Opinion

Let us celebrate and not crucify industry champions trying to make a difference in South Sudan

By Bob William

As South Sudan seeks to make the transition from an aid to an enterprise driven economy, the role of private sector will be more pronounced in steering this economic transformation. Indeed, globally private enterprise is the engine for economic growth and transformation. Hence progressive governments will go out of their way to foster a conducive business environment for private sector to thrive.

Equally too, because of the strategic national role of the private sector,private enterprise does have a strong voice in the politics of the day. In the US forexample lobbyists are a perpetual feature in Washington articulating the interests of Business to Government and vice versa. Closer home in Kenya, the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) which is an umbrella body of mostly private businesses plays a key role in influencing government policy.

This why recently I read with great interest an article in one of our local blogs about various entrepreneurs alleged to be looting South Sudan, a country we all treasure. This article titledKur Ajing Ater and the Oligarchs Looting South Sudan authored by blogger Santo Deng Akol calls for admiration and great concern in equal measure.

Great admiration because we the people of South Sudan are waking up to and articulately calling for more transparency and accountability from politicians, business people and other leaders. My foremost concern however is as we do this, we must be careful not act on hearsay, unconfirmed facts, insufficient research, and quite frankly border on malicious witchhunt.

While it is true that some of the businessmen and politicians in the article might be on global watchlists accused of corruption and other attrocitiescommitted against the people of this great country we must be careful to not apply blanket condemnation.

I have personally followed the inspirational journey of one of these businessmen Mr. Akol Ayii over the years. His inspirational journey of entrepreneurship particularly over the past seven years or so leaves no doubt that heremains among the shinning lights of legitimate businessmen in South Sudan. He and his group of companies under Trinity Holdings has made great strides to pioneer businesses and investments in our young country when very few other indegienous South Sudanese business people were willing to invest back home due to perceived security and political instability risk.

We know that Kampala, Nairobi among other cities are replete with investments from South Sudanese people as they are perceived ‘safer’ havensfor investment.Granted,everyone is entitled to freedom to choose where to invest their money including in foreign countries. What concerns me however is the hypocriticy exhibited when we castigate, largelybased on misinformastion or in some cases outright malice,an entrepreneur of the stature of Akol Ayii who has stepped up to the challenge of investing in South Sudan. He hasbuilt a thriving group of companies from nothing generating employment opportunities for thousands and creating tremendous value for this country.Is his therefore a case of a prophet not being recognized in his own home?

For South Sudan our pride and joy must be in seeing a vibrant private sector emerging to champion enterprise and development for South Sudan away from charity. We must embrace enterprises that are emerging to offer homegrown solutions to our challenges braving the often challenging business environment in South Sudan to create employment, support Government efforts in availing services to the people of South Sudan and overall generate wealth. This is where Trinity Energy as an indigenous South Sudanese company has excelled.

The recent fuel crisis occasioned by the boyocott of truck drivers due to the insecurity along the Juba-Nimule road brought to the fore the critical role that Trinity Energy plays in the energy security of this country. Trinity’s stations were the only ones serving motorists as demonstrated by the long queues that were outside the company’s stations. This is a role for which the company has been recognised not once but twice by the South Sudan Chamber of Commerce Industry and Agriculture which twice has adjudged the company as the ‘best petroleum company in South Sudan’.

I am aware that Trinity Energy has remained one of the top tax payers in South Sudan and is also among the top employers. The company has also led the way in embracing global best practices including being the first company in South Sudan to be ISO 9001:2015 certified and the first South Sudanese company to be a signatory to UN Global Compact

I fully support that corruption of any kind should not be tolerated. In fact, if corruption was effectively tackled in South Sudan and Africa, then we would have many robust businesses, a stronger economy and a thriving private sector. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF) corruption, bribery, theft and tax evasion, among other illicit financial flows cost developing countries $1.26 trillion per year. That is roughly the combined size of the economies of Switzerland, South Africa, and Belgium, and enough money to lift the 1.4 billion people who get by on less than $1.25 a day above the poverty threshold and keep them there for at least six years.

Reducing corruption will have positive impacts on local businesses and the national economy as the country will receive more foreign direct investment and the local businesses will grow. Already progressive investors are creating a template that many can follow. South Sudanese now needs to get behind people like Akol Ayii to ensure that their enterprises are growing and creating employment and socio-economic transformation for thousands of people.

My urge,however, is even as we point out the ills that are hindering the progress of South Sudan, let us be careful not to drag through mud individuals and companies that are genuinely making a difference in South Sudan. While we heighten civil vigilance against corruption, we must also dissuade those hell bent on misreporting and misrepresentation of the character of people like Akol Ayii who are making big efforts to build South Sudan’s private sector.

FinallySouth Sudan has a tremendous opportunity to send a strong message to the world that it is committed to supporting indegenous businesses. The country will get a big boost by creating a positive perception of its ease of doing business through promotion of local enterprise. This will unlock the country’s economic potential and enhance its reputation as a vibrant investment destination opening the door for increased Foreign Direct Investment.

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