South Sudan's capital a 'boom town' in the heart of Africa

“People in Juba say it is the most expensive city in the world,” Greta admits about the South Sudan capital, a new El Dorado in the heart of Africa, where opportunities are opening up after two decades of civil war.

“When I arrived here in 2007, there was nothing. Finding an apple was a nightmare, but now it’s easy,” said the Kenyan as she sat on the terrace of a hotel on the edge of the White Nile.

“It’s a kind of El Dorado… I make double what I would earn in Kenya,” said the marketing manager for a local hotel.

Juba, which sits 200 km from the Ugandan border, was under the control of north Sudan’s army during the bloody north-south war which killed two million people between 1983 and 2005.

Southern Sudan, an oil-rich but grossly underdeveloped region about the size of Spain and Portugal, is slowly recovering after the bloodshed and Juba is starting to come out of the war’s shadow.

“Now there are shops. Before there was nothing. There were maybe one or two places to go out, now there are plenty,” she said.

A newly-paved road cuts through the unsurfaced streets, concrete buildings are beginning to replace straw huts and goods imported from Kenya, Uganda and China are flooding the markets.

Hundreds of “boda-boda” motorcycle taxis race around the city, weaving among right-hand drive 4X4s.

“Before, we used to beg, now we can make some money driving a boda-boda,” said Darius, a young south Sudanese man who returned to Juba after living in East Africa during the conflict.

But thousands in Juba still survive on very little, without drinking water and electricity, despite South Sudan sitting on oil deposits which have contributed $8-billion to the semi-autonomous government’s budget since the end of the war.

‘There is too much crime at night’
Ethiopians, Ugandans, Kenyans and southern Sudanese back from exile have flooded in to work in trade, service industries or international organisations, alongside Western and Asian expatriates.

The United Nations (UN) and international agencies came to Juba after the war, pushing up the price of the little housing that is available.

“It’s been three years that I’ve been living in a container,” said Paul, a south Sudanese back from Canada.

In Juba, it costs several thousand dollars a month to find a good apartment or around $100 a night to sleep in a hotel where rooms look like containers, buzzing with the sound of the powerful electricity generators.

And the bill has to be paid on the spot with unmarked, unfolded dollar bills no older than 2006.

But the rapid development of Juba has come at a heavy cost for some.

Last spring the government of Central Equatoria, the province where Juba is located, demolished poor people’s houses and huts as part of an urbanisation plan.

The UN said that the project put more than 30 000 people on the street.

The UN mission in Sudan said it is “concerned that implementation of the government of Central Equatoria’s plan to improve living conditions in Juba has not been done in a manner which is consistent with southern Sudanese law and international human rights standards.”

Juba’s Konyo Konyo market turns into a no man’s land after dark and the UN warns its employees against visiting it at night.

“Juba is nice, but there is too much crime at night,” said Chowchow who came to Juba to visit family.

“At night, one must be careful of drunk soldiers who sometimes ‘tax’ us,” said a moto-taxi driver.

In the bars, guards check if punters are armed as alcohol flows and young women in tight clothing sway to the booming hip hop music.

As it staggers forward, this is the city that could one day be capital of a new country, as southern Sudanese prepare to vote in 2011 in a referendum on independence for South Sudan.—AFP



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