Wednesday, January 26, 2011



By Jerry Okungu

Nairobi, Kenya

January 24, 2011

It is now almost a foregone conclusion that South Sudan has opted for self determination as the referendum vote registered a near 100% pro separation verdict. If these results are confirmed in Khartoum in the next few weeks, President Omar El Bashir will have no choice but to bid farewell to his current First Vice President Salva Kiir. And if the two new neighbors intend to remain good neighbors, chances of inviting Bashir to Juba for the inaugural independence celebrations are very high.

On the day the Comprehensive Peace Accord was signed in Nairobi, I was in Atlanta Georgia. As I watched the drama from a CNN satellite feed in a shopping mall, I stopped for a moment to absorb the joys of Sudanese that had gathered to witness peace at last returning to their troubled land.

Two decades of armed conflict and 2 million people dead was a high price to pay for freedom but it was worth the sacrifice rather than perpetual bondage and human degradation.

A week later, I saw John Garang give one of the most passionate speeches of his life in Khartoum Parliament. Even though the speech was in Arabic, I felt like I understood everything the General had said.

Three weeks to the day when the CPA was signed in Nairobi, I was in a hotel room in Somaliland when I saw a news flash about Garang’ and the lost aircraft. I didn’t have to wait long to know what had happened. The man who had survived over 20 years of a bloody war had perished in a flight from Kampala to Juba.

When the news of his death became public, Sudan was paralyzed for a while. Uncertainty settled in. Rumours of foul play were fuelling another possible round of conflicts. Had it not been for the presence of mind of Mrs. Garang and his second in command, General Salva Kiir, the whole of Sudan would have been plunged into another bloody war


Now that Salva Kiir has successfully steered South Sudan through the five year transition period culminating in a referendum that has resoundingly confirmed the South’s desire for self determination, what lies in store for Sudanese and we the people of East Africa? More importantly; what is the significance of Abyie in future relations between North and South?

For Sudanese, it means that Sudan as they have known it for hundreds of years will be no more. South Sudan will be just another foreign country sharing a common border with the Khartoum regime in the North.

However, this separation will not mean totally cutting off links with the North. Cultural ties binding the two Sudans are too deeply rooted to be severed over night. Even though the South is predominantly Christian as opposed to the Muslim North, Arabic culture is very strong all over Sudan including the South. It is very easy to hear a Southerner speak Arabic fluently while others still adorn the Islamic attire as they go about their business.

It may be remembered that while Garang was alive, he advocated for a just, fair and democratic but united Sudan. He was never for separation despite waging one of the longest liberation wars in Africa. However, all that changed when the war veteran died in that freak air crash five years ago. The soft spoken Salva Kiir is a resolute separatist who believes that the Southerners’ continued existence in the greater Sudan will not bring about the much needed infrastructure development that the South badly needs.

My frequent trips to Khartoum, Juba and Rumbek between 2005 a 2008 when American NGOs were busy building governance capacity for the Southerners were an eye opener. I had an opportunity to meet and interact with the rank and file of the SPLM military command, party leaders, many state governors, struggling civil society groups and emerging media that had run-ins with the Khartoum regime from time to time. In the course of my training programmes, I also had opportunity to meet with members of the Khartoum regime and rebel leaders from Durfur like Minni Minawi among others.

Arriving in Juba in those early days of the CPA revealed the extent of the damage the war had caused the South. Buildings that were still standing had the scars of bombings and shelling from artillery fire. Most of the city estates were grass thatched mud houses that the residents shared with their domestic animals. The only tarmac in the city center had a stretch of 300 meters terminating at John Garang’s mausoleum. Though Juba was teaming with UN personnel, tracks and fuel guzzling four wheel drives all over the place, there were only tents- massive tents for hotels put up by entrepreneurs from Kenya.

Obviously after two decades of war, there was no manpower to talk about a part from the few families that had fled into exile in Europe, North America and Kenya and settled there. Most of these people were well educated but were reluctant to go back to a hardship South Sudan where basic facilities were lacking. Because of this lack of local manpower, even foreign NGOs, hoteliers and UN bodies operating in Juba and elsewhere had to hire staff from Kenya to fill local positions.

Rumbek was a different story altogether. A dusty international airport was built just 10 meters from Kenya Commercial Bank and a hotel run by a Kenyan.

