News / Africa

Running from 'Tigers' in South Sudan

SPLA soldiers stand in a vehicle in Juba, December 20, 2013.
SPLA soldiers stand in a vehicle in Juba, December 20, 2013.
John Tanza

Henry Lugale has spent the week since he got to Nairobi thinking about the nightmare that life has become back in Juba.

"There were people suffering. South Sudan is not good," he told South Sudan in Focus.

Before the conflict started in December, Lugale was a businessman, running a popular store in Juba’s Tomping neighborhood. When violence erupted on Dec. 15, things got so bad that Lugale practically lost the roof over his head.

“Because our home was near the home of the president –  these people come and they ruin all the things in the store," he said.

"And I have some solar (panels) on the top. They removed the solars and even they took my car. Soldiers. Tiger soldiers,” he said.

Tiger soldiers

By "tiger soldiers" Lugale meant members of President Salva Kiir’s presidential guard, also called the Tiger Division. Lugale said the same soldiers man some of the checkpoints that are dotted around Juba. They used to stop him several times a day, asking him each time to get out of his car and often confiscating his belongings or demanding money, he said.

South Sudan Information Minister Michael Makuei said checkpoints are normal in times of trouble, and speculated that Lugale had resisted security officials who were merely doing their job.

"Anybody who decides to be intransigent, anybody who wants to go against the law, anybody who wants to take the law into his own hands, these are the people who must be handled. And if he happened to be one of those intransigent ones, then, definitely, he could have an encounter with the checkpoint," Makuei said.

Ethnic differences

Lugale insisted he was doing nothing wrong. He said the soldiers at the checkpoints harass people like him – because he is not from the same ethnic group as they are.

One time, he says, when he was on his way to pick up some items on a list for his shop, he was stopped at a checkpoint.

“'Where are you going to?'" he recalled the soldiers asking him.

"I say, 'I’m going to Torit.' 'Where are you from?' I say, 'I’m from town.' 'So which tribe are you?' I say,'I’m Baria.' 'So why are you going to Torit if you’re Baria?'"

Then, Lugale said the soldiers told him they were going to arrest him. When he asked them why, he said they told him it was because of his shopping list, which they said was a list of people's names. They also said they were taking his iPhone, which had pictures on it of the January 2011 referendum, in which South Sudanese voted overwhelmingly for independence from Sudan.

Makuei expressed surprise when he was told the story of the referendum pictures, but said Lugale probably had something else on his phone.

“How can you be prevented from carrying pictures of people who are celebrating the referendum?" he asked.

"This cannot be accepted by a sober mind. He must have been carrying other pictures which he knows. Otherwise, nobody will ever stop me from carrying pictures of my celebration," the minister said.

Tired of being harassed

Lugale insisted that his version of the story was true. He said he eventually fled Juba because he got tired of being stopped, harassed, and having to pay kickbacks or hand over his belongings to soldiers at checkpoints.

“Ah – you cannot be free, because there are so many checkpoints in the town. There are soldiers there -- operations soldiers. They are there, they are checking the cars," he said.

John Tanza speaks to businessman Henry Lugale, who fled South Sudan
John Tanza speaks to businessman Henry Lugale, who fled South Sudan i
|| 0:00:00


Karin Zeitvogel contributed to this report from Washington

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This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: buckz makir from: juba
July 26, 2014 3:46 AM

In Response

by: Moderator
July 30, 2014 2:33 PM
At VOA, we strive always to give both sides of every story, including this one, for which we spoke with not only Mr. Lugale but also with Mr. Michael Makuei, the Information Minister.

by: Koug Wad Titoung from: Cairo
July 24, 2014 1:06 PM
Really we felling sorry about what is going into south Sudan by this way we are going to disdoryed our country because by one tribe south Sudan will not be able to people's lives. benefit really we are tribes in home one tribe must think twice about our people's lives or one days we can't find what we need on our way life's so south Sudan going to disdoryed by who calling themselves leader but they're tribezim leaders and they're care about his tribe not all South Sudan people's.

by: Ngomjaang from: Africa
July 23, 2014 4:23 PM
I definitely agree with what Lugale say , the so called Retarded A kiir with his Husband M7 of are the one messing our new nation up..

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