South Sudan: land of opportunity, if you don't mind risk

Wed Nov 30, 2011 10:06am EST
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By Alexander Dziadosz

JUBA (Reuters) - Ugandan motorbike taxis weave through rutted streets. A Kuwaiti telecoms firm prepares to lay fiber-optic cable. Chinese and European delegations file down the oil ministry's scruffy halls.

An influx of adventurous entrepreneurs has helped fuel a small business boom in the world's youngest country, South Sudan, which declared independence in July under a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war with the north.

They've been drawn to one of the ultimate "frontier markets" by demand for practically everything -- from roads and banks to office furniture and private security -- despite the snags posed by a dearth of infrastructure and clear regulations.

"It's the only place in the world today where there's an opportunity to start from scratch, from zero," said Tamir Gal, an Israeli businessman, as he greeted clients and officials at an agricultural trade fair. "If you start from zero, you have 100 percent to grow."

The effects of new money are plain in Juba, the ramshackle capital. Billboards hawking insurance, mobile phones, beer and prefabricated housing line roads clogged with shiny 4x4s and Indian and Chinese motorbikes. A handful of upscale restaurants buzz with expatriate workers.

Permanent concrete structures are rising, albeit slowly, amid the tents, prefabs and cargo containers that often serve as offices and homes. Juba's sprawling Konya Konya market bustles with vendors peddling vegetables, shoes and phone cards.

The former rebels now running the country have so far welcomed investors and say they want more to help build an economy ravaged by Sudan's civil war, which killed an estimated 2 million people, and wean it off its dependence on oil.

There is plenty to do. The nation roughly the size of France has just about 100 km (60 miles) of paved roads, and hospitals and schools are still scarce. Oil accounts for some 98 percent of government revenues.   Continued...

<p>Southern Sudanese people carry their luggage to a train before travelling to South Sudan, in Khartoum October 28, 2011. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah</p>