South Sudan finally sees development after war

By Opheera McDoom

JUBA, Sudan, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Electricity pylons and new roads are springing up in the southern Sudanese capital of Juba in a sign southerners are finally starting to see a peace dividend two years after a north-south peace deal.

Juba, a town of mud-brick tukul huts and dilapidated colonial buildings, emerged from the country's 21-year bloody civil war with a broken economy and a depleted population.

The former northern-held garrison town had electricity only during daylight hours, little running water, and only a few pot-holed stretches of Tarmac road. Sewage that spilled into the streets in some areas left a foul stench over the town and flies covered everything.

But two years after the peace deal ended Africa's longest-running civil war, all that is changing -- although critics say the pace of development is far too slow.

"I expect in a few months we will have electricity everywhere," said Magdi Abbas, the manager of Sudan's Air West commercial airline in Juba. "There are new roads being built, increasing trade."

Hotels and tent camps have sprung up in Juba to house foreign aid workers, businessmen and government employees who have poured into the town since the end of the war, which broadly pitted the Islamist Khartoum government against mostly animist or Christian southern rebels.

Complicated by issues of oil, ethnicity and ideology, it killed 2 million and drove some 4 million from their homes.

Giant bulldozers have flattened a stretch of land to build a Tarmac road from the airport to newly renovated government ministries. Rusted electricity wires, broken and lying in the dust, are being replaced with new pylons.

A bombed-out gas station, ruined during a rebel attack on Juba, has since re-opened. Old colonial buildings are being gutted and restored, foreign consulates opening up, and foundations being dug for modern new houses.


Yet citizens complain the semi-autonomous southern government, led by the former Sudan People's Liberation Movement rebel group and formed after the January 2005 deal, has been too slow to bring change, in part due to infighting in the SPLM that has stymied progress.

Trader Mohamed Awad, who stayed in Juba even as other Sudanese left during the civil war, said private enterprise had rapidly escalated since the war's end.

"But you'd have expected more progress after two years in simple things like electricity, water, health issues and roads," said Awad, a 50-year-old northerner who has spent his whole life in Juba and is married to a southern Sudanese woman.

Sudanese newspapers have carried numerous reports of infighting and corruption in the southern government. And southerners often accuse the Dinka tribe of dominating government at the expense of smaller ethnic groups.

"Everyone's doing their own thing. The people are not working together," said Juba resident Fawziya Peter, a teacher.

Hadi Diab, a member of the SPLM investment committee, said the south was trying to draw longer-term foreign investment with attractive incentives such as tax and customs exemptions and lucrative joint ventures.

Diab said investors were beginning to understand that money could be made in south Sudan and the reward outweighed the risks, although they were sometimes put off by reports of deadly ambushes on roads around Juba and of corruption.

"Until now we have foreign investment approaching about 100 million euros ($130.3 million)," he said. Investments are focusing on construction, likely to be the most profitable industry in a land where few buildings exist.

A pre-cast concrete factory is to be built on the outskirts of Juba and South Africans are financing a glass office tower being erected in the town centre, Diab said.


Diab said fears over corruption were unfounded, adding south Sudan was more transparent than Khartoum or other countries in the region. South Sudan President Salva Kiir has arrested officials for corruption and formed a southern anti-corruption commission.

"What better sign of mature government can they see than when (the government) is talking about and solving a problem with an anti-corruption commission?" Diab said.

George Garang Deng, a Ministry of Information official, complained the international community was also slowing development by failing to provide hundreds of millions of dollars promised to redevelop the south after the peace deal.

"The slow arrival of donor money -- in fact you might say it is not there -- has slowed down the development of southern Sudan," he told Reuters.

The United States sanctions imposed on Sudan in 1997 prevent U.S. companies from investing, and many Western companies pulled out during the civil war.

Some Sudanese, however, voiced distrust over the motives of new investors. Joseph Stamboulieh, a southerner who grew up in the United States and moved to Juba a year ago, said he feared some foreign firms were just coming in for a quick profit.

Since the war ended, many east and south African firms have set up temporary bases and employ foreigners, but take the profits straight out of the country.

"Everyone wants to rape as much as they can from the south and go ... The government needs to set more controls," said Stamboulieh, the head of Southern Sudan Airlines. He also urged other southerners to return to rebuild the country.

"If I'm doing well, then there's room enough for everyone to come back and still make money," he said.

(Additional reporting by Skye Wheeler)


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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