Southern Sudan tourism – Boma National Park gets new headquarters but is country ready for tourism?

Last weekend saw the inauguration of the long in the making national park headquarters of Boma, catapulted to fame by the inclusion in the National Geographic series Great Migrations. Over 800.000 animals follow an annual migration pattern in and out of the park, with these figures for long dismissed as fabled or myths but by the few who actually have witnessed the spectacle, second only to the great migration of the wildebeest and zebras between Tanzanias Serengeti and Kenyas Masai Mara.
Speakers, including Jonglei Governor Kuol Manyang, called on the occasion for a stronger protection of wildlife as a natural resource, claiming it had greater long term value than oil as it could be sustained if using the correct measures. Also present was the Minister for Wildlife Conservation and Tourism Gabriel Chang, who reportedly reiterated the need to put Southern Sudans attractions on the tourism map.
The recent decision by the government in Juba to halt all oil production has led to a loss of over 95 percent of the revenues generated for the country and there is now a desperate drive towards an austerity programme, reducing government expenditures while seeking alternate sources of revenue like from tourism, a sector however neglected during the 5 years of the run up to independence and since then by being marginalized with minimalist budget allocations and lack of top level priority to develop the industry which elsewhere in Eastern Africa has become a major driver of the local economies of Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda.
Tourism to Southern Sudan remains hampered by many factors and is of late in particular hard hit by constant reports of extensive cattle rustling and open intertribal conflicts, often fueled by a hostile regime in Khartoum which seeks to unsettle and throw off balance all efforts by the new country to establish the rule of law. As some of these conflicts are taking place in the wider vicinity of national parks, the taste for adventure at this stage naturally has to be seen in the context of the reality on the ground having the safety of tourists as the highest priority.
When speaking with an adventure safari and expedition operator in Nairobi yesterday on this subject and the possibility of adding Southern Sudan as an extension destination he had this to say: Sure, one day when there is peace and calm in Southern Sudan, we would like to send safari and expedition clients to such places like Boma or the Sudd. But for now the reports are unsettling about constant outbreaks of violence, banditry and even open aggression by Khartoum in areas of their common border. We also have a number of other concerns and issues like tourists should get Visa on arrival, there is still some police registration process needed which wastes a lot of time, so we would like to see better processing of tourists in Juba and then have good reliable safe airlines to fly visitors to the parks. The long distances to the parks over often poor roads are both a waste of time and a risk factor but are there airstrips where one can land, are there vehicles for game drives in those parks, are there camps clients can stay in. Maybe Southern Sudan can permit our Kenyan safari airlines to fly tourists directly to the parks after clearing in Juba first, but you can see there are logistical issues which need sorting out. They should come to Nairobi and show what they have to offer, come with incentives and assure us of preferential handling of visitors flown in from Kenya for safari extensions. We need to know what is available to do for tourists on the Nile, is there rafting or are there ships or cruisers which can be used? We know too little and all the Southern Sudanese ever talk about when their delegations are here in Nairobi, is their oil, about roads and rails and pipelines. What about investment incentives. What about their legal system if we have a dispute with someone there over service delivery? What about currency restrictions? Have they now got a tourism law or regulations we can rely on. Have they started to use EAC rules for hotels and lodges? Have they got a tourist board in place? It is good you write about it once in a while but we here in Nairobi just have not enough information.
Such sentiments were then equally voiced by two other senior staff of different adventure companies, so clearly there is a great need to showcase Southern Sudans natural attractions and alleviate the concerns perhaps through a tourism road show with the added question now raised if there are licensed safari operations in Southern Sudan, licensed safari lodges or safari camps who can be approached to get quotations and information. Fodder for thought, so watch this space.

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