Traffic police in Juba often stop cars in search of bribes. It’s a common occurrence in many countries. And South Sudan’s capital is no exception. In most countries I travel to, many drivers just pay the bribe because they want to go on with their day, they think it’s easier or because it’s just the way things have been for so long. But South Sudan is only seven years old. And this doesn’t have to be the way things are done in Juba.
A male traffic cop stopped my colleagues in Juba while we were in town for just ten days. The traffic cop got in their car and made them drive to a more remote area. My colleagues say they never felt threatened and that they knew it was all about money. Their driver paid the bribe.
My driver and I were stopped once by a female traffic cop in the capital during my ten days in Juba. My driver paid the bribe on his own accord. A friend of mine, who is from Juba, told me she would never pay the traffic police no matter what: “it promotes corruption.” She suggested that instead of giving the traffic police money she always carried food or water in her car. And when they stopped her she would give them the food and water. She opened my eyes – and I was grateful to her for sharing this with me. She said she would even give the traffic police her car keys before giving them money. It’s this kind of love of one’s country that is so apparent throughout Juba. Yes, some people and children I spoke to said they felt “sad” or “bad” about South Sudan, but whenever I asked why – it was always because they wanted more for their country. Patriotism is wanting your country to be the best version of itself and loving your country. And people that I met in Juba love their country. They know that their individual actions can set the tone for the future. My friend told me that if just a hundred people agreed to never pay traffic police in Juba and to instead offer food or water that they could start a movement against corruption. I couldn’t agree more. People need food. People need water. That sustenance is a basic life necessity. About 37% of South Sudan’s population is severely food insecure according to the UN.
And three UN agencies have warned that the majority of the population (67%) could become food insecure without sustained humanitarian assistance and access. But South Sudan has extremely fertile land for agriculture. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) says 75% of the land is suitable for agriculture and half of all the country’s land is suitable for cultivation. But only 4% of the 64.7 million hectares of land is being cultivated and mostly by small farmers who are growing food to eat themselves. So food is hard to come by and the conflict doesn’t help. Also more than 50% of the population lives below the poverty line – meaning food is also expensive. So it’s understandable that some (not all) traffic cops may abuse their power for money in order to provide food for themselves and/or their families. But what my friend opened my eyes to was a new way to respond to this corruption. She felt that by never paying she was doing her part to not promote corruption in her country.
Sarah Jones, South Sudan Reporting Fellow