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How I Was Humiliated as a Foreign Worker in South-Sudan

Nyamweya is an investigation journalist currently working with a leading media house in Kenya.

John Mugeshani

John Mugeshani

South Sudanese are cruel to foreigners: I tell you from experience; Mugeshani

South Sudan is a country considered to be rich in oil wealth and economic prospect. However, the country treatment of foreigners have tainted its image on the global sphere. Many business and companies, both local and foreign based are forced to operate under tough economic and political conditions due to political instability and poor economic policies. Meet Mr. David Nasimiyu as he narrates his ground experiences while he worked in the country. The constant mistreatment he faced, the psychological trauma of missing his dear family due to stringent immigration rules, alongside the unfriendly economic and political environment forced him to abandon his work as an engineer at a particular company (name withheld for confidentiality reason) and return to his homeland.

I was introduced by a workmate to an investor who was starting off a water purification plant in South Sudan with a prospect of reaping from the country’s gains of freedom achieved after succession. I met the investor in Nairobi city and made travelling and accommodation arrangements. That was on 1st April 2014. Among the agreements prior to travel were that the employer was to pay an agreed monthly sum of ksh 70, 000 equivalent using the dollar. Despite the relatively good salary he was assured off compared to what I was earning in Kenya, I was reluctant to leave my family back and go to a land I did not know well. The journey commenced on 3rd April 2004 and I together with my employer proceeded from Nairobi to South Sudan via Kampala.

My fears were well confirmed when upon reaching the Kenyan border with South Sudan, I was dismayed at how foreigners were being treated here. Basically, the treatment at the Kenyan, South Sudan border was extremely rough, even to the extent of being beaten up!. “Remember you are entering a country that is not yours” I was informed by one of the officers at the border point. He therefore prepared for the worst.

In order to be cleared for a visa, each person were required to part with 50 dollars. To make things worse, the officers were not speaking either in English or Kiswahili but in Arabic language, regardless of whether they were understanding or not. Nonetheless, we managed to clear with the officers and proceeded to South Sudan. The journey took us more than six hours before reaching our destination, Juba, town. At Juba, we were picked by a waiting company car.

I immediately began working on the next day and the work environment was not all that bad. However, despite being paid promptly by the employer, the form of currency paid was not as earlier agreed, rather I was paid using Sudanese pounds. Although I did not see anything wrong with that, the problem arose when I tried to send some money back to Kenya for my family using m-pesa services. The agent took the money from me around 1300 pounds (equivalent of ksh.25000) and claimed that she had sent the money. However, I did not see any messages confirming the same on my phone. After waiting for several hours, I decided to go back to my work and return later to confirm whether the message had arrived. To my disappointment, the attendant became very rough asking me to stop bothering him and instead talk with safaricom or go to any police station to solve my problems. When I told one of my friends on what had befallen me, he affirmed that in South Sudan, that is how things were and that even police officers could not help me since I was a foreigner. This fact was confirmed when I went to report the matter to a police station.

“If you had not come to Sudan, this would not have happened” the officers informed him.

Being helpless, I was forced to call one of my friends in Kenya to give some cash to my family and then I refund later. At this time, the exchange rate was 550 Sudanese pounds against 100 dollars. Things became more worse the next month when the dollar rose from 550 Sudanese pounds to 100 dollars to 1000 Sudanese pounds to 100 dollars. As if this was not enough, the value of the dollar rose further to 1500 pounds against 100 dollars on the next month. This sharp rise was due to political instability in the country. With this rate, it became more hard for individuals as well as businesses, particularly foreign based ones to conduct business in the country. With these deep economic ramifications, many local and foreign companies including water companies had to close business while many others are still contemplating on their next move. Raw materials from other countries have to be sourced at high cost, considering the rise in the value of the dollar. Indeed, the cost of operations for many businesses was extremely high and this led to cutting of salaries and wages for workers. Unfortunately, was among the workers who were adversely affected by pay cuts.

This kind of mistreatment, particularly for foreigners is common in many other places. I had experienced almost the same thing in many shops, markets, petrol station and constant harassment by security officers. There is general disrespect for foreigners working here and this is more worse for workers who are considered to “have taken employment positions of Sudanese citizens” . Indeed, the constant mistreatment of foreigners by citizens, and officers is a great demotivator for foreign workers. This is heightened by the laxity of security officers in protecting the interests and rights of foreign citizens.

