Short Travel Notes

At my final breakfast at Afex camp this morning two of my colleagues were laughing at some of the silly things people do on the Internet, such as feeding fish and growing crops etc. When I returned to the table with another cup of coffee, they were both staring intently at (I thought) the Nile next to us. Adam noted that, “they are moving at different rates.” Richard replied “and moving in opposite directions. I wonder how they will pass each other?” Adam suggested, “let’s bet on which group goes over the other.” I strained to see what it was they were talking about and could see only the usual uprooted plants floating down the river, all in the same direction.

What are you talking about, I asked. The ants on the string, they replied. Just next to us in the open air dinning hall was a string fence to prevent people from taking a short cut through the garden. Two long lines of ants were walking along the top of the string in opposite directions. Maybe feeding fish on the Internet is not so wacko after all.

On my flight a few hours later from Juba to Nairobi I came across a quote in The Standard (a Nairobi newspaper) that I can’t resist sharing:  “Tanzania’s culture of skepticism and mistrust of Kenya has been going on for over four decades. The late Julius Nyerere, the founding President of Tanzania, once described the capitalist-aligned and aggressive Kenya as a ‘Man eat man society’. [Kenyan] Attorney General Charles Njonjo retorted by terming the then socialist Tanzania a ‘Man eat nothing society.’”

Travel notes from Juba, South Sudan



Ito and I ended our Italian/French/Netherland vacation (see in Amsterdam visiting friends (Bill Wirt, Dolph Westerbos, and René van Hell). While there, we enjoyed the usual sights and the coldest July day in the Netherlands (July 24) since 1903! Then Ito took the plane home to Washington DC while I headed on to South Sudan.

While Amsterdam was having its coldest day, Washington was suffering one of its hottest days in history. The same weekend had the only two consecutive days with lows above 84 decrees ever recorded. The high temperature of 105° at 3:52 pm on July 22 at Washington Dulles was a new all-time record, beating the old record for July 22 of 98° in 1998 by 7°. By the 24th Dulles had “cooled” down to a high of 94° (97° at Reagan National).

The average global high may well have been perfectly normal (I couldn’t find such data if it exists), demonstrating that distribution does matter.

Juba, The Republic of South Sudan

I left Southern Sudan on June 21 and returned on July 27th to the newly independent Republic of South Sudan (on July 9). The introduction of the new South Sudanese Pound (SSP), which our Deloitte team has been helping the local authorities prepare to issue for over a year, had started on July 18th.  The replacement of SDG (Sudanese Pounds) with the new SSP is targeted to be completed by the end of this month (August—a 45 day period).

The establishment of the new Central Bank of South Sudan, though inheriting most of the staff and buildings of the Bank of Southern Sudan (a branch of the Central Bank of Sudan headquartered in the North), is being seriously hampered by the failure so far of the President of the Republic to appoint its new Governor and Board.

The big success on this visit was the launch of foreign exchange auctions after the new central bank law wiped out all of the exchange controls imposed by North Sudan when Southern Sudan was part of it. The Central Bank of Sudan (the central bank for the whole country before the South spit off) was running out of foreign exchange reserves (foreign currency owned by the central bank that it could sell to the market to influence the exchange rate of its currency). It wanted to keep its exchange rate to the U.S. dollar and other foreign currency low so that those holding its currency could buy dollars more cheaply (a so-called “strong” currency). But to do that it had so sell dollars from its foreign currency reserves. When it was running out of dollars, it could no longer support the exchange rate it wanted. So it imposed restrictions on the purposes for which people could buy dollars with the Sudanese Pound (restricting demand) in order to support it’s artificially low (strong) exchange rate. As a result, a spread of up to 1½ percentage points opened up between the official rate and the street (black market) rate.

South Sudan has removed those restrictions and introduced twice weekly auctions of U.S. dollars to the highest bidders. There have been three auctions so far and they are working well as the market gets used to them. The spread between the official and street rate (no longer illegal) has already narrowed to about 25 basis points (a quarter of a percentage point). Today we hit a big bump in the process and the acting governor, responding to political pressure capped the exchange rate for the next auction below the rate of the last one. We expect the announcement of a permanent Governor very soon.

