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Southern Sudan unveils plans to build animal-shaped cities

By Alan Boswell, For CNN
  • The $10.1 billion project aims to re-create 10 state capitals
  • Proposal for one of the most poorest places on earth raises eyebrows
  • Critics think South Sudan's expected oil bonanza could be getting to its head
  • Sudan

Juba, South Sudan (CNN) -- An amusement park sits in the ear of a rhinoceros; a five-star hotel takes the place of its eye. Another city takes the awkward image of a giraffe, with a golf course on its chest and a sewage treatment plant on its tail.

The government of Southern Sudan this week unveiled urban blueprints to rebuild cities in the shape of animals, raising eyebrows across the globe.

The man behind the plan, Housing and Physical Planning Ministry undersecretary Daniel Wani, says the attention has given his ambitious proposal a boost of new energy.

"The reaction has been very good. We have been getting calls from everywhere," Wani says in the Southern Sudan capital of Juba. "Generally, the feedback we are receiving indicates that we are on a positive track."

The $10.1 billion multi-decade project to re-create Southern Sudan's 10 state capitals into elaborately-shaped dream towns may sound Dubai-esque -- only Southern Sudan is no Dubai.

Actually, it is one of the poorest places on earth.

The undeveloped region -- which lacks any paved roads outside its three main cities -- is part of Africa's largest nation, Sudan, which is ruled by the Khartoum government South Sudanese fought against for most of the past half century in two long civil wars.

But Southern Sudan expects to achieve independence next year through a January secession referendum promised in a 2005 peace deal that granted the war-torn region self-rule until the vote.

Even without the unique city designs, the multi-billion dollar price tag alone was sure to turn heads. Southern Sudan's total budget for 2010 is less than $2 billion, 98 percent of which comes from the oil revenues it hopes will fund its postwar re-construction.

Critics think South Sudan's expected oil bonanza could be getting to its head.

"There are so many priorities they should be focusing on before they should be attempting such a thing. It's not cost effective," says Ben Jerome Gama, 28, a South Sudanese living on a dirt road in Juba where the city's erratic electricity supply has yet to reach. "There is a lot to address -- in health, education, infrastructure."

Others think the idea could help put an aspiring new nation on the map.

"If it happened, everybody would come to see the country. It would mean we are developed," says Ochira Bosco, 27, who works in a Juba restaurant.

But Bosco says his government should budget for more pressing matters first.

"If they build these and we still don't have hospitals or proper schools or good roads, that would not be good," he says.

Wani defends his plan, saying that one must start planning for the future today.

And for those who consider the giraffe or rhino city designs silly or impractical, they should think bigger, says the official, who holds a doctorate in civil engineering from University of Leeds in the United Kingdom.

"The shapes are what is innovative about the whole idea, that is what is attracting all the attention," Wani says.

Eventually, the government hopes to get more than 70 percent of the project financed privately. Businessmen from Japan and Abu Dhabi have already flown in to discuss joining the investor pool since the plans were unveiled.

The proposal has yet to be finally approved by the nation's executive Cabinet, and investors will not begin work until a $500 million guarantee materializes from the Bank of Southern Sudan.

But the man who envisions giving Southern Sudan a unique aerial view is confident his idea will soon turn stones on the ground.

"We are implementing the plan, definitely," he says.