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South Supreme Airline shuts down, local businesses stranded

Estella Turukoyo
South Sudan’s only locally owned airline, South Supreme, halted its flights last week amid the country‘s deepening crisis and blamed the government for the disrupted service.
2.10.2015  |  Kampala, Uganda
A South Supreme Airline plane at the Juba International Airport, November 5, 2013. (photo: The Niles | Dominik Lehnert)
A South Supreme Airline plane at the Juba International Airport, November 5, 2013. (photo: The Niles | Dominik Lehnert)

The airline’s Chief Executive Officer Ayii Duang says his company cannot continue without being able to obtain hard currency from South Sudan Central Bank, an issue which is squeezing businesses across the country.

We need dollars to pay the engineers with hard currency.”

Duang says South Supreme, which launched in 2013, had exhausted all possibilities to keep afloat. “We need dollars to pay the engineers with hard currency.”

Halting flights dents the businesses of loyal customers like Nema Sarah who says it is now very difficult to travel to her home county, Nzara, in Yambio to supervise her farm. Nema sells vegetables from her farm in the capital, Juba. Now, with road transport her only option, she fears the goods will go off before they reach the market.

“South Supreme made it easy for me. Now my business is done. I used to travel repeatedly (in a week). But it takes a number of days for me to reach Nzara. And the current situation of the roads is a problem,” Nema says.

During rainy seasons most roads in South Sudan become almost impassable and what is typically a one-day drive takes about a week to cover.

With some 35 aircraft, the airline was the only regularly traveling to all ten states of the country; including Western Equatoria State. There are other aircrafts, which are owned by NGOs and the UN but they are not commercial, and are irregular – making it difficult for local businesses to rely on.

The current situation of the roads is a problem.”

South Sudan is in the throes of economic collapse amid an extended conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced millions since 2013. The country’s currency, the South Sudan Pound, has lost in value.

Despite an official exchange rate of three SSPs for one US Dollar, the black market rate is much higher. Banks complain they lack hard currency but Duang is not convinced and continues to urge the bank to release funds. “We don’t want this dollars for any personal interest, but to keep the business running,” he says.

Only a few weeks after South Sudan’s conflicting parties signed the IGAD proposed peace deal to end over 20 months of conflict, fighting continues. The ongoing risk of violence also poses a risk to those using the country’s limited road network.

Given the attacks and counter attacks in some parts of the country, Sarah Nema says she was reluctant to use road transport out of fear for her life, as well as the fact her fresh produce might perish before she arrives.

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