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The most conspicuous feature of South Sudan’s elite is its absence.
The newest country in the world is in dire need of committed, educated nation builders. But many of its most wealthy citizens park everything from their assets to their families — and themselves — outside the country.
Little wonder, perhaps. The people of South Sudan spent decades fighting a war of secession with the Khartoum government to the north, only to plunge into its own civil war soon after winning independence in 2011. In the past two years, more than 2m people in a nation of 12m have fled death and ethnic atrocities. An August peace deal may see government and rebels form an interim joint administration, but even if that comes off, trenchant poverty and insecurity will pervade for years.
Alongside that, due to reduced petroleum output because of fighting, a bad deal agreed with the north and falling world prices, the oil-based economy is shattered. Without incoming dollars to sustain central bank reserves, the currency is now in meltdown.
Yet many have found a way to make money, thanks to the combined impact of oil revenues, aid dollars and an unhealthy dose of corruption. Many are even proud that South Sudan is one of the few African countries that, on balance, sends millions of dollars out to its diaspora, rather than relying on remittances sent in from abroad.
Lual Malok, a businessman who rents out warehouses and offices in the capital Juba, is among them. Every month he sends thousands of dollars to his family in Kampala.
“I have four kids; these are from my first wife. Then I have two younger kids with my second wife. She’s here,” says Malok, whose business supports them all. Like many South Sudanese, his first wife lives in neighbouring Uganda so the children, three of whom are of school age, can get a good, safe education that poorer South Sudanese cannot hope to access at home.
“For renting I have to pay $1,100 per month, then for the food I send another