DUBAI // The vice president of South Sudan has hailed investment talks with the UAE this week as productive as his country looks to become Africa's newest economic centre.
Dr Riek Machar met the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Anwar Gargash, on Wednesday with a view to sealing several investment deals for his country, which was formed in July 2011.
Dr Machar also met high-level officials in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and hopes to gain premises in Abu Dhabi for an embassy and in Dubai for a consulate.
South Sudan wants the UAE to fund several development projects, including an airport for its new capital and a hospital, both of which UAE companies would operate for up to 25 years.
The planned city of Ramciel will replace Juba, the economic centre of the country, as the capital after the South Sudanese government approved the move in December last year.
Dr Machar expects it will take five years to complete the airport, which will become a major centre in Africa, opening the routes for trade and economic exchange through major airlines such as Emirates, Etihad Airways, Lufthansa and British Airways.
The airport will enable South Sudan to become economically independent, he said.
"The airport will be in a city called Tali, which is next to the new capital in Ramciel, which is 350 kilometres from Juba," he said.
"We're landlocked and our access to the rest of the world is through the skies, so we want to make a mark and have a continental airport that is used by big airliners.
"Since we are at the centre of Africa, they can originate flights from that airport to Latin America, America, Europe and be connected to Africa."
South Sudan also wants the UAE to invest in plans to build an 800-bed hospital and several schools, while setting up a South Sudan Investment Forum is also on the agenda.
When built, the hospital will be named the John Garang Memorial Hospital, said Dr Machar.
He said he hoped the largest UAE investment in South Sudan could be put back on track, after a wildlife project stalled because of instability in the central African country.
Started in 2009, the project by Al Ain National Wildlife, operators of Al Ain Zoo, will involve building luxury hotels and tented resort camps in Boma National Park in Jonglei state, near the Ethiopian border.
The area is known for its wildlife and grasslands, and is twice the size of Qatar at more than 2.2 million hectares.
"The issues with Sudan delayed the investment project work from the UAE," Dr Machar said. "Despite the fact that it is located near Pibor, in a very safe and serene region.
When complete, the wildlife conservation and tourism park will have an airport to serve its clients.
Dr Machar also met officials from Al Dahra Agriculture and DP World to discuss investments.
"During a meeting with the chairman of Dubai World, Mr [Sultan] bin Sulayem, we discussed opportunities for them to set up dry ports in our various borders," he said.
The dry ports would be at the 10 border crossings with the country's northern neighbour, Sudan, and in crossings with its five other neighbours.
"We would like to utilise Dubai World's expertise to regulate the borders and develop infrastructure to be able to implement Customs regulations," Dr Machar added.
The country has grand ideas and is keen to entice foreign investment.
"Despite our economy being affected during the period of instability with Sudan, our currency remains strong. US$1 (Dh3.67) now is at 3.96 South Sudanese pounds," Dr Machar said.
"We welcome investments and are a free-market economy, therefore we can address any concerns coming from any of our partners."