South Sudan, even though poaching during the period of hostilities has left a mark, is still home to the second largest migration in the world, when the white-eared kobs, the Tiang antelopes, the Mongalla gazelles, and other migrant species move from their “resident quarters” in the Boma National Park and the Sudd, towards their annual congregation points along the Nile in what is known as Bandingalo National Park.
Wildlife experts still estimate these herds to number in excess of 1.5 million animals, making it as spectacular a sight as the Serengeti migration to the Masai Mara. Bahr el Jebel has said that for security reasons, only parks in the south of the country will be visited for the time being, and as and when expeditions resume, it is likely that guards will come along on the trip to ensure the safety and security of visitors.
While the airport closure on weekends is bound to impact on travel to Juba, by mid to late next year this is expected to be over when the Juba International Airport runway expansion has been completed and new working runway lights have been installed. Industry stakeholders who were in Kigali last week for the EATP, short for East Africa Tourism Platform, meeting were divided in their views over South Sudan’s tourism future.
While some agreed with this correspondent that bringing South Sudan eventually into the East African Community and have them join the Northern Corridor Intergration Project countries, including embracing the common tourist visa, will be beneficial to the region as it expands the range of attractions, others voiced sentiments over the country’s volatile internal politics. “These guys have a long history of violence, first in their independence war and then among themselves. We simply cannot risk to have tourists caught in [the] crossfire or be robbed by bandits, i.e., former soldiers looking for easy ways to make money. I have said this to you before the recent civil war had taken place, and I say it again. They have great attractions according to what you write; I have personally not seen any of this but I believe you. But to get clients [to] fly in from Nairobi on regular extension packages, that will take time. Do they even have a tourist board left now, or a wildlife management authority? South Sudan has a long road ahead to recover from their internal war. Look at us in Kenya and how long the downturn lasted. South Sudan is probably facing an even bigger challenge, because they were not even known as a safari destination,” said a Kenyan participant in the EATP.
Yet there is a need for concerted efforts be made to get tourism going as a potentially major economic activity, to earn not only the much-needed foreign exchange and attract investment into the sector via FDI, but it also then creates urgently-needed jobs. “Do they still have those silly rules about camera permits and the need for tourists to register somewhere in Juba or otherwise get fined on exit? This is nonsense, of course, and if they want tourists, they must do away with such barriers. I read those safari guys can organize this, but again, there is a cost involved. If they want to join the EAC, they simply have to adjust and embrace and implement our established set of rules and operating procedures,” added another stakeholder from Uganda. “For now, even though we are neighbors of South Sudan, if we have to add another country, it will be Rwanda. Here we have infrastructure, security, big attractions. It combines well with what Uganda offers; it adds diversity. But South Sudan, let them first settle down. They attend those Northern Corridor summits, but as far as tourism is concerned, they are nowhere to be seen or found.”