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Tourism: A Potential Economic Pillar for South Sudan?

November 11, 2011

A few weeks ago, I attended a Rotary Club meeting on tourism development in South Sudan. Bishop Lanogwa and Mr. Olindo Perez of South Sudan’s Ministry of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism led an exciting conversation and inspired all of us in the room to think of South Sudan’s tourism potential. As a new nation reliant on oil as its main economic engine, the ministry believes tourism can be South Sudan’s second economic pillar. South Sudan boasts six national parks and thirteen reserves. The nation has arguably the largest wildlife migration in Africa. Although the second Civil War (which lasted over two decades) negatively affected wildlife, South Sudan is still home to large populations of beautiful kobs, giraffes, elephants, chimpanzees, and other wildlife.

Kob Migration in South Sudan

I believe tourism is a very powerful economic tool; however, its social and environmental consequences can be both negative and positive. As Mr. Perez said, “The animals are the silent workers” and the hardest workers and, therefore, must be protected. Proper planning, policy making, and education are essential to tourism development. So how does a new nation jumpstart a new economic pillar? From what I gathered from the meeting, research, partnership, and patience are the keys.

Specifically, an intriguing part of the ministry’s initiative is to conduct a country-wide wildlife census. This means observing wildlife concentrations, tracking movement patterns, and quantifying the wildlife population. This research is essential for a number of parties.  Investors and businesses must understand where opportunities are. The government must know where infrastructure should be built in order to conserve and respect wildlife habitats. Communities in and around the national parks will gain more educational materials as well.

Two challenges facing tourism development in South Sudan are the lack of infrastructure and stable national security. Accessibility and convenience are paramount for not only attracting visitors but also ensuring a reliable supply chain for operators. Tour operators and hotel developers are critically looking at South Sudan’s infrastructure plans, especially road development. Although tarmac roads are slowly emerging on the Juba landscape, most roads are still just packed dirt, making even the simplest of drives a rocky theme park ride, and I don’t mean that in a good way. And after decades of violence, South Sudan has seen dramatic security improvements, but safety is still a major concern, especially with continued fighting at the northern border. The ministry is actively pushing the government to ensure that peace and security is at the forefront of their agenda. This is where those partnerships come in.

The presentation by Bishop Lanogwa and Mr. Olindo Perez reminded just how powerful tourism can be. They are two of the pioneers who will lead the young nation towards an economy not just built on oil. Although the process is long and grueling, I look forward to seeing their efforts materialize and one day experiencing South Sudan’s wildlife for myself.

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