An aerial view of Juba, the capital of South Sudan, home to about half a million people.                                         Picture: Getty Images
An aerial view of Juba, the capital of South Sudan, home to about half a million people. Picture: Getty Images

With an estimated population of half a million people, the South Sudan capital, Juba, is one of Africa’s fastest-growing cities. It also serves as the provincial capital of Central Equatoria, the smallest of the country’s 10 states. The city is situated on the White Nile, 200km from Uganda’s border.

After more than two decades of a bloody north-south Sudan civil war, a comprehensive peace accord signed in January 2005 saw Juba elevated to the capital of the autonomous Government of Southern Sudan, and many former refugees subsequently crowded the city and the surrounding areas.

There are only two ways one can get to the South Sudan capital; by road and by air. Railways and river transport services do not exist.

Major highways connect Juba to Kenya, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has also enhanced business.

It’s business as usual in Juba, despite a seemingly hard economic situation, which has seen the South Sudan pound lose value against the US dollar.

As you approach a busy street, your eyes can hardly miss a picture of John Garang, the South Sudanese leader who perished in a plane crash in 2005.

A US-trained agricultural economist, Garang is considered a symbol of hope. He is mostly remembered for starting the 1983 southern uprising against Arab domination, oppression and unequal distribution of resources.

“Dr John Garang’s legacy lives on,” John Majok, a student, proudly says.

While it may be costly to hire taxis for town movement, commercial cyclists, locally known as boda-bodas, offer great service at very affordable fares.

The 3km distance from Juba airport to the city centre costs only about $2.

At the centre of the city is a bustling cattle market. In the morning hours, you can spot herds of cattle crossing town on their way to the market.

Konyo-Konyo, the city’s main market in the middle of town, is a sprawling facility spreading into all the neighbouring residential and shopping areas.

The market has wholesale shops, hardware for building materials, food kiosks, stalls and a park for commuter taxi and buses. In stall sections of the market, one can purchase varieties of fruit and vegetables, cosmetics, clothes, meat, fish, live chickens, dry foods, and processed foods, among others.

A crowd gathers to watch the unveiling of a statue of the late South Sudan rebel leader John Garang. Picture: AFP

“Business is a bit slow nowadays,” Jane Alidiru, a fruit vendor at Konyo-Konyo market says, adding: “We used to get lots of money before the war.”

You will be spoilt for food choices should you make your way to the market. Kisra, a chapatti-like delicacy, is a Juba favourite. Try a combination of kisra, okra, bamia and suruba. This is considered a typical local dish.

A trip to Juba without visiting the memorial site where Dr Garang’s body lies would be considered incomplete. The facility is next to the National Legislative Assembly, which houses up to 300 lawmakers.

As a tourist, you cannot miss local weaved mats and baskets, locally made metal pots, wooden ladles, wooden African carvings and sculptures, mobile phones, radios, watches, cutlery, crockery and other household items.

There are a handful of good restaurants in Juba, including many Eritrean, Ethiopian, Kenyan and Ugandan eateries.

There are a few bars that serve East African and South African beers, the local beer and imported liquors.

Lots of entertainment places also exist in the city. One could go to a casino, attend a wrestling match or simply settle for traditional dances.On a weekend, one can take a boat trip on the River Nile or go swimming.

A number of good hotels exist, providing excellent accommodation to revellers. Most of these hotels provide good internet services to clients and most, for convenience purposes, can be booked online or through travel agents. Almost all hotels provide bed and breakfast services.

Communication, while in Juba, is never a problem. The nation has a reliable telecommunications service through operators such as MTN, Vivacell and Zain. These telecom companies also offer internet at relatively high speeds.

The banking sector is very vibrant with several local and foreign banks in the city. Kenya Commercial Bank, Equity Bank and Qatar National Bank are the most prominent foreign banks, serving thousands of people in the city.

A steel bridge allows residents of Juba to cross the White Nile. Picture: Demosh

Local banks such as Ivory Bank and Liberty Bank are no exceptions, either. All commercial banks are regulated by the Central Bank of South Sudan.

Currently, the only landmark education facility is Juba University. A state-owned institution, the university suffered a huge setback during the over two decade civil war and was temporarily moved to the Sudanese capital Khartoum in the late 1980s.

Now back in full operation, one can visit the French Cultural Centre, known for public lectures, film shows and live concerts.

Juba has a tropical wet and dry climate and as it lies near the equator temperatures are hot year-round.

However, little rain falls from November to March, which is also the time of year with the hottest maximum temperatures, reaching 38°C in February this year, weather experts said.

Last year, however, the city was ranked the world’s most expensive for expatriates by Employment Conditions Abroad, ECA International.

This ranking was reportedly based on inflation and exchange rates, comparing prices of a number of items and services like-for-like, to see exactly how expensive it was to maintain the same standard of living in South Sudan.