South Sudan: The economy is cooking in Juba

Ugandan Kagera Shraj, middle, and his workers are helping to grow Juba's economy

Ugandan Kagera Shraj, middle, and his workers are helping to grow Juba's economy one tap at a time 


The 18-man production line works from sun-up to sun-down. The logic is simple: the searing sun is their light source. Their place of work is a quiet mud road in the newest capital city in the world – Juba, South Sudan.

On one side of the road is a small shanty town, 20-40 residences made up of bits of wood and the odd UNHCR-branded piece of tarpaulin.

On the other side of the road is one of Juba’s many foreigner ‘compounds’ albeit that this one is a modest affair.

Behind the two-metre walls and barbed wire are a bishop’s house, a dusty courtyard, and a few rooms which are rented out to foreigners as a source of income.

Down the road is a big grass field – the site of a mass grave – the result of one of the worst events during the horrific, almost half century of on-again-off-again war between north and south Sudan.

The location of the men, as they huddle to the walls for shade, may seem random but this is no fly-by-night operation.

Kagera Shraj, 25, is a Ugandan who together with a couple of his brothers came to Juba a year ago. He brought his small steel hammers and his trade with him. Every day the non-stop tap-tap-tapping of these men’s hammers are turning bits of scrap metal into simple coal stoves perfect for Juba’s many road-side restaurants or houses without power.

“We were taught by our father to make stoves,” says Kagera. “But you work a day in Uganda and you get nothing.

“This is a new country and Juba is the new headquarters and you can get something you need.”

Back in Arua, Uganda, Kagera’s father has 20 people working for him but inflation in Uganda is skyrocketing and Kagera says that while the working conditions might be tougher the profit margins are much higher in Juba.

He is one of the many migrant men in this city. In fact all 18 men on his mud-floor production line are Ugandans. Like migrants the world over they have come to take advantage of new opportunities and brought skills with him.

However, local governments expect a trade off; when foreigners start businesses they expect local employment opportunities to arise.

I ask about employing South Sudanese and Kagera says he has four local employees but they are currently being trained and not yet on the production line.

Will he bring his family, his wife, son and daughter here? No. He does not trust the fledgling education system in South Sudan, instead he makes the long trip back to visit them every three months.

How long will he stay? “I don’t know,” says Kagera before starting his tap-tap-tapping once more.

Chrisanthi Giotis