Published on 27 May 2024

Malaysian investment in South Sudan cement plant stirs controversy

The son of the former Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad is financing a US$100m cement factory in Juba.

Mirzan Mahathir, the son of former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, has stirred a fresh round of controversy after announcing plans to invest US$100m in a new cement factory in South Sudan. The factory, which will be in the capital Juba, is said to be financed through his investment firm, B Smart.

The announcement comes as the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) investigates Mirzan’s business activities in a probe that also involves his ailing father – Mahathir Mohamad who has served as prime minister for nearly 25-year. The agency is investigated allegations of corruption related to the sale and purchase of Malaysian state-linked companies and has ordered Mirzan to declare his domestic and overseas assets. His father Mahathir, a critic of PM Anwar Ibrahim, has slammed the probe as ‘politically motivated’.

According to the International Trade Centre, in 2022, South Sudan imported cement worth US$59m, predominantly from Uganda (US$38m) and Kenya (US$20m). Limestone raw material is expected to be sourced from Kapoeta, some 260km east of Juba and thus reduce the country's dependence on imported cement.

South Sudan is heavily dependent on oil, which constitutes nearly all its exports and accounts more than 90% of government revenue. Mirzan has also indicated that B Smart is looking at additional projects in South Sudan, including the construction of a government office building.

Since its independence in 2011, South Sudan has endured many years of conflict. Civil war erupted in 2013 after President Salva Kiir dismissed his cabinet, accusing his former deputy Riek Machar of orchestrating a failed coup. Prolonged fighting has displaced over 2.2m people. The signing of the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) in September 2018, followed by the establishment of a Transitional Government of National Unity in February 2020, have been pivotal in advancing recovery and peacebuilding efforts.

Earlier this month, the South Sudanese government and rebel opposition groups signed a commitment declaration for peace during high-level mediation talks in Kenya. However, with elections scheduled for December, South Sudan remains politically unstable. The full implementation of the 2018 peace agreement is still pending, and ongoing ethnic and political violence continues to plague various regions.



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