Chinese firms need to engage more with locals inside South Sudan

Source:Global Times Published: 2013-3-21 18:48:01

The situation for Chinese companies in South Sudan remains relatively stable. However, though some are operating effectively, others are at standstill due to financial difficulties.

Some Chinese companies face challenges operating in conflict-affected areas outside of the capital. This hampers some of their operations in South Sudan.

Furthermore, there are risks working in conflict-affected regions to workers, investments, and reputation. 

The government of South Sudan has made a lot of efforts to promote investment and build investor's confidence. It has been a regular participant in investment conferences abroad.

The South Sudan Investment Authority, the body that regulates investment activities, has been established. Investment laws and guidelines have been established, and trade fairs organized. Chinese or any other investment is welcome.

But when it comes to the Chinese presence, opinions are mixed. Most local people are receptive to Chinese companies operating in South Sudan, believing they are contributing to addressing development challenges.

But there are also those who think some Chinese firms are not doing enough in employing of local people, transferring knowledge, running community development projects, and interacting with local communities in their areas of operations.

Communities want to be able to have better communication with Chinese companies and to be consulted more often.

Some Chinese company representatives have stated that they have learned from past incidents, including by adopting measures such as engaging and building trust with local communities.

Getting acceptance from the local community can be the best way to ensure investment safety.

And by consulting with them, as well as other sides like local government, local NGOs, religious leaders, business runners can learn a lot about the context and thus improve their risk analysis. 

Nevertheless, a good number of other companies are yet to embrace these measures.

Besides security and reputation, some Chinese construction companies are concerned about the high costs of building materials in South Sudan, as much of them are imported, and the increased competition from other foreign companies.

Others operating in the oil sector are also concerned about the delay in the resumption of oil, but this might change with the positive gestures expressed recently by the government.

Some companies have halted their construction projects, because the South Sudan government has no money to hire them while others are operating with financial support from the Chinese authorities.

There are a number of problems that still face investors both domestic and foreign in South Sudan, including a limited number of banks, poor physical infrastructure and high cost of services, as well as difficulty in accessing lands especially in urban area like Juba.

China's approach to economic cooperation potentially brings mutual and sustainable benefits for both Chinese and Africans across the continent. China can really help South Sudan in post-conflict reconstruction and economic development.

However, due to the conflict situation, just seeing economic cooperation with South Sudan as the same as economic cooperation elsewhere would be a mistake.

Chinese companies can interact with non-state actors, including local communities and civil society, provide employment opportunities, transfer their skills to local workers, and implement community development projects.

Chinese actors cannot pretend they have nothing to do with conflicts: If you are operating there, you will have an impact.

This is simply the truth. Investors and companies should conduct context analysis by consulting with diverse actors, both formal and informal, so as to gain a bigger picture.

They should also conduct conflict analysis of the areas in which they are operating, in order to understand the local conflict dynamics. They should assess both the negative and positive risks of their operation's impact on conflict dynamics.

And based on this risk analysis, they should maximize the positive impacts of their operations, while minimizing the negative ones.

All this could be done by consulting with the government and local people. This way, Chinese investors can make sure their operations are conflict-sensitive, manage their own risks, and support long-term peace and development in South Sudan.

The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Sun Xiaobo, based on an interview with Ranga Gworo, project coordinator in South Sudan with Saferworld, an independent international organization working to prevent violent conflict and build safer lives.

Posted in: Viewpoint

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