Last month, OPIC announced it was open for business in one-year-old South Sudan, the newly formed African country that seceded from Sudan in July 2011. The young country boasts enormous natural resources including oil, rich farmland and abundant wildlife across huge uncharted savannahs. It also faces formidable development challenges. Chief among those needs is the lack of basic infrastructure.
During an October visit to the capital city Juba, OPIC President and CEO Elizabeth Littlefield heard government ministers and private sector leaders describe the investment opportunities in sectors from infrastructure to agriculture to tourism, and saw firsthand the many challenges facing the young country. The OPIC team that traveled to the young country noted that Juba had the rough-and-tumble feel of a garrison town where unpaved roads were crowded with new immigrants.
For OPIC, which has a long history of helping businesses operate in some of the world’s most challenging places, South Sudan – like the rest of Africa – is a place of both great need and great opportunity. By opening for business in South Sudan, OPIC hopes to attract to the country U.S. investment, which is a powerful tool for creating jobs and spurring economic development. OPIC has in recent years increased its focus on Sub-Saharan Africa, which is home to many of the world’s fastest growing economies and in recent years grew faster than East Asia. In Fiscal Year 2012, OPIC tripled its commitments to Sub-Saharan Africa. Even within Africa, South Sudan is growing at an especially brisk rate: according to the International Monetary Fund, it is the second fastest growing country on the planet.
South Sudan, a landlocked country of about 10 million people that is roughly the size of France, is a largely rural economy, with the vast majority of the population surviving on subsistence farming. Poverty rates are high, literacy rates are low and access to food and clean drinking water is limited.
The country may be best known for its abundant oil reserves, but it actually has a diverse and abundant natural resource base. The White Nile, which flows through South Sudan, has sufficient flow to generate large quantities of hydroelectricity. The country is also home to some large wildlife herds, which could help it become an ecotourism destination. Perhaps the country’s most important natural resource is its youth. According to the CIA World Factbook, almost half of the country’s population (46.5%) is under the age of 14.
“South Sudan’s potential to develop new businesses and industries is enormous,” Susan Page, the U.S. Ambassador to South Sudan, said when OPIC announced its opening in the country. “With OPIC’s presence, the prospect or investors and companies to help realize the economic promise of this new country is closer to being realized.”