January 23, 2005


Cellphones, roads, and girls in school. Is this south Sudan? (Abraham McLaughlin, 1/24/05, The Christian Science Monitor)

Imagine having to build a country from scratch. Richard Herbert doesn't have to try too hard.

The former Sprint PCS engineer from Newport Beach, Calif., now is creating southern Sudan's first cellphone network from the ground up.

Until last month, if you wanted to talk to someone across town in southern Sudan's capital, Rumbek, there were two options: Go see them face to face, or pay $2 a minute to talk via satellite phone. There are no land-line phones here, and only about 10 miles of paved roads. In fact, 22 years of civil war have left this one the least developed places on the planet.

But as fear subsides, southern Sudan is reawakening and rebuilding. A Jan. 9 peace deal ended Africa's longest civil war - a conflict between north and south in which 2 million died. The first signs of normalcy are appearing: Children, even girls, are going to school - many for the first. (Only Afghanistan under the Taliban had fewer girls graduate from eighth grade.) Some are starting to see a life beyond the battlefield. And commerce is coming back.

Mr. Herbert's cellphone team is on the leading edge of a developing post-war investment boom. When he arrived last August, he had only a few acres of land and a broken 30-foot satellite dish to work with. He had to charter planes to bring much of the new equipment.

"Most countries, even Afghanistan, have at least some infrastructure," he says. "But southern Sudan - zero."

Much of the initial funding for rebuilding comes from international donors and aid groups. The biggest funder, the US, may give as much as $500 million.

But southern Sudan's leaders - former rebels who are joining the national government and will control the south - are keen for private-sector help, too.

Sudan Peace Deal Generates Activity (RODRIQUE NGOWI, 1/22/05, Associated Press)
Businessmen, aid workers and diplomats have rushed to this sprawling town, set to become the provisional capital of an autonomous government for southern Sudan, amid a flowering of hope after the signing of a landmark peace accord ending the country's civil war.

Sudan's main rebel leader, John Garang, returned Saturday to the town that has been his headquarters, fresh from signing the deal between his southern-based Sudan Peoples Liberation Army and the central government.

Garang stepped over a white cow that that had been slaughtered on the tarmac - the white cow is considered an offering to peace by his Dinka tribesman - while hundreds of residents gathered at the dusty airstrip to witness his arrival. Some clung precariously to tree branches while others clambered on top of the fuselage of an aircraft that crashed here three years ago.

"It feels great after a peace agreement - honorable and dignified - you can see the people are very happy," Garang said. [...]

Foreign donors have pledged hundreds of millions in aid, but many want to see progress resolving a separate conflict in Sudan's western Darfur region before releasing the funds.

Companies are expected to come in after insurgents form their new government in the next six months.

"The peace is going to bring all kinds of business activity," said Terry Light, from Ithaca, N.Y., one of the first foreign businessmen to set up here 14 years ago. He runs a tented camp next to the airstrip - Rumbek's version of a luxury hotel.

Light, head of Africa Expeditions Ltd., was forced to charter flights to bring in food and supplies to keep up with the rush this week, part of the increased business seen here since the peace accord was signed in Nairobi, Kenya.

"We have certainly never seen anything like this size of influx before," Light said.

Garang to help settle Sudan conflicts (The Age, January 23, 2005)
Sudan's main rebel leader has told his supporters at a rally that with a deal ending two decades of fighting in southern Sudan now in place, those living in the south will have to help negotiate settlements to other conflicts in the country.

John Garang, leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Army, arrived at the rebel group's headquarters in Rumbek for the first time since signing a comprehensive peace deal two weeks ago in neighbouring Kenya. [...]

"The peace that we have brought is not our peace alone. It is peace for Sudan, it is peace for all regions, it is peace for Africa," Garang told hundreds of supporters at a rally.

"We will also have to ensure it is also peace for Darfur and for eastern Sudan," he said, referring to a low intensity conflict in the Red Hills area of eastern Sudan between the government and the Bejya Congress.

Now for Darfur.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 23, 2005 6:24 PM

':Sudanese air force bombs camp'

Today's headline. Somebody got there first.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at January 27, 2005 4:32 PM