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They left to seek riches but returned in coffins

By | Mar 14th 2010 | 4 min read
By | March 14th 2010

By John Oywa

They took the risk, left their jobs and families to chase gold hundreds of kilometres away but eventually paid the ultimate price.

When guns fell silent across Southern Sudan after the signing of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the 21-year-old war between the North and the South, thousands of Kenyans headed north in search of well paying jobs and business opportunities.

But shocking new details show that the Juba ‘gold rush’ has claimed lives of at least 30 Kenyans in the past three years. While some have made millions from the jobs and businesses, others have returned home in coffins. A few unlucky ones have lost their business to Southern Sudanese and Ugandan partners.

Officials of Association of Kenyans living in Southern Sudan speak to Standard On Sunday team. From right, Thothi Wangombe (gesturing), Samwel Koikai (Chairman), Ngure Mumba (member) and George Githinji (Organising Secretary). They said life in Juba was not as bad as people think.

Investigations by The Standard on Saturday indicate that at least one Kenyan dies in Southern Sudan every month, from disease, crime or accidents.

The latest incident that shocked Kenyans was the killing of three compatriots – a women and two men by a Sudanese soldier in central Juba in December last year. The soldier who was arrested and is in prison, stormed a bar run by a Kenyan and sprayed the three with bullets after he differed with the woman allegedly over the loss of his three-month salary.

Also shocking was the tragic death of a young Kenyan engineer who was speared to death in Rumbek by a renegade Sudanese villager who had differed with his father over dowry.

Kenya’s Consul general in Juba Joseph Kiplagat said the engineer, only identified to us as Odhiambo, was working for a company contracted by the Kenya Commercial Bank to put up signposts in Rumbek when he died in August, last year.

"The Sudanese had gone berserk after his father allegedly refused to give him 50 cows to pay dowry. He grabbed a spear, dashed to the road side and killed the engineer who was at work," said Dr Kiplagat.


The killer, he said, was arrested and is in prison.

Earlier in 2008, two Southern Sudanese soldiers killed another Kenyan, Sammy Wangui, when they found him in the company of a Sudanese woman.

"The soldiers asked him to pay some money to buy his freedom but shot him dead when he resisted," said Kiplagat.

Most tribes in Southern Sudan do not want their daughters to befriend outsiders.

In an interview in his office in Juba, Kiplagat confirmed that three Kenyan labourers recently died at a construction site in Juba following an accident.

The most recent case was of a Kenyan working for a humanitarian agency in Juba who was found dead at his doorstep after returning from a staff party last month. Although the cause of death has not been established to date, some Kenyans living in Juba claim he was poisoned by a Sudanese workmate. But Kiplagat dismisses this as rumours. Kiplagat describes the deaths as unfortunate. He denies claims that there are organised attacks against Kenyans by South Sudanese.

Five Drowned

"There is a wrong perception that Kenyans in South Sudan are targeted for attack. This is not true. The South Sudanese are friendly people," he said.

Besides crime, five Kenyans have drowned in River Nile in the past few months while swimming while others succumbed to malaria.

Kiplagat told The Standard on Saturday that about 20 Kenyans have died of suspected malaria in Southern Sudan since 2007.

This number could be higher since the consulate only has figures of deaths reported by relatives.

It is suspected that some families come for their loved ones without alerting the consulate.

He said lack of medical facilities is one of the biggest threats to Kenyans in Southern Sudan.

The only government hospital — the Juba Teaching Hospital – is nothing but a shell, with no drugs and acute shortage of qualified staff. "Juba Hospital cannot handle emergencies. The nearest hospitals capable of saving lives are either in Nairobi or Kampala and this means those who cannot afford flights will just die," said Michael Kirui, a Kenyan working in Juba.

Private hospitals are few and are equally ill equipped. Most clinics and pharmacies are run by quacks.

Malaria Upsurge

A recent report by the World Health Organisation says an upsurge of malaria has been recorded in Central Equatorial State, which includes Juba.

There have also been cases of Kala azar in Malakal, Old Fangak, Pibor, Rom and Melut regions.

At least three Kenyans have also drowned in River Nile in the past one year. But it was the latest case of one George Otieno, a hawker in Juba, who caused quite some drama.

His body had to be exhumed from a mass grave after Sudanese authorities buried it in a mix-up. The consulate had to intervene to have the body exhumed, preserved and later flown to Kisumu via Nairobi in an exercise that cost nearly $2000.

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