In a shock move the Government of South Sudan appears to have ordered the expulsion of all foreign workers from the country, effective from October 15, and their positions to be taken by “competent South Sudanese nationals”. South Sudan became an independent state splitting from Sudan in 2011.
The statement published in local papers, read: “All non-governmental organisations, private companies, telecommunications companies, petroleum companies, hotels and lodges working in South Sudan are directed to notify all aliens working with them in all positions to cease work as from 15th October”.
Ostensibly the ban also includes all foreign aid workers.
KENYAN COMPANIES AND WORKERS WILL BE HIT
The move, if it is implemented, will come as a shock to Kenyan companies who have set up operations in South Sudan. Companies affected would include East Africa Breweries Ltd (EABL), Kenya Commercial Bank, Equity Bank, Kenya Airways, Kenyan insurance companies, and petroleum and telecommunications companies.
There are estimated to be some 30,000 Kenyan workers currently employed in South Sudan.
Although there is some doubt as to whether the directive will be implemented with such haste (a South Sudan government spokesman is reported to have said that no foreign workers will be forced out of the country), the move still appears to be an act of economic illiteracy.
Such arguments, to replace “foreigners” with “locals”, are occasionally heard in Kenya. It would be a catastrophic mistake to do so in South Sudan, or Kenya.
In South Sudan there is a skills gap that cannot be filled by local expertise. It is also the case that many foreign workers are in effect part of the export earnings for the country, and that goes too for Kenya.
It is true that many foreign workers receive much larger salaries than local people but that income is very often brought in from an overseas account and is then spent in the host country. Whilst that can drive up prices it also results in higher, not lower, employment of local people.
The Kenya Forum says that if there is one way of sending an economy in the region down the long-drop it would be to expel foreign workers.