Repatriation Boom no Boon to Business
Volume 1, Issue 2 / January 2009
For Kakuma Camp business persons, last December’s business slumped as the number of Sudanese customers diminished. Long-time camp residents can still remember the booming business during festive seasons of earlier years.
“Business was always flourishing throughout December,” says an Ethiopian refugee businessman. In the Ethiopian Market, customers flocked to shops to purchase the latest goods serving to embellish and make the season more vibrant. More people than usual converged to restaurants to taste Ethiopian delicacies and Somali spicy pastas.
Shop attendants used to serve many customers per day. The barber shops of Congolese communities were unable to cater for all their clients. Tailor rooms with Congolese fashion designs were full of Sudanese ladies queuing for the latest fashion craze. And the boda-bodas (bicycle taxis) kept their bike lanes busy.
These were the years when the Sudanese population outnumbered other nationalities. With their large communities and their remittances from relatives living abroad, Sudanese refugees infused a vital cash flow into the local market. Now, repatriation has sent thousands of former refugees home to Southern Sudan.
The business situation has changed notably since the Sudanese repatriation process began in 2006. Business has sharply declined and the effects could be easily witnessed last December. “I could not get time like this to talk to you while serving my customers [during previous holiday seasons],” the Ethiopian businessman observed.
“We could shave as many as 30 people per day, but nowadays we hardly get 10 or even 5,” a Congolese barber revealed. And a Congolese tailor added his woes: “You can see how the room is empty and this is since morning.”
Despite current difficulties, there may be some hope for the bottom line. The relocation of Somali refugees from Dadaab is expected to swell the population of Kakuma Camp and may contribute new streams of customers.