February 7, 2014 (KAMPALA) - Ugandan traders say the conflict in South Sudan has had a significant impact on the many East African businesses that exported goods to the import-dependent young nation, which became independent in 2011.
- South Sudanese refugees wait on a truck in Koboko, Uganda, on 6 January 2014 to be transported to the Arua district settlement camp (Photo: AFP/Isaac Kasamani)
As fighting broke out in the capital, Juba in December last year many of the foreign traders who dominant business in South Sudan were forced to flee, including thousands of Ugandan traders, incurring heavy losses.
Fighting began in Juba on December 15 before spreading to Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile states. An estimated 10,000 have died and over 800,000 people displaced in the conflict.
Mudumba Sam, a Ugandan trader who used to sell second hand shoes and clothing says, he borrowed $2,000 from friends to begin a business in South Sudan but he has now lost everything.
"Off course that money I used to buy those things it was a loan in fact, so I expected since I’m going to sell those things. I will come and pay back the person who I got the money, but to my surprise I lost everything", he told Sudan Tribune in Kampala.
Sam says he is getting pressure from friends to repay them. He fears that he will be arrested if he failed to pay back his dates.
Lukula Fred, a Ugandan trader who imported building materials to South Sudan, said many of his friend left Juba as they felt threatened by the situation after witnessing killings and rapes. Many of his peers are scared to resume their businesses in South Sudan despite the government retaking most major towns from the rebels.
"We saw a lot of barbaric raping, killing and looting so many other things. To some of us who were new to the war were not uses to it in fact it was so bad", said Fred.
John Mary, a teacher from Liech College in Unity state, said the war in South Sudan had a terrible impact on her life and the many other foreign nationals who were working there.
"I am one of those people who run out of South Sudan because of war. It is true it had a negative impact on our lives, me specifically because I was teaching at Liech University in Bentiu" said Mary, adding that the teachers were forced to leave before they were paid.
Mary says he would not risk returning back South Sudan until a peace returns.
"What had taken me there will still take me back, but of course I have to first wait until the problems of South Sudanese are settled, then I as the foreigners will go and continue my work and since I have been working in one of the universities in South Sudan I will have to wait until am called back to continue my duties", said Mary.
Some Ugandan traders have critcised President Museveni’s decision to deploy the Uganda People’s Defence Forces to fight alongside the South Sudanese army against the rebels - a loose coalition of soldiers who have defected from the military, armed civilians and disaffected politicians from the ruling SPLM.
The traders are concerned that they will not be welcome in some South Sudanese communities because of Museveni’s decision to so forcefully take the side of the Juba government and threatening the rebels led by former Vice President Riek Machar with defeat.
As well as the rebel opposition, some South Sudanese civil society groups have also called on Uganda to withdraw their forces. The UPDF have helped the the SPLA oust the rebels from strategic towns.
Uganda’s swift military deployment has also caused concern within the wider region, as Uganda is a member of IGAD - the East African bloc tasked with mediating between the two sides and monitoring the ceasefire deal signed on January 23.
Talks are due to resume on Monday, covering the root causes of the conflict and to discuss a comprehensive peace deal. The rebels have warned that the continued presence of the UPDF could condemn the talks to failure before they have even begun.