South Sudan brewery shows distance from Khartoum

Mon Mar 23, 2009 11:41pm EDT
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By Skye Wheeler

JUBA, Sudan (Reuters) - The south Sudanese like to joke that alcohol has a special meaning for them: they fought a bloody two-decade long war so they could enjoy a cold beer at the end of a long, hot day.

This year -- the fourth since a peace deal between the mostly Christian south and the north, where alcohol is forbidden under Shariah law -- southerners will get their own beer from the region's first factory, being built by brewer SABMiller.

A huge hangar covers giant boilers and tons of malt ready to start brewing a light lager that will, SABMiller hopes, quickly be taken up by the countless new bars and restaurants in the south's capital, Juba.

"It's a big step forward, a sign of development and shows confidence in the peace," the south's commerce ministry undersecretary John K. Panguir, told Reuters. "This is the one country, two systems in action."

Continuing violence in Darfur, west Sudan, is distinct from the much longer north-south war; although there are concerns an International Criminal Court warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al Bashir on war crimes charges could help reignite the north-south conflict.

"Development is a key to stopping conflict," SABMiller's Juba brewery manager Ian Alsworth-Elvey told Reuters.

Originally from South Africa, London-based SABMiller is the world's second biggest brewer -- and Africa's biggest -- with a 90 percent share in South Africa and operations in Tanzania, Angola, Botswana and Uganda.

Like its competitor Diageo -- whose Guinness brand has been successful in Nigeria -- SABMiller has seen continued growth in Africa while economic downturn dampened mature western markets.   Continued...

<p>A motorcycle taxi delivers beer to one of the thousands of local bars in the south Sudan capital Juba March 18, 2009. REUTERS/Skye Wheeler</p>