Monday, September 12, 2011

Yes, a new capital.

Suck my decadence (photo credit: David Adams)

(Update 15/9/11: See comments for my fail)

Sorry for the absence but apparently I have greater access to the internet in Juba than I do in my current location.....also, I had not come across anything that enraged me enough to encourage me to write........

So the Government of South Sudan has somewhat recently announced that it is planning to move the capital to a state-neutral area called Ramciel. This is not the first time GoSS has made this announcement and there seems to be just as much criticism to the idea this time around. Some Smug faced Guardian newspaper journalists has so kindly shared his view on the matter based on his "lightning visit" of Juba. The legend that is John Ashworth has so succinctly explained in the comments section

"A lightning visit" sums up the international media's understanding of South Sudan.
It is evident in reading the article and its romanticised description of Juba as some wild west town that the writer is missing some pretty important arguments as to why GoSS has come to this decision. You can find some more elaborate explanations in the comments section written by some South Sudanese, but here is my summary:

  • As the article suggests, Juba is growing very rapidly. However, the land around it does not belong to the government. As the South Sudan Land Act 2009 indicates, land is primarily owned by the "community". The land that surrounds Juba is owned by the Bari community, who are not particularly happy with Juba expanding anymore than it already has. So they can pretty much charge whatever they want for the land, and are very much motivated to charge ridiculous prices to discourage any further expansion. Therefore moving to newer cheaper land may be just as cost effective as staying (I am merely speculating and will not be doing the calculations for this).
  • Starting from scratch will mean that the government is able to plan out the new city much better to allow for infrastructure to be developed much more efficiently. For example, the current water supply system in Juba are rather small pipes that have been barely submerged in the ground. When ever it rained, the pipe near where I lived would be exposed, punctured and would turn the road into a river. Wasting treated water as well as making it a bitch for me to get home. 
  • Actually, screw this.....the article says "For outsiders, the decision [of moving the city] seems baffling", then fine, be baffled. People on the inside are just as baffled as to how the Guardian would publish such poorly researched articles. I've heard South Sudanese primary school children come out with more intelligence on development issues than this garbage. 
Although one point I would like to make that is independent of the Guardian article is that I worry about the motivation of selecting the location for the new capital. While it is great that the government is trying to keep everyone happy*, I fear that always making concessions to all parties as opposed to making decisions based on actual merits may be a shot in the foot in the long term. Nothing can make everyone happy all the time.  

To my friends still working in Juba, the capital city moving away simply means that you can still be based in Juba with all its bars and swimming pools while having the bonus 'badass points' of saying your living in the field.

* even though the Ramciel, while straddling multiple states is in fact very much Dinka country. Credit goes to Chagai  in the comments section of the Guardian article for this one. 


  1. I agree that typical Western media coverage of South Sudan--of which the Guardian coverage of the capital relocation is a prime example--is obnoxious in its tendency to take analysis no further than point-and-laugh or run away with a romanticized notion of "Africa."

    That said, I don't think it means the RSS decision to relocate the capital is tenable. Besides all the practical difficulties the decision entails--restarting infrastructure from scratch, pulling the rug out from all the investment in Juba, making the decision with no clear plan of how it fits into overall government priorities and budget--I find it especially worrisome from a precedent-setting perspective.

    Why is the federal government of a sovereign nation being bullied around by a state government and an indigenous community? Especially given that South Sudan is a de facto military one party state, I would imagine the logical solution would be not to run away into the hinterlands, but to assert central authority and make concessions accordingly.

  2. Sigh.....I knew leaving Juba would be my downfall.
    So fiiiiine, you are right Aaron. And so is the dick from the SS stats centre who gave me a telling off last night for the post. Building a new capital would be costly, especially when that money could be spent on much better development programmes. I am a stubborn and won't take such an attack to my ego lightly, I will provide some counters:

    - Simply telling GoSS that their idea is stupid while not putting forward any solid suggestion to help resolve the problem at hand (aside from just taking what they want) is also stupid

    - Moving an administrative capital does not necessarily throw away all the investment that has already been put into a city. When Brazil moved to Brasilia, Rio did not suddenly cease to exist. We are merely talking about moving the federal government. Which may actually free up some more space for the private sector. Better yet, lets just move out the UN out......that should free up half of Juba.

    - I've seen enough houses burnt down and people kicked out of their homes in Juba to think that spitting on the Bari community and simply taking their land is not a good idea. Also, when was it ever a good idea for a government to go against laws it had written only 3 years ago?

    - I would suggest that the city be made bit closer to Juba though. Something within commuting distance so that work between the two cities can be done with relative ease and efficiency.

    - As for the issue of money.... instead of convincing GoSS to spend the money they would spend on this city, on social development. Lets convince them to spend the money they usually spend on their swollen military budget, on this city.......Its all about redirecting the right funds. Worst comes to worst, make up a threat of a growing international terrorist organisation hiding within the SS borders and get extra funding from the US!

    I await your response.....
    Oh and if your response makes me look stupid.....I will ruthlessly delete it with the power of censorship.