Collecting business data in a challenging environment: The South Sudan Integrated Business Establishments Survey

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Obtaining data on the state of business establishments is a crucial part of building evidence to support economic policy in any country. In a fragile context such as South Sudan’s, this is especially important as there has traditionally been a dearth of reliable information on employment, compensation, and the broader business environment.

The Integrated Business Establishments Survey (IBES) for South Sudan—the first national business survey since independence—was recently published through the World Bank’s Microdata Library. The survey was conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics as part of the World Bank’s Statistical Capacity Building project in South Sudan. It was conducted in two phases, with a full listing of business establishments in the 12 largest towns of the country followed by data collection one year later.

Several key findings have emerged from the data, which will contribute to the development of policies to lock in some of the benefits of the recent period of relative stability in the country. As expected, the survey confirms that Juba is the primary location for businesses and employment with more than half of all business in the country operating in the capital. Businesses in Juba tend to be larger than in other towns, with two-thirds of all workers employed in the capital.

Slightly more than 60% of businesses in the country are owned by South Sudanese and around one-third are owned by people from other African countries – almost exclusively South Sudan’s neighbors. Businesses also tend to be very young, with one-third having been established within the two years prior to the survey. Insights from Surveys on Business and Enterprises in South Sudan: Jobs, Recovery and Peacebuilding, provides fuller descriptions and findings from the survey, along with analysis of the state of jobs in businesses and non-governmental organizations.

One message that has emerged strongly from the data is that there are four constraints that businesses consistently identify as being of particular importance: insecurity, lack of market access, lack of access to finance and an unreliable supply of electricity. A very high number of businesses faced shocks in the lead up to the survey – 38% reported being negatively affected (directly) by conflict, while over a third reported being victims of a robbery in the last 12 months. Looking forward, although most businesses are optimistic that the economy will improve, around two-thirds identified corruption as a major obstacle to business growth in the coming.

Figure 1 Serious or very serious constraints identified by businesses

Serious or very serious constraints identified by businesses
Source: Own calculations from South Sudan IBES 2019.

Overall, the structure of the business landscape in South Sudan is typical for a low-income country emerging from conflict in that most establishments are very small, while at the same time a few large businesses make up about half of all employment. There is very clearly a “missing middle” of medium-sized businesses, and the hope is that these will be able to develop in the current period of relative stability. Greater security is the single most important condition for generating more business activity, and so it is particularly important that the current period of relative stability is used to build local programs to boost demand, to facilitate access to finance, and to begin to build infrastructure that will serve the population of the country in the years to come.

Looking forward, it will be important to conduct similar business surveys with more regularity.

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Authors

Isaiah Chol Aruai

Chairperson of the National Bureau of Statistics of the Republic of South Sudan

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