(eTN) – When the peace agreement was signed in January 2005 between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and the regime in Khartoum, many investment opportunities were waiting for the quick witted, in particular in and around Juba, where tented camp accommodation sold at US$180 a person, a night, and the ROI for those early birds was phenomenal. As more and more business visitors flocked to the southern capital of Juba – the one place well connected by air to both Nairobi and Entebbe – the second wave then began to eye opportunities in the national parks, earmarked to create the foundation for nature and wildlife-based tourism.
Six years down the line, the referendum for independence successfully completed, a new nation will be born on July 9 and more and more questions are now being asked about legislative and regulatory provisions in the wildlife and tourism sector. This applies in particular to alleged deals made over the past years, seemingly without the foundation of modern laws and regulations for the sector, which may have to be cancelled outright or formally re-advertised – some, in fact, say publicly advertised for the first time as no one can recall having seen invitations for tenders in the past, probably in the absence of a regulatory framework covering such.
The main thrust of allegations focuses on Boma National Park, home to the world’s second largest migration of animals numbering around 800,000 animals, part of which has allegedly been gifted to some of the Gulf’s rulers. Several regular sources in Juba have made it plain that if at all such a deal was made, it would be on legally thin ice as the offer was not publicly advertised nor bidders invited from the South Sudan, the region, or from the international scene, and that the new country would have all rights to seek the immediate termination of such deals, should they be found to actually exist – something one other source actually denies.
As a newly-independent nation, the South Sudan could easily disown much which was done during the 2005/11 CPA pre-referendum and pre-independence period, and deal brokers are reportedly sweating in Juba, not only because of the usual hot temperatures but over worries the new republic will begin to do things properly and introduce transparent conditions for doing business in the south.
Similar allegations are being made over large scale carbon credit schemes, which involves over 150,000 hectares of land in the heartland of the south, where again shady deals are being cited yet little proof offered which could stand up to scrutiny and compel any parties involved to defend themselves against such charges.
The determination of the southern leadership, in particular their parliament, to establish on the fast track a comprehensive legal and regulatory system while kissing the often repressive and ancient laws of the regime in Khartoum good bye, will be closely monitored in the weeks ahead before Independence Day finally comes knocking on the door, and in the months immediately after Independence, as much of the goodwill of the international community and their willingness to invest in the south will be directly linked with having strong laws and an independent judiciary able to deal with any matters brought before them.
What is of key importance, however, for the tourism industry, is a clear regulatory and legislative system in place for investors to apply for concessions in the national parks and have the peace of mind that contracts thus entered into will stand in law and be honored for their duration, the issue of relevant land leases, or outright purchase of land to build quality hotels on it and for safari companies to be licensed in a transparent fashion without the red tape witnessed under Khartoum rules.
While opportunities are abounding in the South Sudan for investment in tourism and all other economic sectors, time will tell, and probably very fast, just where the newest country will be heading after independence day and if the dreams of becoming a major African investment destination beyond the oil sector can be fulfilled.