By Will Grant
Photographs courtesy Tim Freccia
Delivering anything to South Sudan is not easy. Especially not five truckloads of military equipment that has to cover the breadth of equatorial Africa to get there. Even if the end user is the United Nations.
But that’s exactly what a Nairobi-based expatriate from New Hampshire and his crew of five drivers are doing: running a convoy containing 14 pieces of over-sized heavy equipment 5,500 kilometers from Johannesburg, South Africa to Juba, South Sudan for the UN. They’re calling it the Joburg to Juba Juggernaut, and the payload is 90 tons of equipment, delivered at the end of January to the tune of about $135,000.
The list of deliverables is two Samil 20 personnel carriers with field-office bodies; one Nissan CW45 10-ton water tanker; one International Eagle tractor with lowbed trailer; one Caterpillar D7H armored bulldozer; two 2,500-liter off-road diesel fuel trailers; three 1,000-liter off-road diesel fuel trailers; and four 1,000-liter off-road water trailers.
Spearheading the project is Ian Cox, who now runs a “specialty vehicles and procurement” company called Lorry Boys. Cox sells a lot of Toyota Land Cruisers and heavy equipment throughout Central and East Africa to clients such as Doctors Without Borders, the landmine-mitigation company Mine Tech International, and, of course, the UN. To him, the Joburg to Juba Juggernaut is just another job, albeit a challenging one.
“Paperwork in Africa in general is a nightmare, regardless of the type of equipment,” he says. “But anything with armor adds another level of scrutiny and paperwork, such as End User Certificates.”
The delivery will cost about $15,000 in fuel, probably as much in repairs, and take the crew along the shores of Lake Victoria, through lawless areas of several countries, and over enough dirt road to . And anything involving the South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, is assuredly a nightmare.
“Hit some livestock in South Sudan, pay $5,000 [USD]. Hit a human, maybe pay with your life,” he says. “The first 180-kilometer paved road was just installed, and they don’t know how to judge car speed yet. People are getting whacked all the time.”
Thankfully, a photojournalist will be along for the ride with Cox and his drivers to document the mayhem, tribulations, and inevitable breakdowns along the way. Tim Freccia, whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the BBC, and Al Jazeera, has worked all over the world covering conflict and disaster. Like the others on board, he’s well-suited to working in Africa—he wants to open a bar in Mogadishu in the near future.
“Ian’s in it for the job. I’m in it for the TV,” Freccia says. “I got tip my hat to him though, he’s kept it rolling right through the holidays.”
The convoy has yet to make it out of South Africa, and the trucks only started rolling last week, but the few short video clips on the Joburg to Juba Facebook page hint at a wildly entertaining sketch. That’s partly due to the two American drivers, one of whom currently lives in Africa and the other who once lived there but is now very much a product of the American Southeast.
Raymond Allen Sines looks like a Southern trucker. Greasy ball cap, sleeveless flannel shirt, stained canvas pants with an oily rag flagging out the back pocket. Sines was flown in from the Sunny South to drive the cab-over International Eagle tractor, currently with "major brake issues."
The crew refers to the Eagle as the Biohazard Buffalo because of the grimy condition of the cab. The mattress in the sleeper is the color of dishwater. But Sines is unfazed.
“I drink the water straight out of the rivers of Appalachia,” he says in a video on the Joburg to Juba Facebook page. “I ain’t got sick from that. I won’t get sick from this mattress, I bet.”
Jared Andrew, who now lives in Kenya, is the other American driver. He’s a fitting
counterpart to Sines and Cox. (The other three drivers are Africans.)
“I went to visit [Jared] and his family in Tanzania once,” Cox says. “We made some primitive guns in the morning and went shooting crows in the afternoon.”
The convoy will travel from South Africa, through Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, and Uganda to South Sudan. Cox will be riding a Kawasaki KLR650-C motorcycle and expects to deliver the equipment to the UN sometime about the end of January, barring major setbacks.
The holiday season notwithstanding, paperwork and personnel complications have already caused delays. That’s to be expected, since it’s Africa we’re talking about. Which also means the trucks are shoddy, the roads are rough, and the natives are apt to be restless.
But Cox is in the business of making such deliveries. At the front of each trailer is a stack of spare tires. The cabs of the trucks are packed with tools. And Cox’s network of contacts will likely be as handy as both the tools and the spares. If there’s a man for the job, it’s Cox.
“It’s basically a group of redneck intellectuals,” says Freccia. “Most of what I do isn’t all that fun, but this will be fun.”
All images courtesy Tim Freccia, © Tim Freccia 2012