APRIL 15, 2010

After Sudan’s comprehensive peace deal was signed in 2005, neighboring business people rushed to Southern Sudan, hoping to cash in on opportunities there following two decades of war. But now, some of those same people are fleeing the country, fearing violence following disputed elections, similar to what happened in Kenya in 2008.
Foreign entrepreneurs in Southern Sudan have started closing up their shops in anticipation of post-election violence. Many business people are heading home to home countries such as Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia. John Muturi has been selling second-hand clothes in Juba with his wife since arriving from Kenya.
“We are afraid because we’ve seen elections are never predictable. That’s why we’re selling the stock we already have and finishing it and we can keep our money. But we are not bringing in any more things from outside. We have to sell what we have because we don’t know what is going to happen.”

Sudanese people started voting earlier this week in the first multi-party elections in more than 24 years that will test the fragile unity of Africa’s biggest country. Jonathan Temin at the United States Institute of Peace says that there might be violence in some areas of the country.

“It is possible. And they are being cautious and conservative in their outlook and what might happen. But it also depends on what part of the country we are talking about. We have to remember that Sudan is the largest country in Africa and what might happen in Khartoum is different from what might happen in Juba or Darfur and other places in between.”

Juba became a budding area of commerce following the 2005 peace deal. Ezekiel Gathuoth, head of Mission, Government of Southern Sudan, says that there is no cause for alarm and reassures business people that they can in Juba.

“Business should continue as usual because this is something that you can do and go back to your business. The elections should not affect any function of business. We are appealing to all the people not to worry and for the last three days everything has been peaceful.”

But clothing trader John Muturi says that many businessmen have already left Southern Sudan and only those with the biggest shops remain. But some foreigners are not looking to leave. Eritrean Hatawi Abraham works in a Juba hotel and says, like many Sudanese, he hopes the elections will have a positive impact rather than lead it back to conflict.

“Actually I have been here for one year and until now, thank God, nothing has happened, security is quite okay especially with elections. Everyone was speculating that something could happen, like violence and something but thank God nothing has happened.”

The election looks likely to extend the 21-year rule of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the head of state wanted by the International Criminal Court to face charges of war crimes in Darfur.


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