National carrier Kenya Airways, its rival Fly 540 and KCB Group were among Kenyan companies that were Monday counting heavy losses following a fresh outbreak of political violence in South Sudanese capital Juba.
The unrest, which started late last week, escalated over the weekend, dealing a blow to a recent resurgence in business confidence that followed the African Union-brokered peace deal between the warring factions and vice-president Riek Machar’s return to the capital in May. Kenya Airways yesterday said it would indefinitely extend its suspension of flights to Juba, citing safety concerns.
“We advise that our flights to and from Juba remain suspended following unrest in the South Sudan capital,” the airline popularly known as KQ said in a statement. Kenya Airways, which operates two flights a day to Juba, had on Sunday announced the suspension of flights citing “an uncertain security situation.” It gave similar reasons, yesterday adding that it was monitoring the situation.
KCB, which has branches in all the 10 South Sudanese states, said it had scaled down operations in view of the deteriorating security situation in the country.
“We have reviewed and scaled down branch operations in the country until the situation improves in the affected areas. We apologise to our esteemed customers affected by the disruption of services,” the bank’s chief operating officer, Samuel Makome, said. “We stand with the people of South Sudan during these difficult times and we look forward to a quick return to normalcy.”
Mr Makome said the bank had accounted for and moved all its staff to safety as it continues to monitor the situation.
Fly 540, the Kenyan budget airline with two daily flights to Juba, also said it had indefinitely stopped operations in the war-torn country pending improvement in the security situation.
“We have suspended flights since Saturday. We are monitoring the situation through various agencies. We will resume operations if and when the security situation reverts to normal,” Fly 540’s operations director Nixon Ooko said.
Other Kenyan banks and small scale enterprises that have set up base in Juba and other areas in South Sudan were expected to suffer similar disruptions as the fighting continued.
List of Kenyan businesses
The list of Kenyan businesses with operations in South Sudan includes UAP Holdings, East African Breweries (EABL), CFC Stanbic Bank, Equity Bank and Co-operative Bank.
Kenya also has tens of thousands of skilled and semi-skilled workers in key sectors of the South Sudanese economy such as telecoms, banking, oil and hospitality. On Monday, business lobbies warned that Kenyan businesses risked more losses if the unrest is not checked.
Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industries chairman Kiprono Kittony said many Kenyan businesses in South Sudan were suffering major disruptions and workers were leaving in large numbers.
EABL said it could not immediately tell the impact of the fighting on its business.
“Unfortunately, we are unable to comment, because the books of accounts have been closed till the results are announced,” said the UK-owned brewer in a statement.
The beer maker in January closed its South Sudan depot after it posted huge currency losses resulting from a devaluation of the country’s currency and sustained political instability.
CFC Stanbic executives were said to be holed up in a meeting to assess the possible impact of the unfolding developments in South Sudan.
Previous elongated periods of conflict have seen a huge number of Kenyan corporations with operations in South Sudan suffer huge losses.
KCB was among local companies with subsidiaries in South Sudan that posted a substantial drop in profits after Juba abandoned its currency fixing policy and devalued its currency by more than 100 per cent. The move marked down the assets of Kenyan banks in the country even as runaway inflation and labour unrest ate into whatever remained of it.
Kenyan banks particularly took a major hit from devaluation of the South Sudanese pound — taking a total Sh14.5 billion in forex losses.
KCB booked a Sh6.1 billion loss from its South Sudan’s subsidiary while Equity and CfC Stanbic reported Sh5.7 billion and Sh1 billion forex-related losses respectively.
Co-operative Bank, which announced a 46 per cent increase in net profit in the year ended December, suffered a Sh1.8 billion foreign exchange loss.
Fighting broke out in Juba Thursday between troops loyal to President Silvar Kiir and those aligned to his deputy, Dr Machar. The fighting flared up again Sunday spreading to areas close to the UN compound after a lull Saturday when the world’s newest country celebrated the fifth independence anniversary.
On Monday, the US embassy in Juba said in an advisory to its citizens that the situation had significantly deteriorated and urged them to keep safe.
South Sudan Ambassador to Kenya Chol Ajongo is today expected to issue a statement on the situation in his country in Nairobi.
KCB is among the Kenyan companies that were banking on April’s end to the war and the landmark formation of a unity government that allowed Dr Machar to return to the capital Juba.
The bank had in the peak of the turmoil put brakes on lending in South Sudan and has been hoping to resume giving out loans as a semblance of stability returned in the past couple of months.