Two interlinked issues lie at the heart of this episode.
The first is that the South Sudanese government wants to limit the access of international actors to the parts of the country most affected by the ongoing conflict.
The war has seen abuses committed on both sides and several international bodies, including Amnesty International and the UN, have accused government forces of atrocities and war crimes.
On a recent trip to Arua in northern Uganda, I spoke to South Sudanese refugees who had lost family in the recent counter-insurgency operations in Yei. Their descriptions of the conflict were harrowing.
The UN has also described the operations in Yei as “horrific violence … against innocent and vulnerable civilians, including women and infants”.
Despite evidence to the contrary, earlier this year President Salva Kiir reiterated his government’s assurance that “all humanitarian and development organisations have unimpeded access to needy populations”.
Few believe that Juba truly welcomes the presence of international agencies and organisations, many of whom continue to draw global attention to state abuses and the dire situation that’s resulted from the conflict.
This speaks to the second issue: the tense relationship between Juba and the “international community”, which in South Sudan comprises UN staff, NGO workers and diplomats.
To put this in context, the SPLM and independent South Sudan are to a significant degree the product of international politics and patronage.
During the 1990s and 2000s, when SPLM was still a rebel movement, it survived on resources from foreign NGOs and charities. It also received military and diplomatic support from regional states and Western donors who were also opposed to the Khartoum government.
The peace talks which led to an independence referendum were overseen and supported by international “guarantors. They later played an important role in ensuring that the referendum results were recognised and implemented.
Since becoming an autonomous region of Sudan in 2005 and gaining independence in 2011, South Sudan has relied heavily on development assistance to fund its budget and host a 12,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission (UNMISS).
It’s currently among the top ten aid recipients in the world.
Because of this close and symbiotic relationship between South Sudan and international actors, representatives of the state have become increasingly testy about the perceived influence of the western donors. This has worsened as international discourse on the Juba government becomes increasingly negative.
Shortly after the 2013 conflict broke out President Kiir accused UNMISS of being "brought [to the country] as a parallel government”.
A few months later vice president James Wani Igga told anti-UN protesters that “if [UNMISS] is a colonial system we need to fight … and I will go into the bush to fight!”.
In mid-2015 the government expelled UN humanitarian relief coordinator Tony Lanzer. There have been a number of similar expulsions in the past 18 months.
It’s in this context then that one should interpret the March 2017 comments by government spokesperson Ateny Wek Ateny. Speaking about the fee increase he said that “if you can’t pay $10,000 then you hire a local person instead”.
As much as Juba benefits from international patronage there’s still simmering resentment among leaders and academics towards the perceived dominance of development, non-governmental and humanitarian organisations.
Foreign aid-workers are envied for their hefty salaries which are usually much higher than those of their local counterparts. They also enjoy benefits and protections that are not available to nationals.
It also doesn’t bode well for the government to be perceived domestically as being in the pocket of foreign powers amid a civil war.
As such, frustrating aid workers who travel around in armoured 4x4s and live in military compounds – or the country’s best hotels – could be interpreted as a low-key propaganda move by a government which has little interest in the humanitarian consequences of its actions.