The Other Side of Sudan; This Is the One Where Peace Reigns, and the Boomtown Capital Is Growing in a Rush for Gold, Oil and Diamonds

By Polier, Alexandra | Newsweek International, April 16, 2007 | Go to article overview

The Other Side of Sudan; This Is the One Where Peace Reigns, and the Boomtown Capital Is Growing in a Rush for Gold, Oil and Diamonds


Polier, Alexandra, Newsweek International


Byline: Alexandra Polier

It could be the setting for a Hollywood Western: a wasteland of brush and scrub, a rough Main Street of bustling saloons, quickly built hotels and newcomers looking to get rich quick. It's the world's most unlikely boomtown: Juba, capital of South Sudan, a territory with 6 million people that is twice the size of its tragic neighbor, Darfur. Since a civil war with the North ended two years ago, investors have been pouring in to Juba, paying $200 a night in riverside tent camps with names like Oasis, Mango and Da Vinci.

The lure is a multibillion-dollar treasure in oil, gold, diamonds, farmland and forests. International energy companies are beginning to fight for shares of South Sudan crude. Regional entrepreneurs are hawking everything from cement to gasoline, catering to the tide of fortune hunters and job-seekers that is swelled by foreign pledges of nearly $6 billion for postwar reconstruction. More than 2, 000 kilometers of new roads are already built, boosting trade with neighbors like Kenya. The money flows give the new South Sudan regime a yearly budget of almost $1 billion--up from pretty much nothing a year ago.

The result is an environment ripe for corruption. Kidnapping and equipment theft are common, laws and business infrastructure lacking. Energy companies are drilling in conservation areas. "I imagine when they found gold in the Western U.S., this is how it must have been," said Anis Pringle, a partner at KPMG in Kenya who has been working in the region since 2003 and now performs treasury services for the government's Ministry of Finance. "We do their books," says Pringle. "We are also a travel agent, a bag carrier and a messenger service. But lately, we mostly carry large bags of cash into Juba."

Juba was once the southern base for the Sudanese army as the Islamic government in Khartoum battled the Christian animist guerrillas of the Sudan People's Liberation Army. Now, as South Sudan prepares for independence in 2011, Juba is flourishing in part because the peace deal gave it a share of oil rights. The region pumped out a modest 350 barrels a day last year, but experts say that could double in the next few years. …

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