Mafi mushkila is a common arabic phrase meaning “no problem” (literally mafi = “there is no/not/none” and mushkila = “problem”).
Unfortunately lately, the phrase has had a bit different punctuation than usual.
A few weeks ago, people noted heavy shortages of food in the markets around Juba. This happens from time to time, depending on the ebb and flow of what manages to make it to market, but this time the shortages only continued to get worse. Turns out this was due largely to massive flooding on the Ugandan side of the border.
South Sudan, despite being quite fertile land, still imports the majority of its products from abroad, and heavily through the Ugandan crossing at Nimule. Unfortunately, on the other side, Nimule to Gulu is poorly maintained, difficult to traverse, and impassable when flooded.
Such as it has been in the past month.
Thanks to basic supply and demand, what does manage to make it through now has prices set at a premium. Rolexes alone have gone up to 4ssp from 3ssp (!!) due to the jump in price of eggs. Avocados now fetch 8ssp instead of 4ssp. Apparently pork hasn’t been available at all for the past two weeks, if the restaurant we went to last night is correct.
While I might grumble about my rolex going up the equivalent of a US quarter, or being unable to find my soda of choice anywhere, this actually does critically affect people who are living on pennies and dollars a day. Hopefully the prices will normalize once the road dries out a bit, but we shall see.
As an added and inevitable bonus, we’re now getting fuel involved as well. I drove around for about an hour today looking for a station with petrol. I managed to find one just a bit outside of town, but the stock outs and long queues are already worryingly reminiscent of the fuel shortages a few years ago.
Or, as a response from a former Juban friend hit on the nose: “Please oh please don’t get caught up in any of the inevitable petrol crisis violence.”
And to complicate things even further, all of this coincides with an official change in exchange rate. The previous 3.1SSP to 1USD has now been raised to 4.5SSP to 1USD. The black market rate in the last day went up from 4.5 to 5.5.
But I’ll let the economists and the statisticians delve into that one.
In the meantime… C’mon, Uganda. Fix that road.
(Also cmon, South Sudan, become less dependent on imports, dammit.)
That one might take a while.
Sidenote: a month or two ago, South Sudan put a ban on all foreign (ie, mostly Ugandan and Kenyan) boda boda drivers. There were rumors that in retaliation, Ugandans would stop importing things to Juba. It didn’t happen, but the realization of just how dependent South Sudan is on imports was pretty apparent even at that time.