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The Heart of South Sudan’s War Economy

While elites in Juba split the remaining oil revenues, ground-level civil servants, soldiers and rebels have to get by in other ways. As a result, since independence in 2011, the number of checkpoints has nearly doubled and checkpoint taxes have increased by 300%. These ‘transit taxes’, as they are locally called, are mostly illegal. But in the absence of a functioning taxation system and as a legacy of decades of conflict, ‘government’ has become a financing enterprise, extracting cash from aid and trade. Over the past two years, researchers have mapped 319 checkpoints along major trade routes in South Sudan, of which 253 (79%) are roadblocks and 66 (21%) river checkpoints. Checkpoints on the road between Juba and Bentiu on average charge a truck about US$21, the total journey involves passing 80 checkpoints —- meaning a return journey easily costs over US$3,000 in checkpoint taxes. This makes transport in South Sudan among the most expensive in the world, with a price per metric tonne only rivalled by Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.