Maridi Airport is the closest to Ibba and consists of a couple of shipping containers and a pit latrine.The dirt runway has a slight curve before petering out into a track that disappears into the dense undergrowth.
State Governor Africano Mande has plans to build a new runway which could accommodate cargo aircraft and provide a route to market for the fruit which lies rotting along the roadsides; supply vastly outstrips local demand in such a sparsely-populated area. That the Governor works from such a well-renovated and decorated building – an ex-colonial commissioner’s home from the 1920s – lends credence to his claim, as does the presence of road-building machinery which has recently been procured from a military base where it had been lying idle. Perhaps he will upgrade the road to Ibba and beyond, and even complete a new road to the Congolese border some 12 miles away. For now, the lack of infrastructure protects the great forests of mango and teak from export.
Governor Mande hosts us for a couple of hours in his immaculately decorated office, impressing us with his policy and development plans for the state he governs – one of four in what is still known by many as Western Equatoria. He talks of increasing efficiency in public administration, of improving access to quality education, of providing skills and employment for young people, and of developing tourism. Although national peace talks have been postponed, pockets of peace exist at state and county level and Governor Mande is determined to make a practical difference by investing in education, health and infrastructure to create the conditions for peace.
There are already signs of hope. Maridi town boasts a girls’ secondary school for science, with a roll of 150 students and 5 teachers, an array of science equipment, a vegetable garden, and a competent head teacher. We met a girl there who had completed her primary education a year early and was now in her first term of secondary education at She had been studying at Ibba Girls’ Boarding School, 25 miles to the west and hailed by the Governor as a flagship for the state and indeed the nation.