After independence, the Bank of Southern Sudan became the Central Bank of South Sudan (CBSS). The Bank has a fairly large courtyard in the middle where people gather to chat or smoke cigarettes and where the Governor holds large staff meetings. You can see it in the attached picture. I stepped out of my office on to the far edge of the courtyard the other day and was standing next to one of the Bank officials. He was on his cell phone and obviously expecting to meet someone: “Where are you? … You are standing under a tree? … What tree? We have a lot of them.” Every now and then a fairly large monkey drops out of one of them, which always gives me a start.

There seems to be more life around the Bank than before. After all, there is a lot going on (introducing a new currency and starting new foreign currency auctions). Yet the halls of the Bank are still cluttered with employees that are half asleep. I am not really sure what their duties are. Work habits are not very good here. Many of the African Sudanese in the South cling to the habits of the African lion, which lies around and sleeps most of the day, while his lionesses round-up the food and do the dishes so to speak. The entrepreneur spirit is in rather low supply. Many of the businessmen and shopkeepers are Kenyans or Ugandans.

The traditional pastoral and often nomadic lives of many Africans roaming the plains of Sub-Saharan African are not all bad, by any means. You can’t listen to them sing without hearing some happiness there. But it is too easy for those of us not living it day after day to overly romanticize it.

Life at the Afex Riverside Residence at the edge of the Nile remains the same. I continue to be impressed with the timeliness of Deloitte’s team for the morning and after lunch departures of its six cars. In the few minutes before 8:00 am every day except Sunday, thirty or so consultants converge on the car park from several paths and at 8:00 am sharp the cars start pulling out for the drive to the various Ministries (and in my case the Central Bank) at which they work. Often the departure, especially after the lunch break, is virtually simultaneous with all six cars departing from the camp one right behind the other in a caravan. It is an impressive sight.

On irregular trips, the drivers are required to provide a radio report to Base on who is with them and where they are going so that Base knows were every one is. It goes something like this: “Alpha to Base. Alpha to Base…  This is Base.  Leaving Charlie, Charlie, with Bravo D-4 (or whoever) and with, with, and with one “unassigned.”  I am the “unassigned” because I talked Base into not having to carry a bulky two-way radio around, because I almost always travel with colleagues who have one.

A few days back, while eating dinner in the Afex dinning hall—a very pleasant open air facility along the edge of the Nile—a strong gust came up that caused a heavy shower of little black things that covered the dinning room tables, floor, and my plate. I assumed that it was the carcasses of the hundreds of thousands of zapped insects that had given up their lives to the several electric bug killers overhead. I was greatly relieved when I learned that they were little mango seeds that had collected on the canvas roof and were dislodged by the brisk wind.

At dinner this evening our British security officer and another Englishman where telling war stories across the table from me. I was only half listening, but the other Brit’s story about their first-rate French interpreter (they must have been in a French-speaking African country as he is not old enough to be talking about WWII) ended with something like: “he eventually went native on us, drinking red wine and such.” I learn something new every day.

I have been away from home for over a month and need a haircut. My barber for the last 35 years gets very upset if anyone else cuts my hair. During my two month stay in Baghdad in 2004 I was forced to get several and Mike complained for the next two months that it was taking that long to get it back into proper shape. Tuffs of hair now tickle my ears occasionally leading me to fear that a malaria-carrying mosquito has landed there.

Our morning drive from Afex Camp to the Central Bank usually passes a lot of kids on their way to school. The girls and boys dressed in school uniforms is a lovely sight. There is little that is as encouraging and hopeful as seeing young kids smiling on their way to school, especially in a largely illiterate country. So there is hope. There is also little as heart breaking is the face of a child, usually a hungry child, with no hope. The expressionless, unfocused stare of such a child is more than I can bear.

I think that we take hope in American (especially) so for granted that it is hard to imagine a people who have little of it. A great deal of our existence, especially our younger years are filled with the hope that we can build decent enjoyable lives for our selves and our loved ones. What would our youth have been without it? There seems to be a lot of hope in South Sudan now. I hope that it is justified and that it can be sustained.

