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Everybody wants a piece of Southern Sudan

BUSINESS
By | March 13th 2010

By John Oywa

A fierce business battle is unfolding in Southern Sudan as the semi-autonomous country prepares for a referendum that could separate it from the Arab-dominated North.

Potential investors from neighbouring Kenya, Uganda, Eritrea, Ethiopia and developed countries are elbowing for space in the country, which is waking up from 21 years of war and destruction.

Also angling for a share are the South Sudanese themselves who have suddenly become aggressive, resulting in nasty business wars.

The battle is taking shape amid cutthroat competition between Sudanese, Kenyans, Eritreans and Ugandans for control of the hotel, aviation, transport and service industries.

Reports of Kenyans being short-changed and threatened by their Sudanese business partners are soaring.

Sudanese wake up

Experts say these incidences are bound to increase as Sudanese businessmen wake up.

Foreigners have literally been running the economy of major towns like capital Juba because the locals are still busy healing scars of war.

Joseph Mulimi owns 15 shelters in Sudan. He claims he lost ten others to a Sudanese in business tussle. [PHOTOS: MBUGUA KIBERA/ STANDARD]

The Kenyan consulate in Juba has received reports of Kenyans being kicked out of joint investments.

One incident involved the alleged harassment of KK Security Group of companies’ staff in Southern Sudan, following a falling out with Sudanese partners.

The group’s Deputy Managing Director, Lorenzo Bertolli, claimed in a statement to media houses last month that his operations manager James Wefwafwa was accosted and detained illegally by a Sudanese businessman who once owned shares in the group, and who now wants to take over the Juba branch.

In October last year, KK Security’s key Kenyan managers and trainers in Southern Sudan were allegedly assaulted and had to be evacuated to Nairobi, according to Bertolli.

Legal Tussles

In yet another case, a Kenyan investor who we cannot name for legal reasons spent a year in a Juba prison after a Sudanese partner in an aviation company claimed he had short-changed him.

But according to Kenya’s Consular General in Juba, Joseph Kiplagat, the Kenyan investor was a victim. The Sudanese had been conned by a third partner who is a Ugandan. "The company collapsed after the Ugandan fled with money, and the Sudanese had the Kenyan arrested," said Kiplagat.

The envoy says his office has been trying to help Kenyans involved in legal tussles over businesses.

We are also told about a case in which a former Kenyan MP who had invested millions of shillings in Juba’s hotel industry, returned home empty handed after his partners who accused him of running it from Nairobi snatched the prestigious hotel.

The most recent case involves Joseph Mulimi, a carpenter, who claims he has lost ten residential houses to a Sudanese.

"We agreed with a Sudanese businessman that I build ten makeshift housing units on his plot so that we can share the income, but he waited until I had invested on the project then changed his mind," says Mulimi, who owns 15 other residential houses in the town.

Happy life in Juba

He says some of his Sudanese tenants have refused to pay rent.

But the Chairman of the Association of Kenyans in Southern Sudan, Samuel Koikai, said most Kenyans facing problems were to blame. "Some of them have either broken the law or did not take due diligence in brokering business deals," says Kokai.

He gives an example of a Kenyan who was arrested alongside a Ugandan national while trying to print fake academic certificates.

"Most of the Kenyans who follow the law are happy because Juba has changed the lives of many people," he said.

But Koikai said bureaucracy at the border crossing points was the biggest set back to Kenyans.

"Truck drivers crossing into Kenya with goods are harassed by Southern Sudanese authorities," he added.

He says Kenyans dominate businesses in Juba because they have the resources and are more experienced.

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