13 January 2011 -- Food prices in Juba have been rising in recent weeks as some jittery foreign merchants pulled out of the region before the start of voting in the Southern Sudan referendum.
The trend began in the first half of December. Several food items have registered increases of more than 50 per cent since then.
According to Jebel Market vendor Tut Chot, a sack of onions that once cost 300 Sudanese pounds is now fetching 450 pounds, while a jerry can of cooking oil that formerly sold for 80 pounds has risen to 130 pounds.
The exodus of foreign traders can be seen in the many empty stalls at some markets in the Southern Sudanese capital. Consumers are feeling the pinch in their pocketbooks.
With a ten-pound bank note, Mary Keji used to buy enough rice, cooking oil, vegetables and flour to make lunch for her family. She now has to spend twice that amount in Jebel Market.
"I would not complain if only prices of goods imported from the neighboring countries could increase," said a frustrated Rebecca Peter as she shopped this week at Jebel Market. "But I can't understand why our locally produced goods are rising so quickly."
Anxiety over possible outbreaks of violence during the final countdown to the referendum prompted many vendors from neighbouring countries to close down their shops and head for Southern Sudan's international border.
The border with Uganda remains open, said Sudanese vendor Mansour Abdul who travelled from Kampala to Juba earlier this week.
But the Kampala City Trade Association has been warning its members against travelling to Southern Sudan during the referendum polling or its aftermath when official results will be released, according to Swaibu Lumisa, a Ugandan vendor in Juba's sprawling Konyo-konyo Market.
For those foreign traders who elected to remain in Southern Sudan during the voting process, soaring wholesale prices for their goods have cut deeply into their profit margins.
Ugandan trader Ismail Hussein used to clear a profit if 15 Sudanese pounds on every 50-kilogram sack of rice he sold at Jebel Market, but his earnings are down to five pounds these days.