Travel notes from South Sudan and Kenya

As my Kenya Airways flight climbed out of Juba, the Nile cut through the brown countryside as far as I could see. In the last month of South Sudan’s dry season, little green can be seen. In a month and a half or so after the rainy season has started it will all be green.

An hour and a half later, as we descended into Nairobi, the vast plains of Kenya surrounding the city were lushly green and the relatively vast wealth of Kenya was easily discernible even from the sky. The drive from the airport to my hotel in the city center took me past row after row of modern office buildings and import export warehouses and assembly facilities. Kenya is a relatively modern and affluent African country. It is alive with activity. It’s rapidly growing wealth is unfortunately revealed in the infamous traffic jams along its main roads. Freeway construction has not kept pace.

Today, the front page of one of Nairobi’s daily newspapers was filled with news of the winners of the national school performance examination results, a testimony to the high value Kenyan’s place on education as an essential part if its development and continental and international competitiveness. The paper lamented the continued gap between the girls’ and the boys’ performance.

Kenya has made progress toward reducing the role of tribes in business and political life. If workers are promoted and otherwise rewarded on the basis of performance (merit), economies develop and grow much faster than those (so typical of much of Africa still) that function more narrowing long tribal lines. Then the Presidential elections in December 2007, which were expected to deepen democracy’s hold, erupted into violence along political/tribal lines when incumbent President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner and shattered this progress. His opponent Raila Odinga was widely thought to have won. Over 800 people died and over 600,000 were displaced from the violence.

Most Kenyans were shocked by the violence of those weeks. Former UN General Secretary Kofi Annan brokered a power sharing agreement that restored peace but did not succeed in overcoming the resurgent tribalism and its poisonous effect on Kenya’s public and economic life. Ever since local newspaper headlines have been dominated by on again off again efforts to bring the perpetrators of the electoral violence to justice. The debate is between those who do not believe Kenyan institutions are strong enough to expose and punish those high government officials who are guilty and thus favor having the claims adjudicated in the Hague, and those who want Kenya to handle its own investigation. This later group includes coalition government, whose Finance Minister was accused by the International War Criminal Court in the Hague as one of the perpetrators. Like Zimbabwe, it is very painful to see such a wonderful and promising country slide backward.

Then there is the story of Paul Oduor, pictured below. I had dinner with Paul several weeks ago in Nairobi on my way to Juba. I am still not quite sure how it came about. Several months ago I received a text message from a Kenyan phone number. I had never received an unsolicited text message from a stranger before (unlike all those messages from widows, Barristers, or bank officials in Nigeria or Benin—why Benin??—eager to deposit millions from their recently diseased husband, or client, in my bank account if I would just provided them with my account information).  He said something like, “I am a young African man, and would like to know you. Where are you?” not the usual “I am sure that you will be very surprised by this letter” favored by the fraudsters. My finger hovered over the delete button, but then I replied “I am in Washington DC. Who and where are you.” It turned out that he was in Nairobi and didn’t seem to want anything more that the adventure of connecting with someone somewhere else in the world. And, of course, I do pass through Nairobi fairly often, so we kept exchanging text messages and arranged to meet for dinner on February 18th.

Paul was a polite young man of 22 who ran a human rights organization with a partner that is affiliated with Humanists International. He was trying to educate the residence of the large squatter slum of several hundred thousand Kenyans in a square mile or so of Nairobi of their rights under the law. He gave me literature explaining the purpose of his organization. He had obviously had some training in sales, complimenting me on asking good questions. Finally I asked him how he got my phone number. He said that his mother worked in the kitchen of a hotel where we had held a workshop for some South Sudanese officials a year or two earlier and had picked up one of my papers that had the information. Maybe it was a participant list, as I don’t put my phone number on articles or other such papers. As best I can tell, Paul simply thought it would be fun to see if the far off person whose number he had acquired would respond. He never asked for money for his organization, which seemed to be a private voluntary undertaking on his part, but he did eat a hearty meal. As we parted, he said: “You are a Christian, aren’t you?” Then handed me a book called: “The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived.” Never a dull moment.

