The fledgling capital of Southern Sudan, Juba, is open for business, according to the World Bank's recent survey "Doing Business in Juba 2011". Out of 183 countries surveyed, Juba ranks 159th on the ease of doing business. Juba scores relatively high on dealing with construction permits and starting a business, and is ahead of Kenya, Egypt, and Nigeria on enforcing contracts and paying taxes. But the report says credit facilities, investor protections, and infrastructure are comparatively weak.
It's being touted as Africa's fastest-growing city. No one knows this better than Ben Magom, supervisor at the brick-making company ESP International. He said he has seen first-hand how quickly Juba is expanding by the 2,000 or so bricks he and his colleagues produce a day.
"It's for the businesses, for homes. When somebody buys the bricks, they can go and construct the houses, the schools, the factories," said Magom. "[They are] doing a very, very good job here in Juba."
On the eve of Southern Sudanese independence, and with high hopes of long-term peace, investors from the region and outside are setting up shop.
One such company is the South African-owned Southern Sudan Beverages Limited, which in recent months announced that it will be pumping in an additional $15 million into its brewing and bottling operations.
Ever since the signing of the North-South peace deal in 2005 that ended more than two decades of civil war, the fledgling Southern Sudan administration has been setting up its regulatory framework.
Challenges vs opportunities
"South Sudan has modernized relevant laws, reestablished a company registry, promoted public-private dialogue, and established an institutional framework for investment generation and promotion," noted Maria Miller, with the World Bank Group Investment's Climate Advisory Services.
According to a recent World Bank survey, Juba scores relatively high on starting a business, dealing with construction permits, and enforcing contracts.
"Thanks to Juba's business registry, which was established in 2006, entrepreneurs can start a business in just 15 days," said Miller. "More than 12,000 businesses have in fact registered in the last five years."
The costs of starting and maintaining a business are more than twice the average cost in Sub-Saharan Africa. One big reason is because of Southern Sudan's lack of roads and other infrastructure.
"We don't get electricity from the grid, or when we get it, sometimes it is not stable, spoiling most of our equipment," complained George Ghines, owner of the Notos Lounge Bar and Grill. "We have to turn on the generator, but then we struggle to find diesel, or we have to go into the black market and find diesel at two times or three times the price."
Ghines said the government has a long way to go to streamline investment and other procedures.
"Unfortunately we have raised a lot of expectations within the people," he said. "People believe that after July 9 we're going to have a completely different country. No, it is going to take time until we set up our own systems. We're going to have our own investment law."
Ghines said despite the challenges, he finds it personally fulfilling to invest in the city of his birth.