If you came to Rumbek from Nairobi in those early days, there was no need to carry dollars because the Kenya shilling was the currency of choice to pay bills.

Five years later, a lot has changed in South Sudan. The Southerners have become more assertive and the government has stabilized with many well educated Southerners returning home to manage the affairs of their young country despite the many challenges.

However, after the July installation of South Sudan’s first president Salva Kiir, the first challenge will be to resolve the dispute over oil rich Abyie which incidentally has yet to vote whether to remain in the South or go with the North. This challenge is aggravated by the fact that Abyie is not just some dusty little town. Its oil wells have raised its status as an economic boom town that either of the regimes will be happy to retain.

As it is now, Abyie’s oil is refined in Northern Sudan and exported through the Port of Sudan in the North. If South Sudan realizes its autonomy this coming July and Abyie votes to remain in the South then the logistics of refining and exporting Abyie oil will have to be reconfigured.

Politically, South Sudan has more in common with its southern neighbours such as Kenya and Uganda and to large extent Christian countries in the Great Lakes region. The more reason the political talk that an independent South Sudan may be keen to join the East African community and use the nearer Lamu Port for its international trade has gained currency in East African capitals.


What then is the economic potential of South Sudan that can make it a model state in Africa? The South, just like the North and Egypt boasts the longest river in the world as one of its most cherished national resource. With fertile banks of the River Nile and the largest wetland in the world, it is estimated that South Sudan has the capacity to produce enough agricultural food stuff to feed the whole of Africa. And as was recently reported on world news networks during the vote, to date there is only one Kenyan large scale farmer in the whole of the South that supplies all horticultural traders, hotels and government institutions with farm produce.

The Nile also has the potential to provide water sports and cruising trips for tourists. It is one potential tourist attraction if its infrastructure like river bank tourist hotels is built along it with water sports facilities.

However, the only way foreign investors will be keen to put their money in the South is when they are guaranteed long lasting peace and a stable government. The Dinka, Nuer and other ethnic groups in the South must guarantee this peace by accepting to work together despite historical rivalries.

The place to start investment is in the infrastructure department. Farmers will want to transport their produce in record time to the urban and market centers.

Therefore roads, railways and airports have to be modernized so that movement of people and goods can be simplified.

Real estate and hospitality industries are another area that needs a lot of investors. International hoteliers would like to be on the Nile banks of Juba and have their presence in commercial centers such as Rumbek. The oil producing Abyie needs infrastructure and facilities to provide jobs for locals. Oil dollars must be ploughed back to Abyie to stem the kind of resentment we have seen in the River States of Nigeria.

Though South Sudan produces oil that finances development in the whole of Sudan, it is the least developed in terms of electricity and telephone penetration. This means that millions of Southerners cannot enjoy the luxuries or economic activities that normally come with electricity availability or modern communications technologies like mobile phone networks.

For the rest of East Africa, the independence of South Sudan means many things to many people. Already there are estimated to be 40,000 Kenyans and Ugandans living and doing business in Juba and Rumbek alone. We have water and roads engineers, real estate developers, professional hoteliers, taxi drivers, security firms, teachers and even hawkers. To these categories of Kenyan and Ugandan immigrant workers, South Sudan offers an opportunity of a life time.

And this number is likely to increase many times if the massive Lamu Port project in Kenya’s coast is constructed on time and a standard gauge railway line is built to connect Juba with Lamu and Mombasa. As it is, there are plans to build a world class road network to connect Juba with Isiolo, Garissa and Moyale in Kenya all the way to Addis Ababa. This project, if completed on time will see increased traffic between South Sudan and the rest of Eastern Africa with measurable increased economic activity along the corridor.

However, all these promising intentions will only be realized if South Sudan’s neighbours support its programmes in the early stages of its independence.

Southerners need to see the need for peace even if there will be temptation from the North to destabilize it. Neighbours like Uganda have the responsibility to ensure that Joseph Kony and his rebels do not return to the jungles of South Sudan to cause havoc as they have been doing for ages.

Yes, there are investment opportunities in South Sudan but let investors from Kenya and Uganda go to Juba ready to invest in respectable ventures that can provide jobs and manpower training for the people of the South. The young country will not need hawkers and ill mannered greedy investors with no respect for the country, its laws and its people. Such behavior is likely breed early resentment with dire consequences for foreigners as have already been reported in the past.