The economic and political turmoil duly affected many organizations including water companies. Consequently, majority of water companies had to stop operations, subsequently leading to water shortages in many parts of South Sudan. Practically, all people had to source water from river Nile which is the only source of water in this place. With this situation, there was struggle in getting water whether for domestic use or drinking. This was followed by water bone diseases including cholera, typhoid , dysentery among others. There were so many people who were affected with water bone diseases while mortality rate for both children and adults is at an escalating level. I was one of the victims when he contracted cholera and was hospitalized for over two weeks. I had not been used for this kind of situation and with all these problems, life was almost unbearable for me. Another cause for concern was illegality of the dollar and other foreign currencies. In this young nation, it is illegal to be found with other currencies including the dollar or Kenyan shillings. If found, one is usually taken to court and charged accordingly.

Regular searches on people’s houses particularly foreigners are a common phenomena in South Sudan. Police occasionally frisked my house searching for what he did not know and checking for a visa, which has to be renewed every month. This is despite the fact that the President, had issued orders for foreigners not to be harassed for the sake of visa renewal every month. The amount required for one to renew his or her visa is 100 dollars, (approximately Ksh 9000).

That there was a time the company I was working with was invaded by robbers and all people were robbed. All the mobile phones, money and other valuables. Many other people were also injured in the stampede. Interestingly, no action, including investigation on the robbery incident was taken.

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Sometimes, when one is walking and he or she happens to cross the white line drawn by police, he or she will get arrested. Another interesting thing is that all citizens in South Sudan are considered to be police men and they all have guns at their houses.

If it happens that a foreigner hoots or overtakes a Sudanese car, there is a likelihood of being threatened or thoroughly beaten. I have even seen a situation where Sudanese go to a hotel they know it is owned by a Kenyan, eat what they feel like and then go without paying. In fact, if asked to pay up, they may turn violent and even destroy property at that place. Police seem not to be concerned on such issues.

Money transfer systems in banks are practically at a low level if any. This is because all the time of his experience, he has not seen any bank which offers money transfer services. For those banks with such services, the transaction can take up to three months while the cost for this is usually too high. This was the same case with the transaction at the border, where the transaction fee was almost half of what one is transacting.

Therefore, I was forced to keep my money in the house and exchange it at the border. This was particularly hard for me because I could not send money back to his family in Kenya with the Sudanese pounds. I was therefore, psychologically traumatized on the welfare of his family considering the wife was not working at that time. I had to spend many sleepless nights reflecting on the condition of his wife with two children.

Contrary to Kenya where companies work at their jurisdiction, it is common for police officers to move from one company to another supposedly to “monitor” the operations of these companies. During this process, workers, especially foreign based ones were regularly scrutinized and ordered either to be industrious in their work or go back to their home country and leave their positions to other “interested individuals”. “One time, these police officers came to the company I was working in and removed a gun, pointing it at me to start the machine!” he explains. To me, this was colonialism of the highest level.

In practical sense, the police officers or the government did not allow any excuse of stopping the company operations. This includes lack of raw materials, human resources or necessary input in proceeding with the operations. It should be considered that it had become so expensive for companies using the dollar in purchasing the raw materials to get them. This was because they would not make enough profit out of this high expense. The position of the government was that at no time should a company stop being functional, rather it must operate or be closed down and go back to the country of its origin.

Apparently, many company owners occasionally get arrested for not running their companies, not paying taxes on time or simply employing foreigners. These companies are also required to adhere to very strict regulations and policies which subsequently hampers their progress. Once arrested, company owners have to part with huge sums of money either as bond or bribe in order for them or their properties to be released and continue working under heavy police supervision. It is no wonder then that many of these companies are in the process of closing down while those which are operating are simply doing it “out of protocol”. What is more, it is also cumbersome to take the machine out of the country due to legal restrictions. This makes these companies to struggle on as they anticipate that things will change for the better.

With life becoming unbearable for me, I decided to resign from my work and go back to his homeland in July 15th this year. As if his woes were following me to my homeland, I was shocked at the border when police officers searched me for any money or valuable I had. In fact, I was taken to a cell-like room where all my clothes were removed and all my possession taken away. Visa fee had also been increased almost threefold without any notice. Many immigrants were therefore, forced to go back for not having the required money.

Though I am currently jobless, I am happy for being with my family , of course without the constant brutality of the Sudanese. He advises new immigrants to the country to be very careful on their decision and how they are going to operate from this country. He ends his narration by asking the Sudanese, why must you treat foreigners in this way? Are we also not your brothers?


CJ Kelly from the PNW on August 26, 2015:

This was a great glimpse into a world so unlike our own. It sounds as bad as it looks. Feel very bad for the average citizen there. I'm very thankful I'm an American. Shared.

Mr. Peterson on August 26, 2015:

This is very bad to hear. I read recently saw in one part of Sudan people were using lotus seeds to make a meal.

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