. Photographer: Nadine Hutton/Bloomberg

War-Torn South Sudan's Traders Weigh New Risk: Kenya's Vote

  • Commerce chamber concerned any unrest could disrupt imports
  • Shipments coming via Kenya mainly fuel, wheat, materials

Traders in war-torn, hunger-stricken South Sudan are stocking up on goods from neighboring Kenya in case unrest around next week’s elections there disrupts imports, the Chamber of Commerce said.

While most of South Sudan’s food supplies originate in Uganda, any upheaval in Kenya could affect goods such as wheat, building materials and spices that arrive via East Africa’s biggest port in Mombasa, the chamber’s secretary-general, Simon Akuei Deng, said by phone from the capital, Juba. The owners of the shipping containers are being advised to clear them before the Aug. 8 vote, he said.

“Much as we wish Kenyans well in their elections, people need to be conscious in case there is a problem,” Deng said. He warned that imports of fuel for South Sudan, which produces oil but doesn’t have its own refineries, may also be affected.

Kenya, the region’s biggest economy, has seen unrest during three of its past five national elections. Opinion polls show opposition candidate Raila Odinga gaining ground against President Uhuru Kenyatta, raising the likelihood of a runoff vote. Odinga has warned he won’t concede defeat and his supporters may take to the streets if the elections aren’t deemed credible.

Violence in the wake of a contested 2007 vote claimed 1,100 lives and disrupted Kenya’s agriculture exports, of which Europe is a buyer, and fuel supplies to neighboring Uganda. Kenya’s inspector-general of police, Joseph Boinnet, last month said adequate security measures are in place to ensure next week’s election is peaceful, according to Capital FM, a local broadcaster.

Hunger, Disease

Landlocked South Sudan, where civil war began in December 2013, is already wrestling with food shortages that are affecting half its 12-million population and inflation, while slowing, is in excess of 150 percent. The conflict has forced more than 3.5 million from their homes, causing mass disruption to farming, damage compounded by outbreaks of crop-eating fall armyworms and livestock disease. The International Monetary Fund says the economy may have contracted 10.5 percent in the 2016-17 financial year.

Deng said about 30 trucks of food have arrived from countries in the region and are in storage in Juba, while 30 more are expected this week. “Basically we don’t bring much food from Kenya but from Uganda and western Tanzania, but still we have to be conscious,” he said.

A wave of attacks by unidentified gunmen have targeted vehicles on South Sudan’s highway to Uganda, the main trade route, in the past year.

A new United Nations regional protection force planned for later this year may free up other UN troops to secure the key highways, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, chief of peacekeeping operations, told reporters in Juba on Thursday, a day after four people were killed in an attack on vehicles about 155 kilometers (96 miles) south of the city.

Kenya’s association of shipping agents last month said it expects to miss its annual cargo target because of concern of violence around the elections. It said shipping volumes will probably be lower in July and August.

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