Bump-start Idea, Now South Sudanese Service Provider’s Wallet Swells

Eco-Friends Employees at a garbage collection point at the Ministry of Cabinet Affairs in Juba
Lam Andrew Mabor (3 Right) poses for a photo with his employees in front of a garbage collection truck

By Okech Francis

Lam Andrew Mabor was left speechless one afternoon while commuting around Juba city in a taxi when a fellow passenger threw out of the vehicle a water bottle he had gulped the content muttering “that is the work of the City Council.”

“I was shocked! ‘My city, my responsibility’ was the first thought which came into my mind after that incident,” Mabor told The Dawn in an interview.

“I did not have money but just the idea and now I have opened a garbage collection company, starting without money and without a truck,” he said.

“Money does not buy ideas but ideas attract the money.”

A fumigator from Eco-Friends sprays an office of a contractor in Juba

His garbage collection firm, “Eco-friends” has now expanded its services to fumigation, with a vision to set up a recycling plant between 2025 and 2027.

Mabor employs about 10 people to collect garbage twice a week in 15 institutions in Juba, a win win for both his company and the organizations.

Poor garbage disposal is one of the biggest headaches in South Sudan’s capital Juba.

According to a report by Isaiah Ajueny Mabil Mier, one-third or two-thirds of solid waste management in Juba is not collected thereby making municipal solid waste management a complex developmental issue in the South Sudanese capital.

Mier’s report is part of his studies at the college of Environmental Science and Engineering of the Institute of Environment for Sustainable Development of Tongji University in Shangai China.

“The proper management of solid wastes generated from individual houses, institutions such as hospitals, health centers, from public eating and drinking establishments and from businesses and working places is a very important part of environmental health service in a community,” Mier said.

Seeing it on a similar projection, Mabor, armed with only his ideas, decided to roll out into action.

“I started without any money. The only money I used was to register a company,” he said.

“When I told a friend, he asked me, do you have the money and who will contract you?” I then carried the thought of contract and went to an Eritrean friend who has a hotel. I asked him that I want to start garbage collection with his hotel. He also asked me, do you have trucks? Again with the idea of the truck, I went to another friend to hire a truck and he said, hire me monthly. I said no, I can’t pay you monthly because I don’t have a business that is running so let me mobilize like 5 institutions that can accept my idea to collect their rubbish, them from there I come and agree with you on payment daily,” Mabor narrated how it all started.

“That is how the idea became a reality and I started collecting garbage from different apartments, hotels and institutions,” he said.

Eco-Friends Staffs collecting garbage from a point at the National Revenue Authority in Juba

To impress on a solution for urban garbage disposition in the country, we can look at how fast developing countries who dispose of a lot of garbage daily are managing refuse in their cities.

In China, 3.3 to 5.6 million people work in waste collection and management and many media outlets view the sector as one of China’s largest underground economies.

Collectors range from part-time workers who rummage through waste bins, to full-time managers who hire several hundred employees. Some apply for permits and manage large collection centers, while others simply invest in a tricycle and collect whatever they can find on the street.

According to Collective Responsibility, a Chinese outlet, the sector is also highly specialized with each recyclable material having its own subtypes.

It cites Shanghai as home to several waste centers – private- and each manages nearly 600 people, including 10 managers, 90 employees, and between 400 and 500 citywide collectors.

According to some workers, the pay is substantial. Private collectors on tricycles earn roughly 100 RMB (about $13.79) per shipment of cardboard and transport two full loads per day.

This means that the average collector who works at the bottom of the waste food chain makes 200 RMB per day (about $27.44), nearly 67,200 RMB (about $9,219) per year.     

In comparison to average income levels in Shanghai, this value is not too shabby. A collector’s annual salary falls well above minimum wage, which guarantees 26,280 RMB ($3,605) per year, and is roughly equal to the city’s average annual income at 70,692 RMB ($9,698) per year.

In reality, many collectors’ annual salaries are even higher and rank well above the city average.

Since 2021 when he started implementing his ideas in Juba, Mabor has now established a vibrant company and become part of the initiatives of keeping Juba clean, protecting health, and building his livelihood.

“Currently we are now talking of 2 trucks instead of zero trucks and we are talking of big trucks, Isuzu and this year we are looking to purchase a sinotruck,” Mabor said.

“Currently I employ 7 to 10 garbage collectors. We collect garbage twice a week and we pay them wages based on the days they are on the ground,” he said.

“As an entrepreneur, you don’t only get motivation from the dividends you get at the end of the year but also in how many families survive and have a daily bread because of your ideas and having these 7 people, 10 people having their daily bread is a basic motivation itself to me.”

In managing health threats caused by garbage, Mabor has created central garbage centers in several parts of Juba, only accessible by his company’s garbage collectors and institutions dumping them.

“We came up with that idea to protect the health of the people,” he said. “The places are far from where people are so they don’t get contaminated and so far we have constructed 5.”

Mabor believes that private companies like Eco-Friends are the best solutions to the challenging garbage in Juba.

“Based on the current city council management, a green and clean Juba will not be possible,” Mabor said. “For a clean Juba to be possible, they should hand over the cleaning to private companies and let the city council be a monitoring body. Implementing should be the work of the private sector so that accounting is easy.”

Future Plans

Mabor has a clear course for his livelihood and for development of South Sudan.

“Where we are going is more clearer than were we are coming from because if you compare us with the Eco-Friends of 2021, there is a huge difference in the level of market influence, there is a huge difference in the level of social media presence, there is a huge difference even with the assets we have and the network we have is not the network of 2021,” he said.

“And of cause in 2024, 2025 you will see a different thing, so what I can say is our vision board is guiding us and though sometimes objectives may change, the goal will never change.”

Mabor urges South Sudanese to dream and ensure those dreams are realized.

“A dream is a dream until you take a step. Most times we South Sudanese say I don’t have money, I don’t have the connections, I don’t have an uncle in the government but one thing I always question myself; these Somalis, Eritreans, Ethiopians came here with nobody and today they are driving-what is preventing us from doing the same?” Mabor said.

“Capital investment is needed to start but without the idea, all that money you are having, you will come right down because you must have something that is more than money and that something is an idea,” he said.

“Try to change your dream capital into your starting capital. If your business requires $30,000, you cannot sit down and wait yet you can start with $500.”

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