Boom Time in Southern Sudan: Juba, the Capital of Southern Sudan, Enjoying Peace after a Bitter 22-Year Civil War, Is Now Considered the Fastest-Growing City in the World as Traders and Investors Flock in to Take Advantage of the New Opportunities the Semi-Autonomous Region Represents. Rachel Zedeck Reports

Article excerpt

Juba is a small town with big plans. Without much of the physical infrastructure necessary to describe it as a modern city, it is nevertheless being described as the fastest-growing city in Africa. Anyone visiting the Customs Market on Yei Street will be able to witness all the principles of free-market economics.

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Fleets of four-wheel-drive SUVs, belonging to international NGOs, each with logos emblazoned on doors, clog the city streets. These organisations are providing much of South Sudan's local employment and are important revenue sources for a region that is emerging from 22 years of civil war and is still suffering more than 33% unemployment. But South Sudan is already leveraging its limitless potential and is on its way to building its independent, economic capacity--without depending on disputed oil revenues. While much of South Sudan's development is focused on larger cities like Juba, Wau, Rumbek and Malakal, supporting the construction sector and general commercial trade, more strategic development is slowly filtering through the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) ministries.

With the right policies, many of the semi-autonomous region's ministries stand to attract substantial flows of foreign direct investment (FDI). Southern Sudan's long-term potential includes becoming the latest tourism hot-spot destination, and its agricultural sector could export gum Arabic, shea butter, tropical fruits, precious metals, gemstones and quality timber.

Investors and small traders are flocking to the region from the DR Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Somalia, Eritrea and other African countries. They are also arriving from the Gulf, India and, of course, China. Almost overnight, Juba has become a hugely important market for all manner of foreign goods. Large profits have already been made in supplying the UNMIS and UNAMID missions and the hundreds of international NGOs and their expatriate staff. Traders have focused on supplying consumables, logistical services, construction and life support services. Everyday commercial goods like shampoo, packaged food, fresh vegetables and even agriculture and construction materials are being trucked in from Uganda or Kenya. The traders involved enjoy profits of at least 30% and sometimes make 100% or more mark-up.

The epicentre of the trade, the Customs Market on Yei Road, offers fresh fruit, over-priced building materials and Chinese-made consumer goods, even fake Gucci bags. The JIT supermarket in old town Juba attracts mainly expatriate customers by offering a selection of packaged foods and alcohol, including South African wine. Since the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), more than 150 life-support camps have sprung up across Juba. The range of accommodation includes large safari tents along the River Nile or the '4-star' luxury mobile trailers of the Sahara Camp, equipped with en-suite bathrooms, TV, DVD players, catering services, air conditioning, 22-hour electricity and hot showers--a real luxury in Juba. These camps complement the new multi-storey hotels like Logalia House and Beijing Juba Hotel; both expensive but clean and efficient. The camps will slowly give way to the new apartment blocks that are under construction.

The construction sector consists of a diverse collection of regional and international companies. The influx of international companies like Louis Berger, PAE and Arkel International are all involved with USAid's $700m contracts to build infrastructure--focusing on schools, government buildings and roads. GTZ, working on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development continues to finance the building of new road networks and the reconstruction of various government buildings.

The Ministry of Transport and Roads is committed to redeveloping Juba's airport into an international gateway, although development has been delayed since an Italian-based company lost its contract in July 2008. …