CEO of Eagle Enterprise Michael Mading discusses the logistical challenges of operating in South Sudan, the company’s success as a local company and plans to launch its own passenger airline.
Logistics is a sector well serviced by South Sudanese companies. How has Eagle Enterprise established itself in a competitive space?
Cultivating relationships with the government, as well as with the many NGOs that work here, has been important. We have been working with Dar Petroleum Operating Company, an oil producing consortium with a government shareholding, and since we do a lot of humanitarian work, we have met with a lot of governors and government ministers over our decades of work in this field (both with Eagle Enterprise and prior to setting up the company).
At this time, there is a situation in South Sudan where the truth has to be seen — humanitarian needs have to be taken care of and this is not easy. We are able to come in because we are trusted, we are reliable and people know that we understand the kind of environment and situation we find ourselves in. Some clients have presented ideas that seemed like an impossible venture, but we had solutions.
The fact that we can present solutions is why we are so useful. We know the remote parts of this country well, and we know some of the governors really well. With these kind of connections and networks and experience working in challenging areas, we always have honest answers as to how something can be done. Sometimes people want to get things done and you have to tell them that it is not possible. Luckily for us, they believe us, because we have so much experience and we can present solutions that they are satisfied with.
Due to the infrastructure deficit and conflict, transporting goods and moving around the country is a challenge. How does Eagle Enterprise alleviate the difficulties?
Since we are a national company, we want to support the welfare of the people and we take our corporate social responsibility very seriously. Recently, for example, we delivered 1,500 feminine hygiene kits to schools and 500 to prisons. Because of the state of the transport infrastructure and poverty in remote regions, these people may not have access to these basic goods, so with the resources we possess we can at least try to help our people.
Wherever we go, including the distant airfields where we are landing, we try to make a contribution to our society. The roads are sometimes impassable, but if there is a way we can help people we try our best. Whether it is saving them from danger or providing them with a medicine they need, we provide assistance.
What is Eagle Enterprise’s plan for launching its passenger airline?
We understand the airline business in terms of financial management, but in terms of operations it will be a big change. The airline will operate at a regional level, and we believe we have the resources, skills and personnel to do this. It’s a complicated business, but there is a great demand for quality air transport around South Sudan and in East Africa. There are many players, so efficiency is the key to success. How you manage your fleets and your customers is paramount.
Juba airport, the main hub for air transport, is very crowded and we believe the government should put in more controls to reduce the number of aircraft using the tarmac. However, a lot of these planes are owned by humanitarian organizations such as Medecins Sans Frontieres, which has seven airplanes, and the Red Cross, which has around 12. Although we all know the airport is at capacity, the government cannot deny space to these important missions.
Despite this, space will be made for local businesses that want to create wealth, offer services and operate out of the Juba airport. So the real challenge will be if I fail to deliver or if the people I serve are unable to pay for the services. These are some of the concerns but we are confident that the venture will succeed.
This interview excerpt is part of the Africa Energy Series: South Sudan 2017 book, which will be released at Africa Oil & Power in Cape Town from June 5-7. The full interview with CEO Michael Mading will be available in the Africa Energy Series publication.