Crime wave hits war-torn South Sudan
“They told me that if I didn’t make them happy that night I would visit heaven or hell,” said Pitia, who was charging cellphones and laptops for customers at his store in Juba, the capital, until the armed men seized the devices and about 200 000 South Sudanese pounds (R20 679) in cash. One gunman said they had the right to steal from the city’s inhabitants because the government hadn’t paid them, the 43-year-old shopkeeper recalled.
The theft was part of a surge in crime in Juba, a city of an estimated 500 000 people where armed robberies have claimed at least 53 lives this month and are almost twice as common as in July, according to the local Community Empowerment for Progress Organisation (Cepo), which collates figures.
Authorities are investigating claims that soldiers are mainly responsible and blame economic upheaval linked to the almost four-year civil war that’s caused prices to soar.
Further bloodshed in the capital, the site of periodic eruptions of violence since the conflict began in December 2013, would imperil attempts to revive an economy that has sub-Saharan Africa’s third-biggest oil reserves.
Juba hosts a UN peacekeeping mission to which the US and China contribute troops, as well as international aid agencies fighting hunger that threatens half of South Sudan’s 12 million people. The country seceded from Sudan in 2011.
The rise in crime has been fuelled by an “economic crisis that keeps on worsening daily” and the “absence of rule of law”, said Cepo’s executive director, Edmund Yakani.
In addition, South Sudan is grappling with congestion in prisons and other detention cells caused by a four-month long strike by judges that has paralysed the judicial system.
The heads of the prison service and the country’s Human Rights Commission said prisons and police cells countrywide have been filled to capacity due to a backlog of cases in the courts.
Andrew Kuany Aguer, director general of South Sudan Prison Service, said since the judges downed tools in May, the overflow of prisoners on remand had put huge pressure on the limited food and medical services offered detainees.
The country’s main maximum security prison, Juba Central, is holding three times its capacity.
Nyuol Justin Yaac, acting chairperson of the South Sudan Human Rights Commission, urged the government to address the concerns of the striking judges.
The civil war in South Sudan, in which tens of thousands of people have been killed, has decimated agriculture and sparked widespread food shortages, while reduced oil production and lower prices slashed government income.
The International Monetary Fund said in March the economy was set to contract 10.5% in the 2016/17 financial year, while annual inflation was 115% in July, slowing from 362% the month before.
Police spokesperson Daniel Justin Buolo acknowledged this month’s rise in crime, but said there was no cause for alarm.
He said a combined army-police force inaugurated last week would secure Juba while a new law enforcement body including former rebel fighters is trained.
Many security personnel have been arrested, he said, without elaborating.
The army received “some complaints” from civilians about robberies by men in uniform and investigations are under way, said military spokesperson Lul Ruai Koang.
The issue of soldiers’ pay being delayed is also being probed, he said. - Additional reporting by Xinhua