There Is No Joy In Juba

You’ve probably never heard of Juba, Southern Sudan. You were also probably unaware that Southern Sudan is separately governed than Sudan and that they will most likely become an independent country within the next year or so. Believe me, your life will continue unaffected for you not knowing this information. I can’t imagine that if and when Southern Sudan becomes an Internationally recognized country that many tourists will rush to get here. It is hot as hell, extortionately expensive and a dusty mess with not a damn thing to do. Sounds great right?! Well in truth, I wasn’t expecting much-well anything, and that’s why I was at least able to find the place interesting in some ways as my expectations were zero.

As you arrive at the airport all you see is UN planes and other NGO and aid organizations infesting the airport. It wasn’t as anarchical and hassle filled as I was expecting and the immigration and customs process was pretty straightforward. I met my taxi driver to drive me about ¼ of a mile to my hotel (I didn’t know it was so close or I would’ve walked) and he charged me $10. This was to be my first glimpse of how expensive this place is.
I arrived at the Sahara Hotel which was recommended by three different people, all of whom would know what the best hotel in town was. Hotel is kind of a loose term even though they call it a resort on the sign. It is essentially a trailer park meets a Motel 6 type place along Route 66 somewhere in bum-fuck Arizona. I didn’t have a reservation as they are practically impossible to make online or even by phoning the hotel so I just showed up. They first started at like $250 and eventually I talked them into $150 which was a bargain as far as I was concerned because two NGO workers I met on the plane told me it’d be at least $200. The rooms are fairly clean, with AC and have TV’s so at least that can help combat boredom. Additionally, it does a relaxing courtyard and bar so at least you don’t feel like you’re in Juba.
After checking in I hired a driver to show me the sites around the city. After haggling for a while, my Kenyan driver named John and I agreed on $40 for an hour or two of sightseeing. There were no sights to see per se and we just drove around inhaling dust particles as I looked at lines of UN SUV’s (above) tearing up the uneven and deplorable dirt roads around town. The only reasonably remarkable site was the crappy old mosque in town as you can see below. The rest was essentially crappy little stores and offices for NGO’s along with poverty stricken places for people to live. There was also a lot of garbage and little children playing in it. It was quite sad actually. The picture at the top I think is quite poignant and really true to what Juba is like.
As I was chatting up John about living here in Juba, he was telling me how awful it is. I said I could see why and he said he was here because of the money and would be here through April as he could earn money from white people as their drivers. I laughed and shrugged. As there really wasn’t much to see except for dust and the other trailer park like hotels, I realized Sahara was the best hotel in town and decided to head back there and relax over lunch.

Sahara is a Lebanese run place with pretty good food. I tried several things for lunch and they were all pretty good especially with some Tabasco sauce thrown on top. As we all know, Tabasco makes everything better, especially spaghetti bolognese from a Lebanese place in the Sudan!

Another thing I have noticed here in the Sudan, of course Southern Sudan is how many natives look like former 7’ 7” NBA shot-blocker Manute Bol. It’s really uncanny and kind of cool. I mean facially and the same body type: long; lean and very tall-unlike many African peoples.
I always loved Manute because of several reasons. First, he was the tallest guy in the NBA by far in the 1980’s. Second and most importantly to me, I met him in 1985. He actually attended (played basketball at) the University of Bridgeport in Bridgeport, Connecticut which is the city I was born in and the place where my grandparents lived. They lived right by the University and I actually saw him at Seaside Park across from the University when I was 6 years old. I remember talking to him and being amazed at how tall he was. Look at him next to Muggsy Bogues who was the shortest player in the league back then at 5″3″ and they were both on the same team. Albeit the lowely and pitiful Washington Bullets-now the even more morbid Washington Wizards and their legion of one fan.

Even at six I was a big sports fan and then he began to play in the NBA and I always followed his career. Even through its conclusion and his getting robbed out of millions by the Sudanese Government and his embarrassing forays into boxing and ice hockey. I have since lost track of him but the driver told me he was here in Sudan somewhere and even once served as the Government’s Minister of Sport. But aside from the only sitting head of state to be formally charged with genocide by the International War Crimes Tribunal in Den Hague (who is still the President by the way), Manute Bol has to be the most famous person ever from the Sudan.

Anyway, I don’t have too much more about Juba, except that if Southern Sudan does become an independent, UN recognized nation, Juba will in my mind become the worst/lamest/biggest hellhole capital city on Earth-at least that I’ve been to; surpassing Bissau, Dili, Maseru or Kinshasa. However, maybe they would then get the aid to actually pave some roads and get some infrastructure. That of course would be relying upon the new government not stealing the money…such is life on the Continent-TIA.

