Kenya Coop Bank braces for new challenges in South Sudan
By James Wafula in Juba
Recent positive political developments in South Sudan have come as the best news in 2020 for Kenya's Cooperative Bank in Juba which has invested heavily in the country's housing and infrastructure sectors through loans to saccos, SMEs and emerging civil service elite. Speaking to Workers Eye on telephone Co-operative bank group chief executive Dr. Gideon Muriuki praised the peace move in Juba saying this is what the lender has been praying for ever since it launched operations 12 years ago.
Muriuki said the bank had not only channeled more resources in its transformational digital transformation at its Juba branch rising from dire straits to record profits from 2017- 2019. The world’s youngest nation has been mired in instability and conflict for nearly all the eight years since it gained independence from Sudan. In 2018 President Kiir and his former Vice-President and long-time political rival, Mr. Machar, signed a peace accord with the hopes that it would end the crisis and improve the lives and safety of millions of South Sudanese. In February 2020 Mr. Machar was sworn in as first Vice-President, sealing the peace deal at the State House in the capital of Juba.
“On 15 February, President Salva Kiir agreed to a compromise to return South Sudan to its pre-2015 position of 10 states. Former rebel leader Mr. Machar had “accepted the challenge to join a transitional government in Juba serving as the country’s First Vice President – despite transitional security arrangements not yet in place”. With the deadlock broken, five Vice Presidents were subsequently sworn in. UN Police (UNPOL) is expanding technical assistance and beginning to co-locate with the National Police Service to enhance policing capabilities that will ease the pace of doing business with Kenyan banks heaving a big sigh of relief. Nevertheless, a daunting array of challenges will test the new government’s unity.
“Most urgent is the need to move on the transitional security arrangements”, as pre-transitional structures have become redundant and “implementation is dangerously lagging”. And precarious humanitarian situations exist in many states.
“The anticipated improvement in harvest levels 12 months ago was quashed by the extensive flooding last year” that destroyed livestock and water supplies were contaminated, “worsening health conditions, particularly for children and those people who have sparse access to health services”, a challenge Cooperative bank says it can partner with the state to improve living conditions. Many peace actors have praised Kenyan banks especially Co-operative bank for remaining a "true friend in need" employing hundreds of local South Sudanese and keeping its doors open even as civil war raged in on and off peace deals from 2011. Dr Muriuki stressed that“International partners must remain engaged – both in solidarity and, at times, with pressure – to encourage compromise to achieve and maintain the peace deal” saying war affects everybody adversely. Hope for lasting peace in South Sudan-13 mostly internally displaced women and children voluntarily returned to waiting relatives in their hometown of Malakal. Many of their relatives work with Juba based Kenya Cooperative Bank branch■.