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As South Sudan clears another milestone for independence, its capital booms

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Pete Muller/AP

(Read caption) South Sudanese celebrate the announcement of preliminary referendum results in the southern capital of Juba on Sunday, Jan. 30. Referendum officials indicated that nearly 99 percent of all voters cast ballots in favor of southern independence.

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In less than six months, a new nation will be born in a particularly volatile corner of Africa. The capital of this Texas-sized territory is the upstart boomtown of Juba which, like many other institutions in Southern Sudan, is about six years old – as old as the 2005 peace deal that ended more than two decades of conflict between Sudan’s north and south, and that left the south’s already meager pre-war institutions and infrastructure in complete tatters.

Before it started shaping up to be the world’s newest capital, Juba had hung on as a garrison town occupied by the northern Sudanese army for much of the civil war. Evidence of the conflict – bullet holes in the few colonial era relics and rusted tanks on the outskirts of town – are only partially fading into the background as the “new Juba” is built on top of the ruins.

The result across the capital is a hodgepodge – a schizophrenic reality, where barefoot, filthy children live amid heaps of trash in what used to be a cemetery a few hundred feet from prime Nile River-side “cottages” that cost more than $4,000 to rent per month.

These apartments are little more than dressed-up plastic containers, a common sight in Juba. Some American diplomats, the entire staff of the United Nations peacekeeping mission, many aid workers, and government officials alike live and work in the rectangular white plastic structures.

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