Imports to South Sudan through Kenya’s main port have fallen to the lowest-ever level as resurgent violence in the world’s youngest nation hurt the fledgling economy and sent traders and citizens fleeing.
Only 525 twenty-foot equivalent units of cargo were cleared at the Mombasa port in July, compared with a monthly average of 4,000 TEUs in 2013, just before the nation descended into fresh fighting, according to Ayuel Mathach Deng, the government’s representative at the Indian Ocean port city.
While landlocked South Sudan, which holds Africa’s third-biggest crude reserves, brings in most of its imports through Mombasa, it exports oil through its northern neighbor Sudan, from which it seceded in 2011 after decades of fighting.
A civil war that began in December 2013 has driven up consumer prices — with the nation’s inflation rate soaring to 661.3 percent in July — while falling crude prices have dried up a key source of foreign exchange.
“There are no dollars anywhere; at the central bank, in forex bureaus, anywhere,” Deng said in an interview on Aug. 12. “It is a matter of struggling if you need to import something.”
South Sudan, which depends on commodity imports including wheat, oil, rice and sugar, was the second-largest destination for transit goods through Mombasa after Uganda in 2015, according to Kenya Ports Authority data.
The war between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar, which has killed tens of thousands of people and forced more than two million to flee their homes, has prevented the young economy from developing a manufacturing or agricultural base. The two rivals agreed to end the conflict after more than a year of negotiations, but the peace was short-lived and bloodshed resumed in July.
The most recent violence has killed hundreds in the capital, Juba, and forced many business-people, both South Sudanese and foreigners, to close shop and leave.
“If the owner is no longer in the country, there is no longer any effort to clear cargo,” Deng said.