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Rift Valley Institute

Making local knowledge work

Tarikh Tana (Our History): Episode 14: Border Management and Epidemics


This show is brought to you under the South Sudan National Archives Project, supported by Norway and implemented by UNESCO in partnership with RVI, and in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture, Museum and National Heritage (MCMNH).

The fourteenth Tarikh Tana (Our History) radio show will focus on “Border Management and Epidemics”.


Epidemics are connected to the history of border management in South Sudan. As the British colonial government was established over the 1930s, administrators saw the control of infectious disease as a key reason for the start of a pass system across Southern borders. Officials designated ‘areas’ within which people’s movements in and out were controlled with passes. These were the first passports in Southern Sudan, to allow people to travel outside of ‘infected’ districts within Southern Sudan, and to cross the borders into Congo, Central Africa and Uganda.

The passes were supposed to be issued by chiefs, and then stamped by clinics to show that the individual was free of infection. But this system was difficult to monitor and control—chiefs argued that people would just walk around the clinics and border posts, and the South Sudan National Archives in Juba records hundreds of people doing just that, to avoid the monitoring system.

Epidemics like sleeping sickness were also a good excuse for the government to control workers and monitor taxation. The pass system was a useful way for the authorities to try to control the number of seasonal migrants and labourers who left and entered Sudan. The 1930s pass system tried to stop migrant workers from leaving the fields in Southern Sudan to go to find paid work in Uganda’s sugar fields. The passes also were a way to try to force people to pay their taxes: passes were not issued by chiefs unless the person’s taxes were paid in full. The social need to control the epidemic was also useful for the political need to control taxation and workers.

Every borderland region of South Sudan has its own history of pass systems and border controls that relates to a past epidemic including cholera, measles, smallpox and livestock diseases.

The two guests were:

Professor Akway M. Cham
Head of the Department of Community Medicine at the College of Medicine, University of Juba

Professor Venansio Tombe Muludiang
Professor of Demography at the School of Social and Economic Studies and an Advisor to Vice Chancellor on Community Outreach, University of Juba

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