At some point when I come back to Africa to finish up the remaining nations I have yet to visit I will stop in Khartoum, which is the capital of the Sudan. It is a good place to transit between Libya and Eritrea and I would like to see it and compare to Juba. I have never heard a single good thing about Khartoum but it cannot be as bad as Juba.

I am currently in Kigali, Rwanda and will be here for a few days as I prepare for a New Years Day trip to track silverback gorillas.

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  1. Charles Richter says

    We have four fans. They were all in my basement for the amazing performance we had last night. It was pretty much a religious experience. Manute is our primary holy figure. Glad you got to our Mecca.

  2. I didn’t know the Wizards had any fans and I live here.

  3. Coming from you who’s been almost everywhere that place must be bad.

  4. I can only imagine the carnage you and 3 others like you could cause watching a Wizards game in the comfort of your parents basement. I fear for Boyles when he visits.

  5. I agree with DC baghead, I also live in DC and have never or will never been to a wizards game. or a skins or nats game…I like hockey though and the Caos are fun.

  6. OMG that poor little boy! He looks like one of those commercials to save the children. That’s heartbreaking…are all the kids like that in Sudan?

  7. Sounds pretty lame, indeed. However, there is a certain pleasure in knowing you have been to an area of the world few people from the States ever will. Glad your trip is going smoothly. Can’t wait to see how Bangui, CAR goes for you.

  8. Bangui was just a stopover for me on this trip, was only way I could work it in…it’s a total nightmare flying there from anywhere except from Paris (and thats only once a week) to be honest and was lucky to be able to get the stop there as I had to spend a bunch extra to work it out to do that even. So its kind of lame but it’ll have to do as I’ve decided to for the first time ever-invoke the TCC stopover rule-haha, may try to go for longer another time but idk…not much there anyway and very expensive. Hope all is well with you and yes there is certain satisfaction for sure about being there in Juba where so few people have been.

  9. Yo Lee

    I enjoy reading your journal about Juba. Look forward to what you have to say about Khartuom. Thanks for flashing my old memories.

    Sami Younis
    Madison, WI

  10. Ayuel Malual says

    Mr. Abbamonte,

    Given your first hand experience of Juba (the would-be capital of South Sudan), you would appreciate why South Sudanese fought central governments in Khartoum for nearly fourty years.

  11. Paul Manyok says

    Thank you for visiting Juba.
    I am a Southern Sudanese living in the US. Ever since I have been in the US many Americans have been kind and very sypathetic to me.A lot of people I have come know were interested in knowing why there was war in Southern Sudan. some have even asked me what they can do to help the people of Southern Sudan.
    If anybody had boasted to you that Southern Sudan is the best place in the world he must be total wrong. I have no doubt that Southern Sudan is the least developed place in the world. Before even getting independence from Britain the people of Southern Sudan were demanding from Britain some education so that they can participate in a national government,but because it was not in the British interest they left the people of Southern Sudan uneducated and left.
    since 1955, the people of Southern have been struggling for power sharing, equal ecomomic but nothing has ever worked. If you had asked,you be surprised to find that the person who is leading Southern had complete high school because there was no such opportunity.
    It is true there is no joy in Juba. But it will great if you could do a lot of research and educate the people who read your blog about why Juba is in a terrible state. Do mind helping the people of Southern Sudan? we are one world with different physical characteristics and different languages, but with the same blood and feeling
    Thank you. let make Juba a joyful part of the world. I know you can do your part.

  12. martin Loryao says

    Hi Lee, I understand your disappointment about Juba. But you have to remember that part of world came out of 21 plus years of civil war just 5 1/2 years ago.

  13. Hey guys, obviously Juba is a tough place to be in, visiting or living and there is a long and painful history of poverty, neglect and hardships. I was not disappointed per se, it was more or less what I was expecting but in truth my article was just summarizing my thoughts and experiences while I was there as that was when I wrote it-I had much time to kill!

    Having been out of there for 6 weeks or so, I really appreciate the fact I was there and do only hold the positives in my own mind but it needs to be pointed out what it is really like there. There is a lot of history that you guys know better than me and I would be happy to have you write whatever you like as the people of Juba were super nice and I love to give history lessons on my posts. However, the history of Juba is fairly cloudy to me and most outsiders because it has been written by Westerners who basically write Juba off as insignificant or whatever. Being there and seeing what is going on is confusing to say the least.

    Why there is so much NGO and UN presence I don’t exactly understand as there seems to be zero progress. Progress in what is my question. Is there really a lot of oil there-I can’t see that. Are they just trying to help impoverished people and right a wrong they have had done upon them over the decades? I don’t know that either as I see a lot of suffering and not much being done about it.

