Tuesday May 3
South Sudan is looking around in the region. Their dependence on the North will soon be formally severed, but the influence of the North will of course continue be strong, not least economically. Their ability to manage joint, sometimes thorny, issues will be crucial for solving wealth sharing arrangements (oil) and remaining border and territorial issues.
But the influence of the North in the daily life in the South seems marginal. Of course many manufactured products are imported from Khartoum. But the long distances and the bad road networks have already had the effect that South Sudan is glancing and leaning west, south and east, not north.
Three countries dominate in Juba: Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya. Neighboring DRC and Central African Republic seem far away, transport capacity and facilities simply do not exist between these countries and SS. The economies of eastern DRC and CAR are small and agro based. South Sudan is not a market for them, let alone markets for South Sudan.
Ethiopia´s increasing influence
Ethiopia is actively searching to become an increasingly important regional actor. Their growing economy is giving them some of the means. Hosting Head Quarters of both the Economic Commission for Africa of the UN and the African Union makes Addis Ababa an important venue for regional meetings. Ethiopia and Ethiopians seem to be almost admired in Southern Sudan, at least among the elites. They have had close military links, and political ties between the countries seem good.
Ethiopians (and also Eritreans….) are frequent in many small scale enterprises; not least restaurants.
Uganda benefits from South Sudan market
Ugandans are penetrating the local business in many areas, including the transport sector: importing and selling cars, driving motor bikes, taxis and buses. Trade is intense; a lot of the daily commodities are from Uganda. The road to the Ugandan border is being upgraded, as a matter of priority. Uganda has always been important militarily, because of the role LRA played in Uganda and Sudan and the Ugandan support to the SPLA. In SS we heard and read strong statements about imminent, strong and concerted attacks on LRA, “They will soon be wiped out”. The only problem with that statement is that we have heard it before. “Yes but this time it is different”. We’ll see.
Kenya – playing away it´s role
Kenya is the main economic player in the region, and is active in all areas from trade to small business. Kenya also has a large program for technical assistance to South Sudan under which around 900 Kenyans are working in the SS administration on various levels and sectors; teachers, medical staff.
But Kenya is not mentioned as a role model or as a close political partner.
This is surprising. South Sudan might in some years discuss membership in the East African Community and the economic links are getting tighter; a pipeline from SS through Kenya is being planned etc.
A possible explanation was given to us in Nairobi by a very senior official. “I am not surprised. We have all our focus on our internal political problems; we do not have time to be an active regional actor.”
This was a bit sad to hear, given the active role played by Kenya in the peace efforts in Somalia – and on South Sudan.