Rehabilitated Bor-Pibor road makes prices drop and hopes for peace soar
As we fly from Bor towards Pibor, we can see her from afar. The whiff of freshly laid tarmac may have been imaginary, but the dirt and gravel road snaking and careening its way through the flat, harsh bush-land below us is very much real, and immensely appreciated.
All roads are not equal. Some are grand, smooth and shiny. Others are modest, dusty and a bit rough on the edges – yet more important than most. The Bor-Pibor one falls into the latter category. The 195-kilometre-long road is the new lifeline between numerous towns in the greater Jonglei and Boma areas. New, because it has received a significant make-over while it was rehabilitated by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan.
“The warm reception we are receiving today is testament to how valuable this road is in improving the livelihood of the communities and enhancing the coexistence and security of all neighbours. I can assure you that this road will also be used by our humanitarian partners to deliver much needed assistance to you faster than before,” said Tim Crowley, a representative of the peacekeeping mission, in a speech delivered on behalf of its chief, David Shearer.
It was completed in just 22 days, between 18 January and 9 February 2018, and has already been put to good use. During the road’s first few days of life, the Chamber of Commerce estimates that more than 30 commercial trucks, including some carrying humanitarian aid, have traveled to Pibor, Gumuruk and other towns in the Boma area.
Pibor shows clear signs of having been revitalized. Gone are the days of water bottles costing nearly 2 American dollars apiece (as reported on 5 January this year)The local market is teeming with life, joy, singing women, colours and produce as trading at much more affordable prices is in full swing. Sorghum which used to sell for 80 South Sudanese pounds (roughly 30 cents) now goes for half the price. The same, we are told, is true for maize flour and cooking oil.
“We can use this road for trading and hospital visits, and we are having bigger hopes when it comes to the arrival of humanitarian aid,” says Kutuk Logocho, one of a large number of women traders selling bundles of firewood at greatly reduced prices.
Her colleague Chacha Muzi adds that the so far lightly traveled road is also used for leisure activities. Local men, aspiring Olympic athletes or not, are already using it for running and for playing football.
In a Murle-dominated area traditionally plagued by inter-communal fighting and cattle raiding, most people we talk to believe that the much-improved road will lead to increased security and a more peaceful coexistence with Dinka people living nearby.
“It will promote peace because we have become connected. If differences with a Dinka community occur we can use the road to reach the place much quicker to sort out our problems,” says Peter Golo, chairperson of the local youth steering committee which works to promote peace and dialogue.
Allan Mau, a 23-year-old driver living in Pibor, is happy with the road, with some reservations. Like many other locals, he believes that the road needs a layer of marram to make sure that it stands the hard durability test of the rainy season. He does, however, confirm the increased speed of travel.
“Before it took an hour to travel to Gumuruk [some 21 kilometres away], now I can go there in 30 minutes,” says Mr. Mau, adding:
“Unfortunately it is still not safe for us [Murle] to travel all the way to Bor [Dinka-dominated]. Only peace will make it safe, and for peace to happen communities will need to get together and resolve their differences.
Mr. Mau also commented on the ongoing High Level Revitalization Forum in Addis Ababa, where stakeholders aim at firming up the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement reached in December last year.
“I’m hopeful that they will bring back peace [from Addis]. That is what I’m being told, but who knows?”
So, to what extent will the Bor-Pibor road contribute to much-desired durable peace? Most people we talk to are optimistic, but more cautious opinions also exist.
In his remarks at the opening ceremony of the road, Isidore Bouche, acting Officer-in-Charge of the UN field office in Bor, expressed his hopes that it will become “a highway that brings peace and prosperity”.
Peter Golo, the youth leader, believes that the road offers possibilities for nimble and proactive patrols by security forces and the UN peacekeeping mission, but fears that crimes will still take place.
“Criminals don’t want or need the road as they travel through the bush for their activities, but security forces will now be able to intervene quicker when they hear about problems like fighting or cattle raiding,” he says.
The Boma governor, David Yau Yau, has a more practical view:
“The road itself does not lead to peace, unless we use it sensibly. The way we deal with this road will determine our future.”
More photos from a festive day in Pibor.
A total of 85 South Korean engineering troops used 47 heavy-duty pieces of machinery to rehabilitate the road.
Approximately 185 Ethiopian peacekeepers offered the road workers force protection 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The United Nations Mine Action Service, UNMAS, made the road repair work possible by clearing the track from mines and other unexploded ordinances.