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Southern Sudan brews beer

People of southern territory can make and drink beer because they are semi-independent from Islamic Khartoum government.

JUBA, Southern Sudan — For 22 years alcohol was one of the casualties of the civil war in Sudan.

In 1983, the Muslim-dominated government in Khartoum decreed Shariah law and a rebellion was launched in the south, a region of where people follow Christian and traditional beliefs.

In the long-running war, the people of the southern region were protesting the marginalization and neglect of their area by the Arab north. The southerners demanded the freedom to choose how to live and govern themselves. And to determine what they could drink.

Within days following the January 2005 peace deal, which granted semi-autonomy to the southern area, some of the first trucks to cross the border from Uganda into southern Sudan carried crates of Bell, Club and Nile Special, all popular Ugandan lagers sold in well-used, chipped and recycled half-liter brown bottles.

Earlier this month Sudan held its first multiparty election in 24 years and results are beginning to trickle out. Amid fraud accusations and widespread boycotts, the election is expected to confirm Omar al-Bashir as president. The elections are also expected to pave the way for a referendum in January 2011 in which people of the south will vote on whether or not to declare full independence from the north.

Southern Sudan is a region the size of Texas attempting to claw its way up from the depths of poverty. Almost nothing is produced here. In markets, the only local products are mangoes, charcoal and gravel, hand-hammered from rocks hauled from mountainsides. Everything else is imported and expensive.

Beer is the exception. Sudan’s first and only brewery opened in May last year to supply an expanding and thirsty local market.

“Until we started building here these guys hadn’t seen anything industrial before,” said Ian Alsworth-Elvey, the South African managing director of Southern Sudan Beverages Limited (SSBL), a subsidiary of SABMiller, one of the world’s largest brewing companies.

Juba is a sprawling little city developing in rapid fits and starts. Hotels fashioned out of packing crates charge well over $100 a night, restaurants serve pizzas for $20 or more, the parking lots  of both are filled with 4x4s marked with the logos of NGOs or the license plates of the United Nations mission (UNMIS) or the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS).

In between and around these new arrivals are war-broken buildings, little wooden shacks and patches of land that double as public cemeteries and rubbish dumps. Outside the city center the shiny government ministries and hotels are quickly replaced by stick and mud huts, called
"tukuls," and the tarmac turns to dirt.