By Steve Umidha
Kenyan investors are sitting in the sidelines waiting for news of a ceasefire between two fighting factions in South Sudan.
Quite predictably, Kenyans with investments in S. Sudan Monday said they are planning to do what they always do when military conflict looks imminent – step back from opening businesses while waiting to hear an end to conflict that has so far slayed over 200 civilians and paralysed trade in that country.
Investors like Davis & Shirtliff with long memories know exactly how upheaval can bring about business shocks to an establishment keen to cash in on Africa’s young nation that is sitting on tons of untapped resources.
“Our offices are shut at the moment and the situation is so volatile but our staff in South Sudan is safe. If the situation escalates it could affect us, but we have not made any long term decision yet but it all depends on what happens on the ground,” commented Alec Davis, the Chief executive of Davis & Shirtliff in a telephone interview.
Kenya has invested a considerable amount of resources and skilled personnel in S. Sudan and these investments are now at stake as the ongoing war looks likely to render most workers who flee the country in search for greener pastures without employments while companies could be left counting losses as a result of reported looting and theft.
It is now feared that the continuing conflict between President Kiir’s men and those of his Deputy Riek Machar, could expose the safety and survival of Kenyan-owned businesses in South Sudan – where it has the largest presence in terms of foreign investments.
“If the situation persists we could close shop altogether,” said Alec.
Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB Bank Group), Equity bank, Co-operative bank, Davis & Shirtliff, the financial services group UAP Holding, Resolution Insurance among others are just some of the major companies in South Sudan that are concerned with the scuffle.
Given the uncertainty investors have had to bear the past few years when conflict first erupted before things ‘normalised,’ this is not a time when such firms can afford to incur losses following millions of investments.
Despite the unpredicted truce, companies like Co-op bank and KCB bank Group yesterday failed to comment of the possible effects of the war on their businesses, understandably because it could be too soon to predict the outcome if the situation deteriorates.
The suspension of Kenya Airways flights to South Sudan is another major setback to Kenya’s trade exports which totaled Sh24.6billion three years ago compared to Sh22.2billion a year earlier, with most of the exports going to the newly independent state.
Data from Export Promotion Council also shows that Kenyan exports to S. Sudan, had in 2012 hit Sh18billion against imports at Sh14million, while exports to Sudan were Sh6.6billion against imports of Sh955.4million.
There had also been violence on Kenyans living and working in South Sudan.
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