By Jon Pen de Ngong

It is a Biblical fact so well known that Jesus Christ (with parents) was the first refugee to Africa on our current (AD) calendar. In the first month of 5 BC, the young family of three trekked a distance of 40 miles (65 kilometres) from Bethlehem to an Egyptian border post. That, in terms of time, could take 12 hours of a foot journey.

Coincidentally, it is the time that this writer took using his teen energy and fear in mid 1990s to walk from Nimule to Adjumani refugee settlement in northern Uganda. It is the same time that takes a South Sudanese asylum seeking mother or student by bus from Juba to Kampala. It is also the same time that she with her baby could spend on a bus from Kampala to Nairobi, same to Kigali.

I am presenting this analogous and analytical complaint to the readers and leaders in the East African Community in particular and Africa in general. I am actually writing on behalf of that South Sudanese refugee mother with a baby and students, among others, who were singled out from the immigration queue and detained at the Kenya border the week before the Christmas of 2017.

This festive season, many South Sudanese are naively walking into a diplomatic trap following the visa-free entry decree issued by President Uhuru Kenyatta in presence of his counterparts from South Sudan and Uganda on Kenya’s Jamhuri Day (December 12, 2017).

I was also involved and equally affected. And my major ‘crime’ with those fellow ‘victims’ at Busia and Malaba border posts was not for lack of visa on our travel documents but for overstaying our welcome in Kenya, and in East Africa by extension. “We have a law in Kenya that allows you to stay consecutively for up to 6 months and then go back to your country or any other non-East African country before renewing your visa with us,” explained an immigration officer, who detained us for hours before letting us off, but not without us paying ‘some ransom’.

This situation fits the analogy on Jesus Christ, the baby asylum seeker, who, in the caring arms of his mother, Mary, and step-father, Joseph, fled to Egypt when King Herod ordered an infanticide, a genocide on babies in the age bracket of 0 to 2 years in Israel in a bid to clear off the long prophesized ‘Newborn King of the Jews’, about two millennia ago. This story is Biblically detailed on the second chapter of the New Testament (Matthew 2).

It should be noted that the Middle East (Israel and her neighbourhoods) was as messier as today those days of Jesus Christ and backward. It should also be noted with pride that Africa was probably not the source of refugees but the host. That is why, according to the Bible, Jesus is not the first refugee to Africa. Well, he was the first refugee to Africa on the modern (Gregorian) calendar. His forefathers like Moses and Jacob and sons were displaced to Egypt. They populated the country for about four centuries BC. From our current archeological history, the inhabitants of Egypt were not the present-day Arabs but ancestors of this writer, who were pushed southward afterward—say, to our today’s East Africa or Great Lakes’ region.

So what is wrong with our today’s East African region? Our modern ‘Herods and Heroes’ are carrying out even worse kinds – if not all sorts–of genocide, ranging from infanticide, sororicide, fratricide, patricide, matricide, parricide, homicide, etc. In simpler words, Africans are killing their own children, sisters, brothers, fathers, mothers, parents and any other kind of murders. The testimony to these heinous crimes against humanity is daily influx or exodus of refugees and asylum seekers, especially in the said region.

In case that generalized example is not illustrative enough, I am actually writing about a refugee baby with its mother that spent wee hours of the winter morning at the East African border on the Christmas eve not because they did not have 100 dollars for their two visas to Kenya but that they have overstayed in East Africa (Kenya for that matter) without going back to South Sudan or any other country to fulfill the 6-month Kenyan visa regulation. “But I am a refugee in Kenya and my children are studying in Uganda!” the mother exclaimed, only to claimed in vain, except with some ‘understanding’ after some time of low-tone haggling at the back doors of the immigration offices.

I was touched more on the situation of this mother and her baby than on my own, just as many others were. So I asked why I must go back to Juba or any country other than an East African one in an attempt to legitimize my stay in the region where my country’s membership belongs. I told them I had no business in Nimule or Nadapal, leave alone Juba, the place of the issue of my passport, or Bor, the place of my birth on my passport. So why would I go back to my country after every 6th month despite fulfilling all my monthly visa requirements, in addition to being a refugee, in one of the EAC countries?