Southern Sudan votes for Independence

The independence referendum for Southern Sudan for which an estimated 2 million Sudanese have died over the last 30 years started today wherever Southern Sudanese live. I expect to return next month to continue providing technical assistance on setting up a new central bank and issuing a new currency. My Deloitte colleague Adam Wicik sent the following email this morning along with many happy pictures of which I am attaching three.

Greeting from sunny, warm and still calm Juba. Again, there is no escaping some photos from here.
As you all know, a Referendum on the future of Southern Sudan started today and will go on for another 7 days.  Today was the first day.  As it is Sunday, with kind permission of Andy, Kate and I were able to go around and pretend to be press photographers.  We almost got arrested once for taking photos, but Deloitte ID card works like magic!
Photos fall into two groups – voting, i.e. long queues, people patiently waiting, casting their votes and immediately shouting in happiness, and having a fingers dipped in long lasting ink to stop them from voting twice.  Everything has been quiet and peaceful so far.
There was some singing, dancing, and drum beating as well.  Of course, what else could you expect on a happy day.
You will see some photos of those happy (and sleepy for some) moments too.
George Clooney is here again.  As always staying at AFEX.  Today we caught up with him at the local church.

This is all for now.  Keep your fingers crossed that the rest of this week, and the next six months, stay calm and happy.

All the best,

Return to Juba

Greetings from Juba, Southern Sudan

I am back in Juba for the third time since July continuing to discuss with various decision makers monetary policy regime options and negotiating positions with the North for dividing monetary assets and liabilities of the Central Bank of Sudan when the South becomes independent next year, and preparations for establishing a new central bank.

My residence in Afex Camp by the Nile continues to improve and is almost approaching what you could call, African adjusted, nice. The main paths from our bungalows to the open air dinning area by the Nile have been improved with relatively fine gravel, which lets the water drain when it rains and keeps the dust down when it doesn’t. Some quit attractive gardens have been planted on either side of some of these paths. The dinning pavilion, as before, has a high ceiling with ceiling fans that attempt to keep the insect kingdom from invading our food and faces. Its view of the Nile 10 meters away is as lovely as ever.

A unique feature of our dinning area is that everything is covered with saran wrap (plates, glasses, flat ware and of course the food) in order to keep the jungle creatures at bay. It seems to work well and dinners are quite pleasant. Next to our dinning pavilion is an open air (but also covered) bar that would be the envy of any such hang out. I have never had the time to sit there and enjoy it but it is nice to know that it is there.

My two room plus bathroom and toilet room bungalow is in fact quite nice as well, dramatically better, in fact, than my rooms in the IMF guesthouse in Kabul from which I have just come. On this visit I am staying in Zambia 2. On previous visits I stayed in Sudan 1 and Niger 1. My apartment is well air-conditioned and the mosquito net over my bed has no holes. It even has a TV with satellite station access (I am told as I have never tried to turn it on), and Internet access without which I really would feel deprived and isolated.

The evening of my arrival, the Deloitte project manager (my boss) called to say that the North South negotiators had just come to an agreement in Khartoum on the division of the assets and liabilities of the central bank (the currency and the assets that back it) between the North and South in preparations for the South’s independence next year (referendum is January 9 and independence day is scheduled to be July 9th).  This was one of the topics I came to advise on so this was quite a surprise. The project manager was trying to arrange for me to fly up to Khartoum the next day to review what was going on, but had to give up as my Sudanese visa had been stamped in Juba when I arrived and thus would be unacceptable in the North. Not only would they not permit me entry, he learned, but they would not let me return to the South (Juba) either. The next day while waiting for the new agreement to be faxed or emailed to us, we learned that none of it was true—just another one of the rumors that circulated from time to time. This was an adrenaline stimulating start to my visit.

