Could Southern Sudan Be The Next African Safari Trail?
Are you thinking of an Africa safari? You are probably looking towards Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia, Botswana or even South Africa? But have you ever thought about the possibility of doing your African Safari in the Southern Sudan? May be you should!
The original meaning of safari – journey – from which we developed the modern-day commercial version, was like taking an odyssey into the unknown. One did not know what lay ahead. It was literally a walk into the wilderness. There were no vehicles. It was inviting and adventurous, but dangerous as well. The safari was bare, without the luxury and comfort of lodges and 4×4 vehicles that we have today. The Southern Sudan of today, struggling to rise up from decades of civil wars, might well be the place to get you back to the real safari feeling!
Many safari-seekers take it for granted that the real safari resides in Kenya and probably in Tanzania. This is largely true. In fact, the mere mention of word ‘safari’ brings forth images of the two countries. These two eastern Africa countries have over the years, developed a good name, reputation and infrastructure that has allowed them to exploit their respective wildlife resources that come with the African Safari experience.
Most would-be travelers who seek adventure and have the desire to bond with nature – especially with wild animals – will undertake to visit a destination that will, by all means give them a chance to see plenty of wild animals in the wilderness. The safari as we know it thrives on abundance of wildlife in their natural set up. Wildlife thrives in extensive forests, grasslands, lakes, rivers and the savannas. And this is where our link back to the original safari begins. The Southern Sudan rivals both Kenya and Tanzania in terms of forests, grasslands, lakes, rivers and all that we might want associate with big game and the safari.
After many years of fighting with the northern Sudan, the signing of the peace deal in January 2005 was, in a sense, a new beginning for the southern Sudanese people. Many looked forward, and had great hopes, for a prosperous, peaceful and better future. Many desire to take part in the development activities of their Southern Sudan.
Here is a very short history of the Sudan so as to put into perspective, the quest for the Safari in Southern Sudan. Sudan got independence from the British in 1956. But the country has never known real peace ever since. A prolonged period of civil wars followed the independence almost immediately. The conflicts are rooted in the seemingly constant attempts by the Islamic-oriented, Arab northerners, to dominate the country’s economic, political and social aspects at the expense of the southerners, who are mainly non-Arab and non-Muslim. Currently, the area which is considered Southern Sudan consists of the 10 states, namely
– Central Equatoria
– East Equatoria
– West Equatoria
– North Bahr al Ghazal
– West Bahr al Ghazal
– Lakes, and Warab
– Upper Nile.
Rough estimates put the population of Southern Sudan at 15 million people.
During the period between 2002 and 2004, efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict intensified. These talks finally lead to the signing of a treaty in January 2005, with Southern Sudan being led into the deal by the late Col. John Garang de Mabior. This treaty granted the Southern Sudanese some sort of autonomy until 2011 upon which a referendum to determine whether Southern Sudan would remain as part of the southern Sudan or have complete self rule. Unfortunately, the southern Sudanese leader, John Garang lost his life in a plane accident in August 2005.
The comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) generated a lot of interest from the business community around the Great Lakes region. Many saw new opportunities of making money. Many have since rushed in to provide services like banking and related services.
However, besides the oil, not much mention was being made of the other natural resources that abound in southern Sudan. I have in mind tourism and related services that would allow the opening up of southern Sudan’s expansive parks to the safari.
The development of tourism which normally goes hand in hand with Safari may not have caught the attention of most people, probably because of past experiences both within the Sudan and from other regions in Africa. For example, to the wildlife conservation experts, southern Sudan was just another repeat of a sad story – replicating whatever had happened in Mozambique and Angola. And may be worse, considering the length of time the Sudanese wars had lasted. The wars in Mozambique and Angola had left no wildlife population to count.
Animal Migration in the Southern Sudan!
Surprise came though, last year 2007, with the ‘discovery’ that there still could be large herds of animals within Southern Sudan. After the signing of the comprehensive Peace agreement, the Government of Southern Sudan allowed wildlife experts to conduct some survey to get an estimate of the number of wild animals in Boma National park, one of the parks in the region. To their wonderful surprise, they counted more than 8,000 African elephants, plus over 1 million white-eared kob, tiang antelope and gazelle. Nobody had expected this after years of war. Such numbers are comparable with any wildlife conservation area within eastern and southern Africa. It was assumed that the decades of war together with the excessive hunting the desertification process and the periodic droughts and famine must have led to decline in the numbers of wild animals in the region.
The southern Sudan may as well live the dream, of taking us back to the original Safari and become the next frontier of the African safari!
But not so fast! We may have to wait a little longer to see that happens. Andd a lot of work needs to be done. To conserve and preserve the wildlife and have the Sudan on the safari trail, the travel and hospitality sectors need to be developed. This means building accommodation facilities around and within the national parks, creating road networks around and within the parks, and work on getting Safari-seekers into and around southern Sudan. At the moment, one might say it is at ground zero, but certainly raring to go!
During the civil strife, the only air travel that operated into and out of Southern Sudan was either military or humanitarian support planes that brought in suppliers. However since the signing of the peace deal in January 2005, several private airlines, mostly operating form Nairobi, Kenya, have started operating flights to various locations within southern Sudan. Juba – the seat of Government of Southern Sudan and also the capital of Equatoria state – is turning out to be the hub of trade and commerce.
In comparison to the regional ‘big boys’ of safari operation – Kenya and Tanzania, the accommodation standards are still very basic. In fact, within the National parks, there is almost nothing in terms of accommodation facilities. The major towns offer some basic accommodation. At Juba, the Jogali House is arguably the best ‘tourist standard’ hotel in the whole of Equatoria state and probably in the whole of southern Sudan. In the other towns of Bor, Bentiu, Wau, Yei Torit, Yambio and Rumbek, you will find accommodation mostly in form of tented complex.
Of course, the other area of concern will be security and safety of the traveler on safari. Parts of southern Sudan still have landmines that pose obvious dangers. This is besides the fact that some individuals and groups still have arms in their possession.
Ground handling agents in form of tour operators and Travel agents are still very few and just beginning to settle in. It will take a while before they are established to provide services to the level expected by the high standards from the source tourist markets, mainly the affluent western countries. Can the new Sudan dare to dream of being the next safari destination? Only time, and our collective efforts will tell.