Capital city relocation is not a new phenomenon on the continent. Beginning in the period of decolonization, national capitals were created (some more effectively than others) in Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Mauritania, Botswana, Tanzania and Malawi. They have been justified on various physical, economic, social and political grounds.
For Ramciel, the justifications seem to rest primarily on physical and economic concerns. Juba is located in the southern half of the country, in closer proximity to the Ugandan border than many of the other South Sudanese state boundaries. Proponents of the move suggest that relocating the capital to the geographic centre of the country would provide more equal opportunities for citizens to access the capital while attracting businesses and services to more isolated regions. National Security Minister Oyai Deng Ajak is quoted as saying:
…a new location would serve a strategic purpose of promoting integrated business, industrial development and investment as well as increased security….Therefore, the development of a new city would attract significant investment into the South Sudanese economy leading to increased economic growth and improvement of lives for the citizens of South Sudan. (quoted in: African Review, 13 September 2011).
The new city would also address population growth and urban sprawl. Since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005 that ended the Second Sudanese Civil War between southern Sudan and Sudan, Juba has been experiencing rapid population growth. Many returning refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) opted to start the new era of relative peace in the sole large urban centre in the country. Rural-urban migration, private demand, and donor funding have fuelled a rapid expansion of urban infrastructure and led the city to explode from a meagre pre-CPA population of 100,000 to a population last estimated at over 1 million (Al Jazeera, 7 July 2011). This is in addition to the growing IDP population in Juba in light of recent conflict (UNMISS sets registered IDPs at over 31,000 as of late June 2014). Growing informal settlements have raised concerns with the government, who would like to see them curtailed.
Of course, these rationale raises obvious questions about whether the resources required to move the capital would make a more substantial difference in the quality of living to the rural population if it were instead invested in basic services (i.e., health care, education, realizing a degree of food security) and regional transportation infrastructure. Furthermore, if anything can be learned from similar relocations – e.g., the development of Lilongwe, Malawi – construction is scarcely able to keep up with housing demand and rapid urban sprawl; informal settlements are quick to fill in the housing infrastructure gap.
While these are interesting points of debate, the planned move should not be understood as motivated by a concern of unequal physical or economic access to the capital. Likewise, the critique of Ramciel should not simply focus on financial and technical feasibility the city in itself. Rather, capital relocation in South Sudan represents other political and social ills by proxy - and those should be the objects of critique.
Most glaringly, Juba is built on ‘Bari land’. The administrative and political failure to consult and negotiate fair land deals with the Bari has been an ongoing challenge for the city. During the Second Sudanese Civil War, the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) rallied southern Sudanese with the slogan ‘land belongs to the community’ in response to exclusionary policies and practices of the North. Unsurprisingly, communities expect the now-codified slogan to result in fair consultation and compensation, two things that local communities feel they have not been provided (See: Pantuliano, 2009; USAID, 2010).
The move represents, in some ways, acquiescence to Bari protests. If the Bari do not wish to surrender more land to the capital project, then the capital will move. On the other hand, the move – or even the threat to move - demonstrates an unwillingness to engage in the SPLM/A policy of ‘land belongs to the community’. Arguably the move suggests that the Government may be slowly redefine the meaning of ‘land belongs to the community’ whereby the government is an essential middle-man (an admittedly less catchy slogan - maybe something along the lines of: ‘land belongs to the government who holds the land that belongs to the communities in trust for the communities’). The land in Ramciel, Lakes State was perhaps thought to be easier to claim either because it was ‘empty’ or belonged to members of the larger Dinka community, who may have been more willing to give the land to the government. However, community members were quick to craft an open letter to the ruling party as a corrective to this assumption:
… why didn’t the government consult the natives of the land, but went ahead by identifying the land and naming it as “No Man’s Land?” Sometimes, the government officials claimed that “They have been given the land” by the community. If the government’s first statement hold substance that Ramciel is “No Man’s Land” is correct, then why invoke the second statement that “We have been given the land” by the community? Where was that community in the first place when the government said that the land in question is “No man’s land?” There is not a single Aliab-Dinka in the GoSS executive, but that does not mean the Aliab-Dinka natives do not exist. (Suban Tribune, 18 November 2011).
No matter the relocation site du jour, the new capital seems intended to embrace only those who meet city sprawl with land surrenders and to exclude those who threaten the current national political structure. If builders do show up on the ground, it will then be time to consider what we have learned from other capital city upheavals: they always take longer, always cost more, and never turn out as envisioned. Until this comes to pass, analysis on the South Sudanese relocation must stick to the political subtext. Chiefly, the challenge of following through on community land consultation and the avoidance of voices of political dissent towards the ruling party - even if this avoidance requires the pains of physical relocation.
Africa Review. “Why Ramciel would be South Sudan’s new capital city”. Reported by: Machal Amos. 13 September 2014.
Aljazeera. “Juba: East Africa’s economic boomtown”. Reported by: Gregg Carlstrom. 7 July 2014.
Pantuliano, Sara (2009). “Going home: Land, return and reintegration in Southern Sudan and the Three Areas” in Uncharted Territory: Land, Conflict and Humanitarian Action. Sara Pantuliano (Ed.). London: Overseas Development Institute.
Radio Tamajuz. “Govenor explains plan to transfer South Sudan’s capital to Wau”. 4 August 2014.
Sudan Tribune. “Aliab-Dinka urge consultations before to relocate [sic.] South Sudan capital to their Ramciel”. 18 November 2013.
Sudan Tribune. “South Sudanese rebels downplay relocation of national capital to Wau”. 31 July 2014.
USAID (2010). Customary Tenure and Traditional Authority in Southern Sudan: A Case Study of Juba County. Juba: USAID.