Central Bank Settles In and Urges Commercial Banks to Reconnect With Malakal

Malakal, the capital of Upper Nile State, devastated by conflict, is showing glimpses of sustainable peace, and the Bank of South Sudan has already settled in the town, and is beckoning to commercial banks to also reestablish themselves in the once promising economic hub.
Central Bank Malakal Branch Manager, Donglia Balingo in a light moment during an interview with The Dawn. Photo by Okech Francis

By Okech Francis 

Malakal, the capital of Upper Nile State, devastated by conflict, is showing glimpses of sustainable peace, and the Bank of South Sudan has already settled in the town, and is beckoning to commercial banks to also reestablish themselves in the once promising economic hub.

Upper Nile is home to Renk, one of the most vibrant agricultural areas in the country. It is also home to the largest oil production sites at the Paloch fields and surrounding areas.

The Central Bank reopened the branch in Malakal two years back and is vibrantly providing services including transfers of salaries of civil servants from Juba the capital to Upper Nile State, and from the capital Malakal to other counties in the State including Renk and Maban, Donglia Balingo, the lender’s Manager for Malakal Branch, told The Dawn in an interview from his office last week.

Financial institutions are at the minimal in Upper Nile after closing down during the crisis which began in 2013. The only active commercial bank is the Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) which operates from the United Nations Mission in South Sudan compound outside Malakal town and is inaccessible to the town residents or other business communities in the State. Dahabshil, another financial service provider is in the town but only serves transfers.

The Central Bank is engaging with several commercial banks to open branches in Malakal, Balingo said. “There are no commercial banks currently so we are here to attract commercial banks to Malakal and Upper Nile,” he said. “We came here first so that we can convince the commercial banks to come back to the State. When they see that the Central Bank is already open in Malakal, they will also come in.”

Engaging to reopen

According to Balingo, engagements to reopen in Malakal has already been undertaken with Nile Commercial Bank, South Sudan Agriculture Bank, Ivory Bank and KCB. “The financial activities are picking up well in the State because a lot of people are coming in,” Balingo said. “The challenge is that people are finding it very difficult to engage in financial activities without commercial banks so this is a very good time for these commercial banks to come.”

Brushing aside fears of insecurity, Balingo said, “let them know that the Central Bank would not be here if the situation was not stable or not good.” “I encourage them all to come back here, and especially our national banks. This is very important because they have a very big role to play for our community here. Their presence here will also give a very important message to the members of the public that peace is here,” he said.

Malakal town was utterly destroyed during the crisis and according to Balingo, rebuilding would need the participation of the commercial banks. “The most important thing I want to tell all commercial banks is that the Central Bank is already here. I am sure the situation now in Malakal is encouraging, even the movement of people is vibrant and activities are increasing. Your presence here in the State is very important especially with the high needs of your services,” he said.

“Now we have seen many places need renovation so if the commercial banks are here, they can provide lending to help in renovation and as well overall reconstruction. The presence of commercial banks here can help big companies who want to come here to do business by ensuring that their money is well kept.”

A man walks up the steps at the Bank of South Sudan branch in Malakal.

Potentials of Upper Nile

Citing agriculture, Balingo noted the importance of commercial banks resuming operations quickly in Upper Nile State. “Malakal has a lot of potentials especially in agriculture.  Like, onions in Juba is very expensive but here they are cheap. If they can open a way for money to flow from Juba to Malakal through the commercial banks, it will lead to very brisk economic activities here,” Balingo said.

“The Agriculture Bank is one that must be brought very close to the community. This is not only in Malakal area. In the area of Renk, there are many crops that the people produce. With the presence of Agriculture Bank in that area, it will help in financial provision,” he said. “It is important also because commercial banks have a big role to play for the public here in terms of lending, in terms of transfer from Juba to here because we know that a lot of people in Juba have their people living here so with the existence of the commercial banks here, it can help the community regarding money transfer.”

Balingo said the Central Bank will always commit to ensuring the commercial banks are protected in their financial transactions. “The presence of the Central Bank in Malakal is a big guarantee for the commercial banks to come back here. If the situation was not good enough, the Central Bank would not reopen here,” he said. “With the Central Bank available here, it will help commercial banks with keeping their cash. Commercial banks may be worried about keeping their money but the Central Bank is here to keep for them at the end of the day.”

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