Juba, Southern Sudan

Sudan’s long history has been closely tied with Egypt’s on its Northern border. The British control of Sudan from 1899 – 1956 was motivated largely by its desire to safeguard its planned irrigation damn at Aswan by controlling the Nile, which flows North through Sudan and Egypt into the Mediterranean. For the Nile, down river is north, the opposite of all the big rivers I have known of.  The British effectively ruled the largely Arabic, Muslim North and the Black African Animist/Christian South separately. When Sudan became independent from Egypt and the UK on January 1, 1956, it was the largest country in Africa geographically but with a modest population of only 42 million.

A civil war between Northern and Southern Sudan broke out the year before independence and lasted for 17 years. The war resulted from Southern concerns over Northern domination and a variety of personal ambitions. Following a ten-year hiatus, war resumed when the North attempted to impose Islamic law on all of Sudan, contrary to the terms of the Addis Ababa Agreement of 1972 than ended the first civil war.  This second civil war raged until a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed in January 2005. The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), which now rules Southern Sudan, was formed at the beginning of this second civil war. Omar al-Bashir of the National Congress Party (NCP) is President of Sudan, ruling from the capital of Khartoum in the North. The International Criminal Court in The Hague indicted al-Bashir for war crimes on March 4, 2009.

The per capita income of Sudan is one of the lowest in the world at $2,380, which includes substantial oil revenue going to the government, and much lower for the South.  A census in 2008 counted 8.3 million people in the South, though some think the actual number is significantly larger. The two civil wars resulted in the deaths of 2.5 million Southern Sudanese, massive destruction, and infrastructure neglect in the South.

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement under which the country is now governed was designed to “Make Unity Work” by granting considerable autonomy to the “Government of Southern Sudan” (GOSS) in Juba, which oversees regional (state) governments and participates in the national government in Khartoum, sharing oil revenue with the South (where most of the oil fields are located), and other sharing arrangements. The CPA also established the Bank of Southern Sudan (BOSS) in Juba as a branch of the Central Bank of Sudan in Khartoum, though it operates somewhat independently. Very importantly the CPA provides for a referendum in the South in January 2011 of whether it wants to
become an independent country. The wide spread view in the South (I am told) is
that the North has not dealt and shared fairly with the South and that it will vote for independence.

I am working there to help the GOSS chose an appropriate monetary regime and to prepare it to issue and manage its own currency, if, as expected, Southern Sudan does become independent next year. In this capacity I am working for Deloitte Consulting under a USAID contract. My first two sets of meetings with the management of BOSS were in Nairobi last month and in 2007. My most recent meetings were in Juba a week and a half ago. While we have advised that the conditions for the successful launch of a new currency would be better after several years of dollarization, the Southern Sudanese want
their own currency as soon as possible. The management of the BOSS with whom I
work has agreed with us that such a currency should be issued under currency board rules (see my book about the currency board I helped establish in Bosnia, “One Currency for Bosnia”). I am now working with my Deloitte colleagues on drafting a new central bank law and an establishment plan for a new central bank, both to be discussed and finalized when I return to Juba in September.

I was not allowed to travel outside of Juba for security reasons. Juba, itself is a garrison city of refuge for hundreds of thousands of Southern Sudanese from years of war. Since the peace agreement in 2005 Juba’s population has exploded from 160,000 to over 1.1 million today. The capital city has few paved roads and I never imagined that the hills and valleys of rutted city roads could be so deep. Malaria is a problem. A scattering of huts surrounds
our relatively lovely camp on the banks of the White Nile. Our driver was proud to live in one such hut, which, he explained, has a real bed (off the ground with a mattress). Apparently that is all that it has. My colleague Adam, who has been in Juba for over a year, described a father and his four little sons who emerge every morning from their hut neatly dressed and with smiles on their faces. Adam asked the father, why they smile so brightly each morning. “Because we know we will have food today,” he replied.

These good and long suffering people deserve better. I don’t really know whether independence or Making Unity Work will be better for them. But I am happy to contribute what I can to at least improving the prospects of their having a stable currency if they issue one.

I am reluctant to photograph people in such poverty, so below you see two of my colleagues breakfasting at our lovely Camp by the White Nile.