In my campaign for ‘The Eased Africa I Want’, the title seen in the heading of my blog and my ongoing poetry manuscript, and, possibly, the theme of my forthcoming campaign for that matter, I have travelled through all the 6 East African countries’ boundaries, including Ethiopia and Djibouti over the last 3 years. This season, my activism took me from Kenya through Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and then back to Kenya. In fact, I had to suspend my by-air return ticket in Kigali and took a bus through Gatundu border to Uganda. What trouble do I want? Exactly, ‘the eased Africa that I want’!

However, I only found ease with free visa entry to Arusha for an SPLM Reunification meeting in 2015, free visa to Kigali for a South Sudanese Young Leaders Forum (SSYLF) summit in November 2017, but not a free visa from there to Kampala for the East Africa Zinduka Festival, neither to Nairobi where I am an urban refugee. There are more than one million South Sudanese in Uganda and about half that in Kenya, multiply that population, or a fraction thereof, with 50 dollars in a number of years of their rotational movements in frantic search for security, education, food and business. That is why it will be impossible to implement presidential visa waiver decrees by immigration officers in our sister countries. I have ever paid 100 dollars, as all South Sudanese have, for a single visa entry to Uganda at the height of our country’s refugee influx a few years ago.


Jon Pen de Ngong (this article’s writer) and his friends protesting the mistreatment the South Sudanese are undergoing in the hands of EAC leaders outside KICC in Nairobi on 15 May 2016

By the way, that is the time the UPDF (Uganda People’s Defence Forces) were busy clearing South Sudan’s rebels and displacing thousands to Uganda from my homestead of Bor and home state of Jonglei. As such, we are an asset rather than a liability to our immediate neighbours, aren’t we? But blame not President Museveni and his IGAD colleagues; in fact, help me in blaming in a big way Gen. Salva Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar for exchanging their South Sudanese population for bloodstained leadership.

But then, the wandering South Sudanese are still wondering why that rush by our government to joining East African Community raw. We are about two-years old now with an empty EAC membership. Methinks, it was not for our ordinary citizens’ benefit but for the embattled regime that wanted to justify why the UPDF mercenaries would remain in full military operations against Salva Kiir’s local rivals in the bushes of South Sudan using the NATO member mutual defense adage that implies that once one member is attacked, all members are attacked. But does it apply to an internal member’s conflict as such? At this juncture, South Sudanese, or any other marginalized East African citizens, do not see any reason to call us EAC beneficiaries, do they?

Then, when I see a fresh refugee baby and mother being treated as such after a series of costly liberation wars purportedly meant for them, I feel an Achebe curse that we are ‘no longer at ease’ and in the Arthur Koestler’s ‘darkness at noon’ in this part of our Africa. It is so disappointing that the apparent descending great-great-grandsons of those border guards, who gave free entry to an Israelite baby to enjoy relative security at the end of the Nile (Egypt), are doing the stark opposite at the source of the Nile (Lake Victoria) over 2,000 years later. Why? Because of leadership curse: too many leaders with too much or too little leadership! I am talking of our liberators or their sons and daughters, who wield on our faces our very own or shared entitlements by which they rob their own ‘liberated Africans’. Their fallacies, say, policies and police are them by extension.

How about the presidential decree on Kenya’s Independence Day that all East Africans, South Sudanese included, would enter Kenya with just a national identity card? “Wapi? Your president was there, alright, but has failed to sign some deals,” said our handler at the checkpoint. “You should not complain to us. Talk to him, your president.”

Notwithstanding the outstanding rule of diplomatic reciprocation: simpler way, the Biblical golden rule of “Do unto your neighbour exactly as you want your neighbour to do unto you”, there is still a problem. So we were duped! So the speech by the Kenya’s Kenyatta was a politically loaded diplomatic gimmick for arm-twisting our South Sudan’s Kiir to release the four Kenyans that he sentenced to life in prison for forging his (Kiir’s) signature and siphoning millions of South Sudanese tax-payer cash from the Central Bank?

How about those South Sudanese languishing in Kenyan prisons for rape or immigration cases, if not those opposition figures or activists still incommunicado or those at the mercy of procured deportation at the entry points? Was this the deal they (Kiir, Kenyatta and Kaguta) were striking behind closed doors in Nairobi on December 12, 2017? Or what was it?

