Is south Sudan economic independent at risk?

By Manyang Deng

According to gurtong, on the 20th of January 2012, there was a clash in Bor, the capital of Jonglei State between domestic and foreign boda boda operators. Many were badly injured in the clash before police intervened to rescue the situation. I was really touched with the way one boda boda operator summarised their grievances against the foreign counterparts. The boda boda operator asked, “How could someone cross his own country border to a foreign nation just to invest in boda boda business only?”  “We are not chasing the foreigners out of our county, but they should invest in a reasonable business and leave other businesses like boda boda transport and hawking to the natives,” he added.

February 4, 2012 (SSNA) — The question whether south Sudan economic independent is at risk will be answered in the light of the boda boda clash in Bor. Other industries will be discussed in the light of answering this question. The boda boda incident in Bor gives the highlight to what is currently happening in South Sudan. This was not an isolated case but a sign of discontent among South Sudanese over the way their economic opportunities are being taken away by foreigners. The hard won independent will not be complete unless real economic benefits come with it. What happened in Bor will replicate all over South Sudan unless the government formulate sound economic policies that will regulate all industries operating in the country. This article will discuss few industries that have sprung up in South Sudan since the signing of the CPA in Kenya. The notable industries that have sprung up in south Sudan include, boda boda industry, banking sector, mobile phone, second hand clothe industry, hospitality industry, petrol retailing industry, construction industry, sex industry, money remittance industry and the list continues.

When you go to south Sudan, the first industry that you can notice is boda boda industry. Boda boda is a motorbike taxi used for transporting people. It is a common form of transport because it is affordable and quick. This kind of industry was imported from neighboring countries such as Uganda and DRC. When you have a chance to travel by motorbike taxi, you will notice that the industry is not regulated by authorities in South Sudan. The first sign of lack of regulation that you will notice in this industry, is the fact that nobody wear safety helmet. Neither the operators nor the passengers of motorbike taxi industry wear safety helmet. In addition, many motorbike taxi operators are teenagers and have no driving license. Another sign of lack regulation you will notice, is the concentration of the industry. The motorbike industry is the most concentrated industry in south Sudan. It is a matter of going to a shop and buys your own motorbike and become the participant in the industry. From the above explanations, you can understand the background to the cause of the boda boda clash in Bor Town and the reason for high rate of motorbike accidents in south Sudan. The question you will ask is: where is the duty of care on the part of the government and the motorbike taxi owners? The government has duty of care to all citizens of south Sudan. All south Sudanese need safe and secure form of transport. It is a duty of the government through the ministry of transport to provide that. You can now answer the boda boda operator question I have stated earlier. “How could someone cross his own country border to a foreign nation just to invest in boda boda business only?” asked the motorbike operator.

The other sector that emerged after the CPA is the banking industry. Banks are very instrumental in the development of any country. A responsible government must have a strong banking sector that will facilitate development activities in a country. It is even more important for a new country like south Sudan to establish a strong banking sector that will be supported by government. It was the hope of many concerned south Sudanese, that their government would establish at least four national banks to facilitate development all over south Sudan. It was great news when Nile commercial bank was established. To the dismay of south Sudanese the Nile Commercial bank (NCB) collapsed after few years in operation. Why the NCB collapsed is still lingering in the minds of many south Sudanese. There are many factors that led to the collapsed of NCB but one factor will be discussed in this paragraph. The government of south Sudan betrayed the south Sudanese banks by allowing well resourced and well established foreign banks to entered south Sudan banking sector. Now, Kenya Commercial bank, Uganda commercial bank, Ethiopian commercial bank and others are operating in south Sudan. These banks have captured the market because they are well resourced and south Sudanese banks are struggling. Almost every south Sudanese has saving account with these foreign banks. It is a matter of time and south Sudanese banks will be wiped out in the industry by foreign banks. The darkest part of this takeover by foreign banks is that south Sudanese are not benefiting from their services. A bank is a business. It lends it money to people with good financial records and people with capacity to pay their obligations when they are due. South Sudanese don’t meet these criteria and that is why they are not benefiting from foreign banks services. These foreign banks end up lending to their nationals and people with capacity to pay their obligations. This explains why foreigners are excelling in all aspect of business all over south Sudan. South Sudanese are not lazy but they lack financial support that would enable them to unlock their potentials. Foreigners got their national commercial banks behind them.

The other industry that is booming in south Sudan is the hospitality industry. This industry is nearly 80% owned by foreign nationals; particularly it is dominated by Ethiopians and Eritreans. The few south Sudanese in this industry are the privileged few who have access to finance in one way or other. Without surprise, the few south Sudanese in this industry happen to be closer to the corridors of power. Some members of parliament are participant in this industry and that is why the conflict of interest is the issue to be addressed in that country. Foreign investment is very important particularly for the new country like south Sudan. Only foreign investments that will bring benefits and empowerment to the citizens of the country are the good investments. Only investments that will create jobs for south Sudanese is the good investment. Anything short of that is not good investment at all.  The foreign nationals managed to dominate this industry because they have financial support from their national banks operating south Sudan. South Sudanese willing to join the industry are at disadvantage because of lack of access to financial services. They have been let down by their own government which failed to established credible banks which would have facilitated economic activities of south Sudanese who are not benefiting from financial services offered by foreign banks. There are two problems in this industry. First, the investors in this industry bring most of their workers from their own country. Second, the investors in this industry have colluded with people in authority to safeguard their interests. Foreign national have learnt that for them to operate in south Sudan they must allied themselves to people in the position of absolute power. How could an investor cross his own country border to a foreign nation just to invest in hospitality industry and bring workers from his/her own country? Just to twist boda boda question.

