OpEd, Politics

Foreign Water Vendors’ Stranglehold: A Crisis of South Sudan’s Economic Independence

By Gama Hassan Oscas

In the heart of Juba City, the capital of South Sudan, a concerning trend has emerged that threatens the country’s economic sovereignty. Ethiopian and Eritrean water vendors have dominated the water and charcoal business to such an extent that they wield immense control over pricing and distribution, leaving South Sudanese citizens at their mercy. This critical opinion piece delves into the core issues surrounding the rampant strikes by foreign water vendors, the underlying factors contributing to their dominance, and the shortcomings of the Juba City administration, the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, and the Urban Water Authorities in addressing the crisis.

The Foreign Dominance and Its Impact:

The situation in Juba City is emblematic of a broader economic crisis plaguing South Sudan. The dominance of Ethiopian and Eritrean water vendors reflects a deeply rooted imbalance in the country’s economic landscape. These foreign traders have not only monopolized the wholesale and retail businesses but also extended their influence on every residential area and far-flung village, leaving the South Sudanese struggling to compete in their own country.

The foreign vendors’ control over essential resources, such as water and charcoal, has far-reaching consequences for South Sudan’s economy. Prices are fixed and controlled by these traders, resulting in inflated costs that disproportionately burden the citizens. The government appears impotent in taking any meaningful action to alleviate the situation, while the South Sudanese continue to buy their own resources from foreigners, further undermining the country’s economic independence.

Government’s Failure to Empower South Sudanese:

While the foreign dominance is a critical concern, it is vital to examine the role of the South Sudanese government in perpetuating this crisis. The lack of deliberate policies to empower local entrepreneurs has contributed significantly to the current predicament. The government’s failure to differentiate between wholesale and retail businesses has allowed foreign traders to encroach upon sectors where South Sudanese could have thrived.

To rectify this, the government should implement policies that limit foreign traders to wholesale businesses, reserving the retail sector exclusively for nationals. Additionally, offering tax incentives to South Sudanese businesses would help level the playing field and provide an opportunity for local entrepreneurs to flourish.

Moreover, discriminatory lending practices further hinder the growth of South Sudanese businesses. Foreign traders are granted access to loans in their countries, while South Sudanese entrepreneurs face challenges in securing financial support, despite presenting adequate collaterals. The government must take a proactive role in collaborating with local banks to ensure equitable lending opportunities, which would encourage domestic entrepreneurship.

Vision and Support for Citizen-Driven Economy:

The government’s failure to embrace a vision for a citizen-driven economy has resulted in stagnation and limited opportunities for the South Sudanese. The changing landscape since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005 demands a shift in economic policies that empower citizens to take charge of their destinies.

South Sudanese citizens have exhibited resilience and adaptability, working in various industries and occupations, from hospitality to informal street vending. It is high time for the government to recognize their potential and pave the way for growth and innovation in their businesses. Creating an enabling environment for local entrepreneurs is essential to foster economic independence and self-sufficiency.

Addressing Discrimination and Unfair Practices:

The discrimination faced by South Sudanese entrepreneurs is a disturbing reality that cannot be ignored. Foreign wholesalers selling goods at lower prices to Ethiopian or Eritrean retailers, while inflating prices for South Sudanese customers, is a glaring example of the disparities that exist within the market.

To combat such unfair practices, the government should impose regulations that discourage discriminatory pricing and levy higher taxes on foreign retailers. Simultaneously, it should offer tax breaks or tax-free policies to South Sudanese businesses to empower local entrepreneurs and stimulate economic growth.

Multinational Partnerships and Water Management:

The rampant strikes by water vendors indicate a severe deficiency in water management and distribution within Juba City. Relying on foreign-dominated individual water suppliers has proven detrimental to the citizens’ welfare and economic well-being. The government and the Juba City Council must explore alternative solutions, such as forming business partnerships with multinational companies to improve water supply through water tank and garbage truck ventures.


South Sudan faces a critical juncture in its economic journey, with Ethiopian and Eritrean water vendors exerting a stranglehold on essential resources. The government’s inability to design policies that empower its citizens, coupled with discriminatory practices and unfair market dynamics, has led to a severe crisis of economic independence.

To address the rampant strikes by foreign water vendors, the Juba City administration, the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, and the Urban Water Authorities must take decisive action. Implementing policies that differentiate between wholesale and retail businesses, providing tax incentives for local entrepreneurs, and fostering a vision of a citizen-driven economy are essential steps to rectify the prevailing economic imbalance.

It is high time for South Sudan to reclaim control of its resources and pave the way for its citizens to prosper. By embracing a future of economic sovereignty and inclusivity, the nation can build a sustainable and equitable future for its people.

The author of this article is an advocate and can be reached on email on: oscarsgama@gmail.com


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