Un/fortunately, again, the so-called ‘South Sudan 4’ were released and flown back to Nairobi, alright; but are the South Sudanese refugees, asylum seekers and other travelers being allowed their already decreed freedom of movement? No! Instead, the state-sponsored kidnapping of Kiir’s opposition members and activists is in the offing again! Evidence? South Sudanese state-owned TV is running headlines of the resolution by the Council of Ministers to ask the IGAD member countries to ‘stop’ the opposition from running propaganda against the Government of South Sudan, as I am composing this piece of mine for peace of mind.

As if that is not even enough, the SPLM-IO has been churning out ceasefire-threatening press releases since they signed a Cessation of Hostilities’ agreement in Addis Ababa on December 21, 2017. The loudest one is that on the kidnap of their Kapoeta governor, Marko Lokidor, from Kakuma Refugee Camp by Kenyan security operatives and allegedly handed over to their South Sudanese counterparts at Badapal birder crossing. In the Kiir Regime’s definition, propaganda includes this thing you are now reading! Suffice to mention that this piece of exposition has been resisted by my fellow activist since the day of our experience at the border. “John, don’t! It will make ‘Kiiristians’ (Kiir’s worshippers) fix your name on the list.” I told him that I had been doing exactly this on behalf of them, ‘Kiiristians’ and Christians of South Sudan, who are silently squealing under the weight of this new ‘Kiiristianity’. After all, my name has been on many such hell wishers’ lists of forced deportation or otherwise. However, the truth that ‘set me flee’ from my country in January 2013 keeps setting me free to date in the host countries of East Africa. Yes, the ‘unknown gunmen’ and ‘official human traffickers’ are the primary target of the The-Eased-Africa-I-Want campaign.


Maybe the most hilarious (sarcastically speaking) experience on our border crossing dramas is that my fellow activist had to be made to burn on hot butts in a full day bus ride to Nairobi because he did not carry his ‘Yellow Card’. This means he had to be given a yellow fever jab on his behinds that had already been heated on a bus seat from Kampala. I mean Natty P, a Kiswahili-cum-Arabic rapping artist from #Anataban movement, who was returning from the Zinduka Festival (East Africa enlightenment campaign) and from our Anataban (I am Tired) activities in Kampala, had to also pay a ‘fine’ for forgetting his ‘Yellow Card’.

Ironically, as hundreds of unsuspecting travelers are subjected to such ‘immunization treatment’ (some absent-minded ones even before the expiry dates of their yellow fever vaccination) at entry points, sex workers and the like, who may be HIV+ or suffering from any other contagious illnesses, do cross these borders Scot-free! Sorry for stigmatizing by that example, but I mean there is a huge hypocrisy at the junction of the health and laws’ strict adherence by our East African countries here. So, is this the East Africa we wanted to join? No. It seems ‘Not Yet Uhuru’!

I am actually presenting an entire Africa problem in this eastern angle. My friend once told me, much as entry visa is free for South Sudanese to Egypt, it could even be worse in terms of other forms of treatment. “We are even less than refugees when it comes to humanitarian and humanity grounds,” he sobbed. Imagine, this is supposed to be the Egypt that accommodated Baby Jesus some 2,017 years or so ago. Under Salva Kiir-Al Sisi diplomacy, which smacks of the Anglo-Egypt condominium on the Sudan about 70 years ago, South Sudan will not see a hydro electric power from Fulla Rapids soon. The ghost of Jonglei Canal is haunting us. Egypt has installed generators, military support facilities and mobile clinics; which clinics my friend feared could encourage ‘kidney kidnapping’ or organ harvesting, a practice prevalent in Egypt today, to be exact. By the way, did I remind you that Museveni has chipped in with his electricity offer from the stagnated Karuma dam on the very Nile on which Egypt is tactically vetoing our very own and threatening war on Ethiopia?

Not to fix much attention on Egypt, we all have watched the harrowing horror videos on our African youth, women and children that are now risking desperate journeys in Libya. Generally, it leaves one wondering why the African leaders of nowadays do not care about the fact that thousands of their subjects are scrambling to board slave boats in 2017 compared to thousands that were struggling to jump off the slave boats in 1817. This is a serious indictment on their leadership.

That is why I strongly believe that if that Biblical baby refugee (Jesus Christ) and family were to cross to Africa today, they would be detained and deported from any African border right away, unless on one condition: that they pay their ‘penalty’ there and then. Is this the eased (freed) Africa we want?