Voice of America (Washington, DC)

29 August 2014

South Sudan: In South Sudan, Few Take Their Money to the Bank

Photo: JC McIlwaine/UN
Thousands of South Sudanese civilians are living in camps under the protection of United Nations peacekeepers

Faridah Hussein is one of many people in South Sudan who are wary of banks, don't understand how banks work, or think they don't have enough money to warrant opening an account.

So, the 33-year-old single mother of three gives the 15 to 20 pounds she makes every day, selling bananas in a market in Juba, to her sister, who lives in a suburb of capital.

Hussein says she doesn't want to keep her money at her own home, but also thinks she makes too little to open a bank account. Besides, she says, she doesn't understand how to open a bank account.

Hers is not an isolated case. Other South Sudanese stuff the money they make under the ceiling rafters in their house, in pots in the kitchen, or even in holes they've dug in the ground.

Not surprisingly, none of these is the best savings plan, and sometimes, when a person returns to their "bank" to make a withdrawal, they find their money is no longer where they left it.

And yet, they refuse to open a bank account.

'Merry-go-round' system of banking

Florence Gordon, the Finance Director at South Sudan Women Entrepreneurs, an NGO that gives guidance and teaches business skills to women in Central Equatoria state, says that's because Faridah and others like her don't understand how banking works.

"They think that putting this money in a bank will take time and involve a long process," she says.

So, instead, they use "... a merry-go-round system of banking. Next week, they give their money to somebody, the other week, it will be given to somebody else -- not put in a bank because they don't know the benefits of a bank," Gordon says.

A woman fishmonger who is a member of South Sudan Women Entrepreneurs lost 15,000 pounds because she kept it at home, Gordon says.

"I understand it happened in December," when the conflict that still has South Sudan in its grip began in Juba, Gordon says.

"Most of her money was taken by -- she doesn't know whether it was soldiers or who, but people came and took all her money," Gordon says.

The theft led the woman to realize that, "if she had put her money in the bank she wouldn't have lost her money," Gordon says.

She is reportedly considering opening an account, but has not done so yet.

Some explaining to do

Mou Ambrose Thiik, a World Bank consultant who also sits on the board of governors of the Kenya Commercial Bank group, says people who stash their money in a pot or under the rafters are not just putting their finances in danger, but are also harming the national economy.

"If we don't have savings in the banks, there will be no investment done," he says, urging banks to educate people in South Sudan as to how the banking system works.

Banks lend part of their clients' savings to businesses and other individuals who use the loan to purchase goods and services, or invest it. The borrowers pay back the loan with interest, and the bank that originally loaned them the money pays the client interest on their savings but at a lower rate than the interest paid on the loan. Meanwhile, the money spent by the borrowers to buy goods and services also goes into another bank, and the cycle continues -- unless, of course, they're buying from someone who prefers to put their earnings under the ceiling rafters.

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