Politics and policy

Why South Sudan prefers Ramciel to Juba as its seat of government

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An artist’s impression of the proposed new capital city of South Sudan in Ramchiel, Lakes state. The government settled for the new site to ease congestion experienced in Juba and avoid land disputes between it and the local landowners. Courtesy

An artist’s impression of the proposed new capital city of South Sudan in Ramchiel, Lakes state. The government settled for the new site to ease congestion experienced in Juba and avoid land disputes between it and the local landowners. Courtesy 

By MACHEL AMOS in Juba

Posted  Wednesday, September 14  2011 at  00:00

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.

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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.

Tragic death

“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.” 

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