This month was supposed to have been Mandela’s month. The good old man breathed his last in the first week of the month and the whole world almost came to a standstill in news terms. All cameras and news spaces were left for Madiba to hog.
But no sooner had the cement on Madiba’s grave dried up than guns started blaring in Africa’s youngest nation. We soon learnt of clashes between the presidential guards and other soldiers. Then we saw images of the man who usually dons a cowboy hat now in full army fatigues talking about an attempted coup.
Before the week could end foreign countries were struggling to evacuate their citizens. The Juba airport became quite busy with planes landing to pick up people fleeing to safety. The situation continued to escalate and by the time of writing this Ugandan and Kenyan soldiers had joined the fray, also in a bid to evacuate their citizens.
There were reports of a UN mission attacked, army defections, planes shot at, people injured and of course the body count keeps going up. What is disturbing is that all this is happening during the festive season when people are supposed to be sharing happy moments.
A lot of what happens in South Sudan already affects East Africa in one way or another. For example, Uganda’s biggest export market is South Sudan. A lot of the food stuffs and construction materials that South Sudanese consume are from Uganda.
In fact at one time the rising food prices in Uganda were blamed on the trucks that were ferrying food to Juba leaving Ugandans to pay more for what had been left behind. The chaos in Juba will in a short time reflect badly on the economy of Uganda and in extension to that of other EAC neighbours.
If South Sudan is Uganda’s biggest market and Uganda is Kenya’s biggest market so you can already see the links I am trying to point at here. The Kenyans have invested a lot in South Sudan with some of their major corporations opening business in Juba even before thinking of Bujumbura or Kigali.
Just the other day, Nation Media Group’s Business Daily newspaper was reporting that Kenyan based East African Breweries was preparing to build a factory in South Sudan after acquiring land in Juba adjacent to the Nile River, so as to effectively compete with South Africa’s SAB Miller.
But now with all Kenyans fleeing the country we can be sure that even other established businesses like in the banking and insurance sector will all close to wait out the conflict that is fast turning into a war where each side is digging in.
Rwandair had recently just launched its services to Juba but now they have been interrupted. Actually a friend of mine who works with an NGO in Juba had just told me to recommend places she can visit in Rwanda hoping to jump on a Rwandair bird for the Christmas holiday.
The President of South Sudan has on several occasions been seen in the company of other EAC leaders like President Kagame, President Uhuru Kenyatta or President Museveni and it was expected that in the near future the country would be joining the East African Community having tabled its application a while back. Now all this is in balance since we are not sure when the guns will go silent.
In other business news, I have once again seen headlines suggesting that roaming charges among EAC countries are set to be lowered. I do not know how fast this can be done because for now the charges are so prohibitive that you wonder what these countries were thinking when they set them up.
Being the festive season, many East Africans are likely to be crossing one border or another and lower roaming charges would surely make their holiday much more fun. The sad bit is that those supposed to see to it that these charges are lowered are probably already on holiday themselves.
Since many love to spend their Christmas festivities in their villages there is bound to be a lot of traffic on our highways. It would be nice if people drove with more caution so as to bring down the accident statistics that are common around this time. Happy holidays!