Africa

Africa 3.0: Making good food in a tough town

Richard Poplak, Kevin Bloom

When Osman Abdelmoniem first arrived in Juba in 2005, there was one tarred road and a tent in a camp cost him $350 a night.

Osman Abdelmoniem mans the cash register in his hotel restaurant in Juba. (Richard Poplak)

He was here on a whim, chasing the vague sense of opportunity that followed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement which ended the 22-year Second Sudanese Civil War. Osman was born, bred and educated in Khartoum. At his Catholic school, many of his classmates were from the south. The reunion with them was joyous, and on July 9 last year, he was in the streets with a champagne bottle in each hand, celebrating South Sudan’s independence as if it were his own. “The north did nothing for the south, and the south did nothing for the north. So [separation] was a good thing,” he tells us.

Although trained in computer science, food was always Osman’s passion. Soon after the New Sudan Palace Hotel went up in an orgy of concrete, he set up Le Bistro alongside it, backed by an Italian partner. Catering to the sizeable expat community and returning South Sudanese with Western tastes, he had to negotiate the logistical nightmare of getting equipment and produce into a country that had nothing. No power, no running water, no skilled staff. Nothing.

“Africa is the new land of opportunity, as they say,” Osman tells us. “I’ve been around, all over the Middle East, but everywhere else you’re just a guinea pig – it’s too perfect. Juba? That’s as real as it gets.”

Le Bistro proved profitable six months after opening. The clientele now includes most of the country’s political bigwigs, and on Tuesday, from its terrace, we watched the comings and goings of the security detail for a meeting taking place in the adjacent conference room.  As it turned out, the defence ministers of the two Sudans were hammering out another peace agreement.

                                                                        The Garden of Eden at New Sudan Palace Hotel. (Richard 
                                                                        Poplak)

This post is part of Africa 3.0, a weekly series by Richard Poplak and Kevin Bloom in which they highlight aspects of their travels and investigations on the continent. Visit http://africa3point0.tumblr.com for more, and engage with them on Facebook or Twitter

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