Greater Kajo-Keji hosts ghost towns and hibernating villages as fear and insecurity prevail
JAMES OHISA ITUBI
Greater Kajo-Keji, consisting of the four counties of Nyepo, Kangapo, Liwolo and Kajo-Keji in the Yei River region, was once blooming and full of life and farmers. Nowadays the area lies in ruins as most of its inhabitants have fled for their lives to refugee camps in Uganda.
The insecurity in Greater Kajo-Keji stems from the sudden outbreak of violence in the South Sudanese capital Juba in July 2016. Death and destruction gradually spread to other parts of Central Equatoria, first to Yei and later to the Kajo-Keji area, where it has resulted in a mass exodus of civilians, heading for neighbouring Uganda.
Shops in the Udu and Merre business centres in Kajo-keji town have been broken into and looted, houses burnt down, and the main road linking Juba with the border crossing point of Jale in Kangapo County is completely deserted. Greater Kajo-Keji has become the involuntary host of ghost towns, and hibernating villages.
Last week, an integrated team consisting of staff from the UN Mission in South Sudan and observers working for the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring Mechanism (CTSAMM) conducted a three-day assessment mission to the area. Its findings were, to quote the team leader and head of the UN Missions Field Office in Juba, “heart-breaking”.
“One can only imagine what has taken place here since I visited the area last year. People are clearly not willing to return home, they just come here to harvest what may remain of their crops and then go back to the refugee camps in Uganda,” said Ms. Geetha Pious, adding that most of the few civilians one can still detect are carrying guns and transporting goods towards the Ugandan border.
The team travelled by road from Juba all the way to Jale at the Ugandan border, visiting numerous locations in the counties of Nyepo, Kajo-Keji and Kangapo. The fourth county of Greater Kajo-Keji, Liwolo, could not be reached due to restrictions put in place by the opposition forces currently controlling the area.
Visibly shaken by what she called “a senseless war” and its devastating consequences, Ms. Pious also had a message to the warring parties:
“I urge them to take a road trip to greater Kajo-Keji and Morobo so that they can see for themselves the level of destruction that we have witnessed in the communities we have visited.”