On every working day, the banking halls are full and bustling with activity. The queues at the managers' offices are also long. To secure an appointment with most bank managers requires patience. Not because of bureaucracy but because of the demand.
"In the next 20 years, South Sudan will be a booming economy. This is the right time to be here," Paul Gitahi, Equity Bank South Sudan Executive Director, says.
Gitahi recalls vividly what it was that drove his bank into South Sudan, which many investors and global financial brands still view as a high-risk market. "It is the vision of the bank to become a pan-African bank that informed us to come here," Gitahi reveals. "We had an option to venture into stable countries like Tanzania and Rwanda first before coming here. But South Sudan was an emerging economy. The global business trends lately are shaped by the paradigm set by newly established industrialised nations. This is what informed our decision to start our operations in Juba and we are now all over South Sudan."
Equity Bank was not the only bank to dare the still waters of Juba. If anything, it was the second international bank to follow Kenya's banking giant Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB). A few months after the CPA was signed, KCB (Sudan) Limited was incorporated, making it the first international bank to set up its base in the new nation. Today KCB Sudan, with its headquarters in the Wizarat area, has 19 branches spread over South Sudan's 10 states.
"This country has got lots of potential. It is vast and is endowed with immense agricultural potential, with 80% of its land being arable with suitable rains," says Gitahi. "South Sudan also has numerous mineral deposits and has an eager population willing to make good use of the resources at their disposal and a leadership that has a global outlook."
Addis Ababa and Khartoum too have have not been slow to see the opportunities, with the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE) and Bank of Khartoum Juba opening subsidiaries.
European, South African and West African-domiciled multinational banks, however, are yet to set foot in South Sudan. Ivory Commercial Bank, Nile Commercial Bank, Mountain Trade and Development Bank and Agricultural Bank of Sudan are the indigenous banks standing up to the stiff competition posed by the international banks from Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan.
"The specialised expertise of international financial institutions like Equity Bank is needed to...