Turn left at the horn: 'Rhino City' revealed

Daniel Howden,Africa Correspondent
Thursday 19 August 2010 00:00

There are those who cannot think of Africa without thinking of safari animals. Apparently, Southern Sudan's city planners are among them. Authorities in what may become Africa's newest country, depending on the outcome of a referendum next year, have unveiled plans to rebuild their two biggest cities in the shape of a rhinoceros and a giraffe.

The £6.5bn, 20-year, blueprint for Juba, the south's capital, calls for its urban centre to be built in the shape of a rhino. The second city, Wau, is to be transformed into a giraffe.

Daniel Wani, of the housing and physical planning ministry, described the plans as "innovative" and said talks were under way with a local construction company and a Canadian-based firm.

"The advantage is that there will be uniformity of planning," he told reporters in Juba. "It will be very easy for future generations to follow our thinking, what we wanted to put in place, because we are not planning for now, we plan for tomorrow."

Tomorrow in this case could be a long time coming. Sudan's disastrous civil war, sometimes counted as the continent's longest, left Juba as little more than a tent city. In the five years since a peace deal was agreed there has been a manic burst of construction but infrastructure remains basic.

There are less than 100 kilometers of paved roads and much of the accommodation in Juba is in refashioned shipping containers. The city is ringed with growing slums.

"This is just one of a collection of crazy ideas," said a Juba-based contractor familiar with the blueprints. "It's very unlikely to ever happen."

The plans, which cost five times Southern Sudan's annual budget, appeared to take the sizeable aid community, who occupy many of the permanent structures in Juba, by surprise. An official at one of the European Union offices admitted they knew nothing about the proposals.

The UN has spent much of this year appealing for international donors to deliver $530m to alleviate a hunger crisis that at one point was said to be affecting 8 million people. Africa's largest country was devastated by a 21-year civil war between the Arab-dominated north and the Christian and animist south that aid agencies calculate cost two million lives. Under the terms of a 2005 peace agreement Sudan had its first national multi-party elections earlier this year and southerners are expecting to vote in January on whether to breakaway from the north in a referendum.

The semi-autonomous government in Southern Sudan, led by the former guerrilla movement the SPLM, has been criticised for massive corruption and waste since taking charge. Public sector ghost jobs and hotel cartels have been used to drain much oil revenues and foreign aid, leading to the nickname of the world's first "pre-failed state".

The blueprints call for Juba residents to be moved to a site 10 miles outside the existing town to "Rhino City". The blueprints were drawn up by locally-based Abu Malek Companies and Agencies Ltd and UAS Canada Inc.

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