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South Sudan to establish a new capital city and relocate from Juba after independence

February 5, 2011 (JUBA) – South Sudan will soon begin to implement a huge project of building a modern new capital city for the newly independent state, saying the historical regional capital, Juba, does not meet what is required of a national capital in terms of infrastructure for public institutions, investment and the accommodation of diplomatic missions.

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Aerial view of Juba (Wikipedia)

After a referendum in January, in which 99 percent of southern Sudanese voted to separate from the north, the southern region is expected to become independent in July.

Several groups of potential investors who had interest to invest in the capital for the last six years failed to do so because of lack of land for investment, the south says. The southern government also has not built permanent structures for its executive, legislative and judicial institutions as the status of the town had not been settled. In Juba, which hosts about a million people, thousands of citizens have failed to legally acquire plots of land to build on.

Dozens of countries are expected to recognize the new independent state and will need pieces of land on which to establish their respective embassies.

Juba, which was established almost a century ago, by British colonial administrators, as the headquarters of former Southern Sudan’s three regions of Greater Bahr el Ghazal, Upper Nile and Equatoria, is said to have been disorganized, particularly for the last six years during its fast growing expansion. Officials say this is because of endless wrangling over jurisdictions of its administration by different levels of government, coupled with lack of standardized housing and poor surveying.

The semi-autonomous Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) has used Juba as the seat of the government, in accordance with the region’s interim constitution of 2005. Juba is also state capital of Central Equatoria

The local Bari community of Juba has cautioned against expanding Juba to incorporate the surrounding villages without their permission, quoting the provision in the interim constitution which stipulates that land belongs to the people, making it difficult for both GoSS and state to expand.

The GoSS, which serves as the highest authority overseeing the ten states of the semi-autonomous region, has for the past five years requested the Central Equatoria state government to relocate its capital to any of its other towns or locations, but the request was rejected.

Two years ago, the GoSS also came up with an alternative proposal to leave Juba for Central Equatoria state and establish a new capital at Gondokora Island, north of Juba, so that the two capitals could co-exist as twin cities. The proposal was also rejected by members of Bari community elders and intellectuals, according to officials.

In the resolution passed on Friday in a Council of Ministers meeting chaired by President Salva Kiir Mayardit, the government reached a decision to relocate the capital to a “befitting” new location elsewhere in the South.

The minister of information and official spokesman of the government, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, told the press that the “new capital would befit the new state of South Sudan.” He said the decision was not against any community or authority, but in the interest of the new nation.

He said two competing locations have been proposed for study before the government could choose one as a federal territory in which it will build the new capital. One of the proposed locations is an area which straddles four states; the north-eastern part of Central Equatoria, north-western part of Eastern Equatoria, south western part of Jonglei and south eastern part of Lakes state.

Another proposed location for the capital is Ramciel, which officials say is the geographic center of South Sudan has been the choice of SPLM – the former rebels who now govern South Sudan - since 2003. It is located in north-eastern part of Lakes state, near the border with Unity state to the North and Jonglei state to the East.

Marial added that a ministerial committee will be constituted by the president to visit the two proposed locations, study their respective topographies and seek consent of the communities inhabiting the areas and report back the findings within three weeks.

Citizens who spoke to Sudan Tribune in Juba on Saturday backed the idea of a new capital. A Juba University student who wanted to be identified only as Achol said: “I am very happy to hear that we will have a new modern capital city. Juba is so congested and disorganized. And besides, the state authority is not giving land to people who want to build houses. Juba is also nearer to Uganda and far from the rest of states and counties such as those of Tonj West in Warrap and Renk in Upper Nile. We want a capital in the center of South Sudan.”

“Yes let them relocate [the capital]. Juba of today is not the way it used to be, it has been spoiled by land grabbers. Legally acquired plots of people have been robbed by land grabbers who are new comers to this town. It will be a good chance to recover such lands once the capital is relocated,” said another, Michael Peter.

“The government is right to decide on best way of doing things. The capital city can be put anywhere in Southern Sudan. It doesn’t matter where it would be located as long as it is suitable and communities or authorities of such locations accept to give that land to the government to be the capital,” said a government official who did not want to be named.

While officials say it is important to consult host communities and seek their consent, they also explained that the provision of the CPA [Comprehensive Peace Agreement) and the interim constitution, which stipulates that land belongs to the people or community, has been misinterpreted or misunderstood by the communities. They further argued that the same provision further explained that the land will be managed by the government on behalf of the people, which they said acknowledges the government as the authority to decide and supervise on usage of land.

Marial said the ambitious project will not compromise other competing priorities in the service delivery and development of South Sudan in the coming period. If a new location is confirmed, the new independent country will contract companies or firms to do a feasibility study, as well as come up with the cost of building the new modern capital and attract investors who can finance the city project.

Officials say it could take at least five years to complete building the city.

(ST)