PUBLISHED ON September 22nd, 2014

South Sudan call for exit of foreign workers could hamper bid to join EAC

South Sudan’s planned entry into the East African Community could be hampered by its recent call for foreigners working in the country to be replaced with locals, as the legislative assembly puts pressure on the Secretariat and the Heads of State to have Juba underline its commitment to the bloc’s ideals during negotiations.

Peter Mathuki, a Kenyan representative to the East African Legislative Assembly, said the regional House would demand that the presidents of the five EAC member states take a position on South Sudan’s move before or during their next Summit scheduled for November.

“We are almost at the final stages of admitting the country into the Community, but with such an indication that other partner states will have difficulty in free movement of labour, trade and capital, the experts will have to re-examine its qualification for admission,” said Mr Mathuki.

EAC secretary-general Richard Sezibera, through a post on the Jumuiya Twitter account, said the issue of foreigners being required to vacate their jobs would be a key discussion point during negotiations for South Sudan’s admission to the EAC.

“Our treaty is clear on fundamental rights of its citizens… We will table all issues of concern at the negotiations for accession,” Dr Sezibera tweeted.

South Sudan’s Ministry of Labour had ordered that non-governmental organisations, telecommunications companies, banks, insurance companies, oil companies, hotels and lodges terminate the employment of foreigners occupying certain positions.

The positions were executive secretary, personnel manager, secretaries and head of human resource department. Others were public relations officers, procurement officers, logisticians, front desk officers and protocol officers.

“The purpose of this ministerial circular prohibiting and regulating the service and employment of aliens in the private sector in South Sudan is to induce and protect the rights and interests of the people of South Sudan,” said Labour Minister Ngor Kolong Ngor.

The order provoked outrage globally, not least among EAC countries which feel entitled to brotherly treatment from Juba for having borne the brunt of the two-decade conflict with Khartoum before the south seceded five years ago.

“We are not interested in taking over jobs from South Sudan nationals. We will help them build capacity to participate in all facets of the economy over time,” said Ms Amina Mohamed, Kenya’s Foreign Cabinet Secretary.

More than 13,000 Kenyans work with relief agencies, contractors, banks, insurance companies in South Sudan. Others are seconded there by the government to train nationals for administrative roles.

Kenyan companies with interests in South Sudan such as KCB and Co-operative Bank said the order would not have a major impact on their personnel.

Joshua Oigara, the KCB Group chief executive officer, said the bank had been working closely in developing talent in South Sudan with over 85 per cent of its staff being qualified South Sudanese.

“South Sudan should concentrate on building capacity and manpower first before making such a move,” said Mr Mathuki, adding that international labour laws do not provide for eviction of workers but for attrition over a certain period to absorb local citizens into the positions held by foreign workers.

South Sudan’s high unemployment rates appear to have motivated the decision to nationalise the work force with only 12 per cent of the active population formally employed and mostly within the government.

The majority of the population relies on agriculture; cattle rearing and remittances from relatives abroad as their source of income.

The high unemployment rate, a non-existent private sector and lack of a proper investment policy are also among the major causes of the ongoing conflict.

Only half of the country’s eight million people are able to read and write, creating demand for foreign workers especially in specialised sectors like oil and health.

The EAC Common Market Protocol provides for the free movement of goods, labour, services, and capital, which will significantly boost trade and investments and make the region more productive and prosperous.

A 2012 report on verification of South Sudan joining the bloc highlighted xenophobia among Juba’s technocrats towards EAC citizens as a major challenge.

The EAC verification Committee said this would impact on free movement of persons and services provided for under the Common Market Protocol.

The process of admitting South Sudan into the EAC was postponed by the EAC presidents early this year due to the escalation of fighting between government forces in December last year.

The final negotiations on admission of South Sudan to the EAC were to begin in January and end in April this year, just before the Summit, and submitted to it for a final decision.

A section of MPs in Uganda called on the government to withdraw its troops and other forms of support to Juba. Ugandan troops are fighting alongside South Sudan government soldiers against rebels loyal to former vice president Riek Machar.

Kenya’s secretary-general of the Central Organisation of Trade Unions in Kenya and a titular member at the International Labour Organisation, Francis Atwoli, said the restriction on foreign workers would hurt Juba the most in case East African partner states retaliated.

Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi all have labour laws and regulations that bar companies from employing foreigners but these were being relaxed with regard to the partner states to allow free movement of labour in the region.

“All the EAC partner states under the East African Labour Federation are currently working on the harmonisation of their labour laws and social securities as required by the EAC Common Market Protocol. With South Sudan being willing to join the bloc it should not exercise such restrictions on labour movement,” said Mr Atwoli.

Source URL: The East African

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of TradeMark Africa.