“We are in trouble in southern Sudan,” said Samuel, a worker at Norwegian People’s Aid Education Development.
Samuel’s despair is drawn from confusion caused by five different currencies circulating in the small southern Sudan town of Yei.
“We use dollars, Kenya shillings, and we are now paid in Uganda shillings. This month, our salary will be in Sudanese Dinar (SD), and I even got a Euro coin! There is a big mess with currency,” said Samuel.
Lack of an official currency despite the booming trade has also hindered the Bank of Southern Sudan (BOSS) operations and government officials have gone for months without pay.
“We can’t operate because we do not have a currency. We are just here at the bank undergoing training. Unless the new Sudanese pound is introduced, we have no business,” Daniel Ekech, the team leader of BOSS said recently.
Only Nile Commercial Bank, located in the same building, is operational.
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in Nairobi in January between the SPLA and Khartoum government that ended 21 years of civil war in southern Sudan, provided for the introduction of a new currency.
A new Sudanese pound is expected later this year.
People of southern Sudan especially in Yei, have shunned the official Sudanese currency, the dinar.
“Civil servants have not been paid for two months. People don’t want the Dinar because it reminds them of an Islamic country. It is under discussion to see if they can be paid in Dinars,” the acting commissioner and executive director of Yei County, Aggrey Silas Kanyikwa.
“We have been in a meeting to see if people from Yei can carry Uganda shillings to Juba and officially change into dinars,” he said.
In Juba, unlike in Yei, other currencies are not in use except dinars and dollars.
The 165-kilometre Yei-Juba Road was recently officially opened.
Juba, the capital of southern Sudan, can now be accessed from the south.
Before, Juba was under the control of the Khartoum government and for many years, it was besieged by the SPLA who cut it out from the south.
There are only two banks in Juba, Ivory Bank and Islamic Bank, both of which refuse to trade Uganda shillings or Sudanese dinars. They only accept dollars.
As a result, there is a black market though it too is plagued with liquidity issues.
In July, sh20,000 was equivalent to 4,000 dinar but this is now up to 3,000 dinars for the same amount of Uganda shillings.
Confusion abounds. In Juba calculations are still based on the pound, which was phased out 13 years ago.
Because of the war, the Sudanese pound became scarce, leading to the introduction of the Sudanese dinar in 1992.
In Juba, US$1 is equivalent to 250 Sudanese dinars. But in daily transactions an extra zero is added to quotes for example, a trader asking for 2,500 dinars ($10) for a packet of cigarettes actually wants 250 dinars.
Force of habit means people think in Sudanese pounds, which formerly meant 10 pounds were equivalent to US$1.
“The dinar is the Arabic currency. We wanted to keep our own money to resist Islamisation,” said a Southerner in Juba.