    The NGO workers from MSF that I was talking to were telling me horror stories of how they didn’t have sufficient medical supplies or facilities to help a child who feel out of a tree and hit his head. The child died a few days later as they couldn’t do anything for him except administer morphine essentially. This is very sad stuff and tough to hear. Anywhere else in the world that child would’ve easily been treated for his injury and never would’ve died. The point is-what are they doing if they cannpot treat basic illnesses or injuries. The NGO’s seem clueless to me!

    Anyway, Juba was an experience for me and one I am certainly glad I took. I don’t understand the ridiculously high prices-well I do because of all the NGO’s but what are they doing there? That is my question…There is ZERO infrastructure and a real wild west feeling in a bad way.

    Feel free to email me or comment here on your thoughts and personal experiences as clearly someone has been emailing this story around to natives and people who have been there as I have been getting a ton of emails and comments about Juba which is great.

    I don’t claim to know everything and welcome you guys shedding some light on Juba and the current and/or past situations. Thanks guys and keep up the great comments!

  14. Great report once again. Only thing left out though was how did you get in and out of Juba exactly?

  15. Air Uganda roundtrip from Entebbe with connecting service to Kigali.

  16. Hi you have forgotten that we are just coming of war. i wonder if you can make this term clear “NO JOY” I want to tell you these
    1- everyday people are coming in hundred to Juba because of peace
    2- people from different nationalities are moving in juba without been hurm or killed, even you it show you were moving freely.
    3- i am sure if you were in other counteries in Africa or Euorpe taking pitcutr near to a mosqe you would have been taken to court. I do not understand what do you mean by NO JOY
    4- East or West Juba is the best

  17. Ritumbra says

    I will be in Juba and in Sahara resorts as well, ofcourse I am one of the NGO types going to Juba.. And I hope one day it will be a place of Joy… we are afterall One world and we must work our bits to get it worth living !!

  18. Well said Ritumbra…let me know what you think of both Juba and the Sahara Resort

  19. I read alcohol is totally forbidden and outlawed in Sudan (, apparently (since you mentioned a bar in the article) the same enforcement doesn’t apply there?

    That’s pretty interesting, probably has to do with keeping up UN moral since there is not much of anything to do there it seems.

  20. Yes there is a large NGO presence in Southern Sudan and it is only available at the hotels/trailer parks! I cannot remember if they had booze but they definitely had beer at Sahara hotel. I have not been to Khartoum so I cannot say for that but I assume they have at the hotels bc there is also a lot of NGOs and the UN there.

  21. Very intersting accounting of your time in Juba and also very interesting comments. Not much is written from tourists to Juba so I enjoy your perspective as I am debating a visit on an African trip this winter. I must say, I may visit just to compare my thoughts to what you have written here. I will let you know. Thanks.

  22. i hope the country has improved since you last visited. tourism might be a good way to raise income

  23. Thanks for all your comments.I believe when people have different opinions, it doesn’t mean they all know the country’s reality and history but it’s better to discuss and come up with something feasible.My personal input is that I would like to record every Southern Sudan’s positive image of post-war recovery.I will be using a digital photo camera and make a compilation of pictures,frame them well and make a charitable event.I’m from Rwanda and would like to know if there’s anyone from Juba I can stay with in any space,I don’t even mind crashing somewhere.Your ideas are welcome to make this project succeed as I have a limited budget.My email is [email protected].


  24. Biju Sudhakaran says

    I had been to JUBA for 7-9 time after independence by direct flight into Juba and also by road from Uganda. I have stayed in Sahara resort all the times and found it good. I could understand that it was closed for 4 months due to fire and reopened on 5-May1013. I went again on 08th May 2013 , On that night the hotel went on fire and fire has eaten up almost entire hotel. we don’t know whether it will be opened again.

  25. hi lee merryxmass n happy new yr,its true juba is not a metropolitan not a luxurious place but dia every place has a story,its all abt atitude and positivity whether u decide to see how far we hve to go or u decide to c how far we have come.lack underdevelopement is the main problem and illeterancy but with time thngs change rome was not build in day snd sometimes u will always get ur self again here plus true joy is from inside u not from outside.nextime all wil be well,stay blessed yiu just helped angels unware by every deed u offere to foot barred kids in dusty juba that caninstill in u joy not neccessary the comfortability of city itself.stay bleesed keep in touch.south love u

  26. I’ve been to many countries in Africa and Nouakchott, Mauritania takes the cake as the worst, most desolate capital city I’ve been, too, but maybe someday I’ll visit Juba for comparison

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