15 April 2011 – A dozen people traveling in two inflatable rafts arrived in Juba today at the end of a five-day voyage down the White Nile River that began just north of the Eastern Equatoria State town of Nimule on 11 April.
Conceived as an exploratory mission to assess the prospects for developing adventure tourism attractions along the river in the coming months, its participants were enthusiastically welcomed ashore by Daniel Wani, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism in the Government of Southern Sudan.
"This mission has been successful," said Mr. Wani at a press conference, adding that the excursion had been in the planning stages for three months. "This is an entry for tourism in Southern Sudan. I can assure you we have plenty in terms of wildlife, in terms of scenic places which will encourage you to go and see for yourselves."
The expedition was led by veteran adventure tourism guides Peter Meredith and Jane Dicey of the Uganda-based African Rivers company.
The guests included UNMIS Regional Coordinator for Southern Sudan David Gressly and Bedouin Hotel Managing Director Andrew Belcher. Among animals sighted during the trip were crocodiles, elephants and hippos.
Mr. Gressly noted that the 170-kilometre length of the White Nile between Nimule and Juba was a wild and seldom visited stretch of the river. Mr. Meredith said he saw it for the first time in 2004 during a trip he made from the White Nile's source in Lake Victoria all the way down to its mouth at the Mediterranean Sea.
"It was on that trip that I saw the potential on this particular stretch, and the attraction for the tourist is just the beauty of the place," he said. "Every tourist that we bring here will leave as an ambassador (for) Sudan, and it would be an honour to play some very small part in helping you to build your new country."
A native of Kenya who founded the firm Southern Sudan Affiliated Services when he moved to Juba in 2006, Mr. Belcher was instrumental in organizing the trip that started near Fulla Falls.
"This is only the first one of many, many opportunities that we have in Sudan, and we will see a lot more tourism following independence on 9 July," he said, adding that two more rafting trips on the White Nile have already been booked for later this month.
The undersecretary apologized to members of the rafting party for their detention on two separate occasions today by personnel stationed at a police training academy in the Central Equatoria State town of Rajaf and by Southern Sudan Prisons Service officers.
Mr. Gressly downplayed the incidents, noting that members of the security forces were not yet accustomed to seeing foreign tourists plying the waters of the White Nile and some "didn't understand what was happening and so they had questions".
Participants represented a wide cross-section of nationalities that included South Africa, Kenya, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Uganda and Liberia.
Staff photographer Tim Mckulka and video producer Nurudeen Sanni of the UNMIS Public Information Office filmed and photographed the excursion from start to finish.