roads frequently to visit family in rural areas. And because the condition of these roads (security and general maintenance) has very real effects on daily life. South Sudan is a major importer of food and commodities rather than a producer, so if the main roads are bad, supplies drop and prices rise noticeably. The road connecting Rumbek to Juba (via Yirol) is a prime example. This road goes through very low land and is in a bad condition. This means that in the wet season fuel and food doesn’t reach Rumbek (and Wau and other places) as well as it should.

I recently took the road from Rumbek (in Lakes State) to Wau (In Western Bahr el Ghazal State).  This road is actually good, for the most part. The journey took 6 hours. From Rumbek to Mapel the road in is good condition. Mapel, an important SPLA barracks is over half way and you reach it in 3 hours. The last 3 hours, although a shorter distance, to longer to cover on account of mud and potholes.

The major landmarks on the way are Cuiebet – a small town about an hour from Rumbek. The road then goes through a big wet season grazing area, on the border between Lakes and Warrap. Here there are currently thousands of cattle visible from the road, being taken through pasture submerged in water. Cattle and people up to their knees in flood. Cattle keepers were walking the herds on the road to avoid the flood, much to the irritation of everyone else in the car.

Leaving Lakes State you soon reach Tonj and stop for lunch and pass through vehicle checkpoints.

We made a further stop at the turning for Mapel to unload food (for the army? I wasn’t sure)

Then uninterrupted driving till we reach the outskirts of Wau and passed through another checkpoint to check foreigners ID.

Arrived in Wau at about 3pm


  1. So good to read these accounts of daily life in South Sudan (and I love the photos of the cattle and the graves). While I was a student at Makerere University in Kampala in 1963, I was introduced to a refugee camp for Sudanese boys/young men. I don’t know which was more eye-opening to me – learning about the conflict in Sudan or realizing that Uganda was more hospitable to refugees than the wealthy U.S. A group of us from the University volunteered as teachers at the refugee camp - an experience that taught me a lot about the resilience, work ethic, and initiative of these Sudanese young men.

    I hope you don’t mind the intrusion of an old crone from the States, but I couldn’t help but follow up on your mother’s reference to your blog (in an interview in the Chronicle of Higher Education). And I am so glad I did. I try to keep abreast of events in Sudan, but most stuff available to me focuses on the politics and fighting. You are providing a valuable, alternative perspective.

  2. Thank you Prof. Pat for your encouragement. I am glad you enjoyed reading my blog. I am trying to use it to give an alternative picture of life in South Sudan than offered most places so I am especially happy at your comments. I have just posted again and although I don't have regular internet access in Warrap I am going to try and resume 1 post per week.