Whether to start building a new capital on a virgin land where no single structure has ever existed or upgrade the poorly planned infrastructure in Juba has been a nagging dilemma in South Sudan.
Ramciel, savanna grassland on the west of the River Nile in the country’s Lakes state, would be the new seat of government, replacing Juba, which has been the regional capital for more than 35 years before the country’s independence. (Read: Firms ponder next move as S. Sudan plans new capital)
The circumstances through which Juba maintained the crown date back to the colonial period, in which it hosted the chief conference in 1947 to decide the fate of Southern Sudan ahead of the disputed Sudanese independence in 1956.
Juba automatically became the seat of the High Executive Council for Southern Sudan after the signing of the Addis Ababa Peace Agreement in 1972, ending 17 years of guerrilla fighting that erupted in 1955.
“Juba started from a small town to being a capital. And so originally it was not planned to be a big city to include a lot of people, may be two to three million,” Prof Cuir Riak, senior development consultant at African Development Consultancy Firm said.
It was against this unplanned background that the leadership of the ex-rebel group turned ruling party resolved in 2005, under the chairmanship of the late Dr John Garang, to transfer the capital to Ramciel once it gets hold of the south.
Unfortunately, Garang died in a tragic plane crash in 2005, three weeks after taking oath of office as vice president of Sudan and president of the Government of Southern Sudan. His then deputy, Salva Kiir, was the heir apparent. Observers and analysts say that although the transfer of the capital did not die with Garang, the emergence of land disputes between Central Equatoria state and the central government fuelled the bid.
“A city capital, among other things should be a place where the national government can spread out its wings freely without being stopped by someone who runs with one piece of a law leaving others hanging,” said Prof Isaiah Abraham.
He said the Bari, who own the land in Juba feel that it is being grabbed while city dwellers feel that they are not welcome in the capital.
If the city were to remain in Juba, an appropriation Act would be required to take hold of lands leased to citizens in attempts of re-planning; a commission would have to be formed to conduct evaluation for the various plots to be appropriated; special fund would need to be created to compensate the people for their land.
“The aggregate of the re-planning and reconstruction costs will be too high if compared to fresh building operations and the period of litigation and court cases from people objecting the appropriation and evaluation of their properties could impair development,” Investment minister Garang Diing said.
As prospects of planned urban development set in, and as the population of Juba increased from an estimated 250,000 in 2005 to more than 500,000 as of 2010, the intent to transfer the capital gained gear.
“This tension added further impediments to the construction efforts of the government and could continue to hamper its focus on the development in the independence era,” National Security minister Oyai Deng Ajak said.
“Furthermore, for the purpose of national security, the government would need a secure area for its installations and development,” he said. “As such, a location would serve a strategic purpose to promote integrated business, industrial development and investment as well as increase security.”
So, a little more than a week ago, the government finally decided to relocate the capital to Ramciel.
“Therefore, the development of a new city would attract significant investment into Southern Sudanese economy leading to increased growth and improvement of lives for its citizens,” said Mr Ajak.
The land is inhabited by the Chiech community of ethnic Dinka (Atuot). Chiech are nomadic pastoralists, unlike the Bari of Juba who are crop farmers. In rainy season, the pastoralists trek to the highlands and in the dry season to ‘toch’ (wet lands along the River Nile) with their cattle.
Because of the pastoral nature of the life of Chiech, land ownership is more communal than individual. Consequently, if the community agrees to give up land as is the case, it is expected that land disputes would be minimal.
Lakes state government, in which Ramciel lies, said it has given land to the government without conditions.
“Juba is highly congested. It would be difficult to restructure it. It would be very costly to have new water system, new power and many other things that are needed for a capital,” Lakes state governor Chol Tong Mayai said.
“Our main concern is essentially to relief the contention between those who feel their land is being grabbed and those who feel they are not being welcomed in Juba.”
However, a report of a feasibility study conducted in 2006 by Balkan Consultancy concluded that in “the area around Ramciel towards the Nile, the area was swampy and not suitable for proposed development”.
“The experience of observation achieved during the E- exploring on the Internet by the means of the satellite, shows that the certain areas located western from the Nile have terrain depression, where the latitude is for few metres below the level of the river basin. That brings the possible conclusion that during the annual period in different climate seasons, these areas might be flooded,” the report said.
Accordingly, the new site in Ramciel “does not have sufficient and favourable surface capacity to sustain future development and extension of the capital city.”
Moreover, the government believes that moving to the new location “would allow for the creation of a modern city planned for 200 years with absolute flexibility to observe any population growth and technological advancements”.
However, the report has been dismissed as false. “Maybe they studied another place but not the Ramciel we are talking about,” says Marik Nanga, Lakes state information minister.
The new area proposed by the firm lies across the Nile spanning from Rajaf East (mouth of Kit River) in the south and extends eastwards to Ngangala, KhorIngliz, Longairo. It then extends northwards through Lafon to cover southern grasslands of Jonglei state.
To the west it mainly borders the Nile from Rajaf to Mangalla and northwards to Pariak. The city would also have an extended aisle into Lakes state that would broaden deeper into the territories of Ramshiel such as Minkaman, Wunthou and Kalthok. This area is about 19,000 square kilometres and would be curved from the four states of Central Equatoria, Eastern Equatoria, Jonglei and Lakes. An estimated number of 500,000 indigenous population would fall within the premises of this proposed capital, according to a consultant. However, given the centrality of Ramciel and goodwill of the local population, it was chosen as the most ideal location for South Sudan’s capital city.
In Ramciel, the government with aid from donors and loans from the Word Bank and International Monetary Fund would partially meet the cost of building government institutions and the infrastructure in the city during the first phase of its construction.
The cost is not established yet, but Housing and Physical Infrastructure minister JemmaNunuKmuba earlier hinted that it could be $10 billion.
Tired of the mayor
Legislators remain divided over the transfer, with some acknowledging that it is partly the taking of the towns to the people as envisioned by Garang while others expressed concerns over cost the move would incur.
“This is another way of distributing development. Juba is the most developed and transfer will give a quick way to make better infrastructure in Ramshiel,” David Unyo Demey, a Mabaan (Upper Nile state) area representative said.
Lodu Tombe, a representative of Central Equatoria state in the national parliament, posed: “Our priority is not to transfer the city. We are unable to deliver basic services. Why should we waste a lot of money on what is not a priority?”
A trader specialising in shoes welcomes the move to relocate the capital city from Juba to Ramciel.
“We are tired of the mayor chasing us away. We need a city where we could be able to get land to build our shops,” said the businessman.