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Notes on the Geography of Sudan: A Southern Relic

In 1935, the British and Belgians completed a road from Juba on the White Nile to Stanleyville on the Congo. It was a big deal: 500 miles of all-weather road. How much of it is motorable now is a good question, but here are some pictures of the Sudan part of the road as it was in the 1980s, when foreign aid was still arriving in Khartoum for southern development projects.

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Sudan: A Southern Relic picture 1

The road was intended for several purposes. Among them: serving the Zande Scheme, a major British undertaking to stimulate cotton production. By the 1980s, there wasn't any Zande cotton, but the road was still in good shape. Why? Partly, at least, because it's built of laterite dug from a weathered surface so hard that this part of the Sudan has long been known as the Ironstone Plateau. Travel along the road was not quite safe, though, for the civil war in the Sudan was already heating up.

Sudan: A Southern Relic picture 2

On the road, a bridge showing the high standards of the project.

Sudan: A Southern Relic picture 3

George Rex, with crown and laurels, cast in the bridge railings. The same insignia can be found in lots of other countries around the world, but this must be one of the more forlorn of them. Hard to believe that at the time this bridge was built--and even for a few years after the British left Sudan at the end of 1955--there were phone books for the country, and functioning phone lines. But the British had been fond of such thing s, witness this line of Kipling's "Song of the English": "Clear the land of evil, drive the road and bridge the ford."

Sudan: A Southern Relic picture 4

On the same road: an abandoned crane.

The British built other roads in southern Sudan, too. Here's a note about the opening of one running from Juba south to Nimule, on the Uganda border: "An important recent event was the opening of a bridge over the Assua River, the final link in a new all-season road connecting Juba and Nimule, on the Nile, these being the terminal ports of the Sudan steamer services and Kenya and Uganda rail and steamboat systems. The road runs for two-thirds of its length through uninhabited country. It is 120 miles in length, with a surface 32 ft. wide." Source: The Crown Colonist, I:7, June 1932, p. 333.

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