War talk between the newly independent South Sudan and the former slave masters in Khartoum is leaving its marks on expected investments and in particular tourism developments, as uncertainty now overshadows the future of Africas latest independent nation.
Ethnic cleansing in the disputed regions of Abyei, Blue Nile and South Kordofan by the regime in Khartoum as well as aerial bombardments by the Sudanese air force on Southern territory have raised the stakes, and the economic blockades, including threats to block the vitally important oil exports, for which the South continues to rely on the pipeline to Port Sudan, have added to the tensions which have been building up over months now. Khartoum sponsored militia attacks, fighting deniable proxy action for their masters in the North, have also created added flash points inside South Sudan, and inspite of referring the North to the UN Security Council this has not yet yielded any results. The entry of ground forces from the North though has propelled the simmering disagreements and conflict to a new level and calls by the government in Juba have been emerging for international assistance, as the South is desperately trying to avoid being sucked into a new war with Khartoum, instigated by an increasingly desperate Bashir who is faced with internal revolts and opposition from within his own ranks and file, over having let go of the South in the first place. Seeking external adventures in the face of internal domestic difficulties is an age old recipe to divert attention and stay in power, though no one knows for how long he can play this game, should indeed a coalition be formed to assist the South defend their territory from aggression.
Hopes were high before independence that tourism could develop faster and create investments and jobs but the constant talk of renewed conflict has kept major East African players out of the equation so far, shy over the situation with the North but equally reluctant to commit funds into an environment which is neither regulated nor legally sound at this stage.
While a tourism policy document had been developed some years ago, this has not been submitted to the Southern parliament as yet and no time frame has been given, nor have the long promised tourism regulations and legislation been developed, leaving the sector in legal limbo.
While a constant stream of business visitors is coming to Juba through the scheduled flights from Nairobi and Entebbe, proper tourists are still notably absent and tour operators from Kenya and Uganda in particular continue to be cautious over sending visitors to the parks in South Sudan in the absence of camps and lodges where they can be accommodated. Potential galore and yet, as often witnessed, little being made out of it by the look of things.