The management of IMATONGAS has announced plans to ditch the unstable oil sector and to make a move into the more lucrative beverages and clean water supply business.

The announcement comes after years of an uphill struggle by the first South Sudanese petroleum distribution company that halted operations in several of its stations across the country leaving depots and oil containers empty. With nothing to supply, fleets of new oil trucks, each with a capacity to supply 260 households per load, stay parked for months, and depots with a capacity to supply small villages for months rust away.

According the management, the choice to ditch the petroleum businesses (currently dominated by Somalis) and take on the water supply business (dominated by Eritreans) was a difficult but necessary one, given the dynamics of business in South Sudan.

Set up in 2005 as the first indigenous petroleum supplier, IMATONGAS was for long seen as the pride of the new nation – a status it gradually lost as government ministries delayed or failed to pay for months of services and thousands of barrels of petroleum products ‘sold’ to them.

The cross-over will require modifications to the existing petroleum trucks, depots and oil containers to store, transport and distribute clean and drinkable water. Here and there, equipment meant to pump petrol products will need to be replaced or cleaned up to start pumping out water (and beer in some cases).

The mayor of Juba has welcomed the move and said his government is ready and willing to subsidise the project. The hardware and storage capacity that this switch in business brings along could just resolve the acute clean water problem experienced in almost all major towns across the country.

The former petroleum supplier will also render its services to a Juba-based brewery to transport beverages to remote corners of South Sudan where beer – commercialised as ‘the taste of freedom’ – is scarce to come by.

It is still unclear whether IMATONGAS will change its name, but the word in the street suggests it might as will keep the name because everyone already knows IMATONGAS as the company that used to supply petroleum products.