Juba, the capital city of South Sudan, has changed. Even before my plane from Kenya touched down here yesterday, I could tell that the world’s newest nation is undergoing transformation. It is definitely not where it was this time last year.
As the plane descended, I noticed numerous skyscrapers sprouting up around the city. At Juba International Airport, the number of aircraft have increased. Parked conspicuously in the hangar area was Uganda’s national carrier. During all of my previous visits to Juba, which included the much-hyped referendum and the historic independence celebrations, I had never seen the Uganda carrier grace the airport. Talk about opportunities!
A few feet away from the Ugandan airplane, construction was underway for expansion of the airport to meet international standards. A Caucasian man, who seemed to be the engineer-in-charge, stood vigil as the crane lifted heavy materials. He barked orders to his workers as items were unloaded.
Such work could not take place without resources. Having traveled from Kenya, a country that has invested heavily in oil exploration, I marveled at what an oil industry can achieve. I thought to myself how interesting it was that economic analysts posit that when oil-rich South Sudan seceded in July 2011, the country of Sudan lost 75 percent of its oil revenues to Juba -- and 40 percent of its official GDP. This is a subject for another day.
Infrastructure improvement, including construction and development of roads, has escalated considerably since South Sudan acquired independence.
But it was not just the aerial view that offered insight into South Sudan's change. When I disembarked from the plane and walked to the immigration desk, I was greeted by a semblance of order. Unlike previous visits, when luggage was haphazardly unloaded, there were officials this time who meticulously arranged the bags for inspection prior to collection.
I thought to myself that self-governance is a good thing, as it improves responsibility. I was reminded of the price people willingly paid, laying down their lives in a suicidal war to secure independence and make such governance possible.
After leaving the airport, I rushed to the World Vision office, where I found an enthusiastic program director, Edwin Asante, leading a team that is working on nation-building. Edwin bought me breakfast and later put me on the plane to Malakal.
Seated beside me on that flight was 31-year-old Malish Bonjira, who is South Sudanese. He was also travelling to Malakal for the first time. I thought my impressions of South Sudan may have been wrong; so I decided to talk with him about changes in his country.
“Things are better in terms of development. We have many good upcoming structures,” he shared. Then, without my prompting, he told me that even the World Vision interventions had improved. He cited emergency responses, especially involving NFIs (non-food items) in the Warrap region.
“I am proud to be part of the procurement process of these NFIs that are reaching out to the suffering displaced people. World Vision has also bought boats, fishing twines, fishing hooks. We have undertaken trainings for local people on how to undertake fishing for commercial income,” Malish told me.
“To be honest, I am generally happy with progress made," he added. "Currently within the government, when proposals are made, implementation can be seen. Previously, pronouncements were made but implementation was slow.”
Having shouted until my throat was sore during the independence celebrations at the late John Garang Mausoleum in Juba, and having captured the emotions displayed during the referendum, I still marvel at the opportunity of being part of the history of this great country.
South Sudan is indeed changing!
Read related posts: Voting for peace and hope in Sudan and Four days old: Many hopes, many challenges in new South Sudan