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Lokichoggio: The ‘ghost town’ with no bank

By Bakari Angela | July 15th 2021


Section of Lokichoggio town in Turkana County. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

The hustle and bustle of Lokichoggio town is gone. The town that once bustled with activity has gone silent thanks to the exit of humanitarian workers who worked in South Sudan.

Most humanitarian organisations left Lokichoggio after South Sudan regained peace and stability.

The town centre was usually busy when international and local organisations under the United Nations operated from the area.

Today, the town situated 214 kilometres from Lodwar town, has no banking or microfinance institution to serve the residents, business operators and tens of government officials, including police and Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) personnel, who are still operating in the area.

Sleepless nights

Transacting huge amounts of cash gives traders and residents sleepless nights because they have to travel to Kakuma or Lodwar.

“It has been difficult for the humanitarian agencies as there are no banks in Lokichoggio. They left and headed for South Sudan some years after the country got its independence. Several businessmen have also relocated to Lodwar and others have moved to Uganda,” says Peter Lotome, who worked for a Non-Governmental Organisation that has since closed shop.

Apart from being once a busy trading centre, Lokichoggio boasts of an airport currently undergoing expansion. The airport has been in existence for decades.

The border town hosts staff of the Kenya Airports Authority, Kenya Revenue Authority, the KDF, police officers, the General Service Unit personnel, civil servants, and workers of a Chinese construction company.

Herders who have been selling their livestock have been relying on mobile money transfers.

“The town is still a stopover for those travelling to Southern Sudan for either business or employment. It is in a strategic location, but banks and other financial institutions have no presence here,” Saimon Eloto, a local, says.

Mama Monica, who owns a restaurant in the town, says the absence of banking services has been her biggest hurdle in running her business since sometimes she handles a lot of cash.

“It is dangerous to keep cash as anything can happen. The lack of a bank is a disadvantage to some of us who sometimes secure hefty contracts with the agencies in Southern Sudan. Something should be done to address this challenge,” Monica says.

She adds: “There are more than one thousand workers in Lokichoggio, but there are no banking services. The business fraternity, especially those in the hospitality sector as well as high-end hotels and restaurants, are suffering.”

According to Ambrose Lokadeli, a Chinese company worker, travelling long distances to Kakuma and Lodwar during payday is costly and time-wasting.

“My employer is tired of my incessant request for a day off to travel to Kakuma to withdraw my pay. It is a 120 kilometres journey which requires two days off from work,” he explains. In 2019, the Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) closed its branch in the town and moved to Kakuma.

The town, two decades ago, hosted United Nations staff in its Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) programme as well as over 40 Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) operating to provide humanitarian assistance in war-torn Sudan.

However, in 2008, following the return of peace in Sudan, the organisations began exiting the town and moving to Juba.

By 2011, most retail shops felt the economic heat had started scaling down their operations before they eventually closed.

Banks started closing shop one by one closed and moved to Kakuma while others went to Lodwar town.

Turkana Chamber of Commerce and Industry chairman Pius Ewotom says they want the cross-border trade strengthened and developed to unlock the potential of the area.

The banks’ closure was followed by aid agencies leaving the town as they anticipated reduced business operations.

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