The other two industries that had sprung up in recent years are petrol retailing and construction industries. South Sudan is the part of the globe that was neglected for centuries by oppressors. The country was actually at the Stone Age when the CPA was sign. You can barely see any sign of infrastructure. After the CPA, the construction of the new country pick up. Neighboring countries spotted the opportunities for their nationals. Because of lack of sound investment policies in South Sudan the foreign nationals mushroomed to the new country to try their lucks. I remembered when I crossed the Nimule border in January in 2010. The bus I was in was 80 percent filled by foreign nationals coming to do business in south Sudan. I was really surprised, given the current vulnerability of our people in term of business skills. I was in the convoy of 8 buses and all were 80 percent filled by foreign nationals. At that time I saw the threat for our people economic interest. I asked the question, did our government sell the economic interest of our people in exchange for good relations with neighboring countries? Foreign investment is good for any country around the world but not to the extent of which it is being abused in south Sudan. The neighboring countries whose nationals are now doing business in south Sudan will not allow the same thing to happen in their countries. They cannot do so because the economic interest of their people is their number one priority. They will only welcome foreign investments that will bring tangible economic benefits to their people in term jobs creation. In South Sudan, the petrol retailing and construction industries are 70-80 percent own by foreigners with no benefits to south Sudanese in term of jobs creation. These first birds who entered into these vital sectors of south Sudan economy will continue to increase their market share as the country progresses. If this is going to be the case where is the economic interest of south Sudanese? It will be too late for south Sudanese to enter into these vital sectors because they are at disadvantage. Their foreign counter-parts enjoy financial backing from their national banks operating in south Sudan. The south Sudanese banks will be wiped out by foreign banks that have competitive edge. If nothing is done to correct this imbalance, the south Sudanese will be worse off than when they were in the old Sudan of oppression. Silence economic takeover by foreign nationals will be the worst case scenario.

Mobile phone, sex, second hand clothes and money remittance industries are also control by foreigners. The mentioned industries are self explanatory. If you are in south Sudan you will understand what I mean. Sex industry in south Sudan will be highlighted in this paragraph. The sex industry in south Sudan is 90 percent owned by foreign nationals as per my assessment. Any one is free to dispute this percentage. I respect the idea that sex industry is a business. I have a great respect for people who work in this industry. Many factors including lack of economic opportunities push people into this risky business. In the interest of public health this is one of the industries that must be strictly regulated by authorities in south Sudan. I wrote this paragraph out of experience. In February 2010, I went to Juba and stayed there for five days. My cousin took me to custom market for an experience tour. What I saw with my naked eyes on that day was beyond comprehension. I saw large scale sex industry booming at the centre of Juba. I asked my cousin to guide me out of the area as it was practical. I asked my cousin of the people working in that industry. He told me what my eyes saw. Majority of the workers in that industry are foreigners and 95% of their clients are south Sudanese. I concluded that the department of public health in south Sudan and the government in particular are out of touch with reality. Sex trade is a business and it must be strictly regulated for public good. The sex trade reminds me of the boda boda operator question. How could someone cross his own country border to a foreign nation just to invest in sex trade business? Just to paraphrase motorbike operator question.

It is obvious, the current government lack in-depth experience in term of developing a viable economy because bulk of it employees, came from the bush. The liberation struggle was a difficult task and even some who had the experience and knowledge, lost it during the war. That is understandable, but that should not be made an excuse for refusing to implement sound economic policies for the interest of south Sudanese. The current economic policies are recipes for economic hardships for the ordinary south Sudanese who have suffered in dignified silence for long time in the hands of oppressors. For south Sudan government to restore hope for it citizens, it must stop open border policy where anyone can enter the country for business purposes. The government must implement a restrict investment policy in order to reduce the current wave of economic takeover by foreign nationals. Only investment that will bring economic opportunities for south Sudanese will be considered as a viable investment. The south Sudanese need jobs, not competitors in small business sector. The boda boda style businesses, where foreign nationals come to operate boda boda business in south Sudan are not economically viable. It does not serve the economic interest of south Sudanese. The government must review it banking policies for the interest of all citizens. The current takeover of the banking sector by foreign banks will serve nobody interest but their own. Local banks must be given chance to grow their competitive base before foreign banks are allowed to come in, to compete with them. In addition, the government must regulate all businesses operating in south Sudan however small they are. There are many benefits that come with proper business sector regulation. For example it will make it easy for government to collect tax revenues. Furthermore, it will make any particular industry profitable for it participants. The boda boda conflict in Bor took place in part because the boda boda industry is over concentrated and poorly regulated. Many competitors in the industry make it less profitable and as a result created conflict among the competitors. It will be good if all businesses however small, are given business numbers for easy regulation and planning.

In summary, authorities must not shamelessly accused hard working south Sudanese of being lazy while it their own government that had let them down by working on flawed economic policies. Public office holders including the president of the republic continues to accused youths of South Sudan of being lazy. The reason they gave is that many youths continue to consume their precious time playing indoor games such as playing cards, dominos and the rest. What can you do if your government is not creating and protecting jobs for the local people? These waves of accusations amount to neglect of responsibilities by authorities in south Sudan. The government of south Sudan must know that it is her responsibility to create and protect jobs for south Sudanese. The boda boda conflict in Bor was not an isolated case but a sign of bad thing to come due to poor economic policies of the current government in Juba. I got the questions for you to answer at your own time: Is the current wave of economics takeover of south Sudan economy by foreign nationals going to serve south Sudan national interest? This article was based on the boda boda conflict in Bor. So, it will be concluded with famous boda boda operator question, “How could someone cross his own country border to a foreign nation just to invest in boda boda business only?” 


The author of this article is a concerned south Sudanese citizen living in Western Australia. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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