By Luka Biong Deng
August 10, 2012 —The politics of establishing capital cities in many countries shows complexities and sometimes acrimonious history, particularly for the countries that existed for a long time and with expanding urban population. The politics of capital is not unique to the national capital but it also exists at all levels of government. South Sudan as a new nation can learn from the experience of other countries in establishing a capital city that will be time proven and for generations to come.
Prior to the conclusion of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), our Great Leader Dr John Garang commissioned a technical committee to conduct a feasibility study for the new capital of the South. Ramciel was identified as potential site for the new capital city as it lies between the three greater regions of the South, Bahr el Ghazal, Equatoria and Upper Nile. Although the assessment committee came back with a comprehensive report, the project of the new capital city was not kept alive because of new realities after the untimely death of our Leader Dr John Garang.
During the negotiations of the CPA, Juba was only mentioned 12 times in the entire document and only in the Ceasefire Arrangements Agreement. It was implicit from the reference to Juba that it was going to be the capital city of Southern Sudan. In particular, the Ceasefire Joint Military Committee and the Headquarters of the Joint Integrated Units were agreed by the Parties of the CPA to be located in Juba. In fact during the drafting of the Interim Constitution of Southern Sudan, the issue of capital city was one of the issues discussed by the Drafting Committee with Dr John Garang three days before the plane crushed that took his life. Dr John was clear that Juba was going to be the capital city of Southern Sudan after the formation of Government of South Sudan while Ramciel to be a future capital city of the South.
Immediately after we lost our leader, the SPLM Leadership met in New Site not only to resolve the issue of the successor but also to decide where to bury the body of our Leader. Although the issue of successor was rather straightforward as it was implicitly provided for in the resolutions of the SPLM First National Convention, the decision of where to lay to rest the body of our Leader was rather acrimonious as it triggered the discussion about the capital city. Some argued that the body of our Leader to be laid to rest in his home area, while other others argued for Juba. Some serious concerns were raised about the bitter experience with Kokora that made some of our leaders to question the rationale of burying the body of our Leader to rest in Juba as the experience of Kokora may repeat itself.
Our leaders from Greater Equatoria reassured the SPLM Leadership meeting that with the body of our founding father to be buried in Juba, then this will make Juba a symbol of our unity and a litmus test to our commitment to the values of unity in diversity for which we fought. On the basis of such commitments, the SPLM leadership decided not only to bury the body of our Leader in Juba but also made Juba the capital city of the South. As a founding father of the SPLM and the President of the Government of Southern Sudan, it was logical that the SPLM leadership took such decision. The SPLM leadership also emphasized that the liberation struggle heralded by the SPLM is meant to build new South on new basis and that Kokora was a result of the divide and rule policy pursued by the regime in Khartoum to weaken the unity of the people of the South.
When I attended the burial of the body of our Leader in Juba, the people of Juba showed a remarkable and unprecedented respect to their leader as the entire city was mourning in agony and in tears. I still vividly remembered the special prayer for the body of Dr Garang in Juba Cathedral Church when all prayers were in tears during the procession. People of Juba sent a clear message that they have not only loved Dr Garang but they considered him as their savior and symbol of their sacrifices. In fact the people of Juba have remarkably dashed the fears about Kokora and set good example of the togetherness of the people of the South under the banner of the SPLM vision of the New Sudan.
In reflecting the political will of the people of the South, our legislative assembly adopted in 2005 Interim Constitution that affirmed Juba as the national capital of the South. Unlike the Interim Constitution, the Transitional Constitution of our new nation reaffirms in Article 50 (4) Juba to be the national capital of the Republic of South Sudan but also allows the national government in Article 50 (5) to relocate by law the national capital to any other location within the territory of the South. Surprisingly and without due respect to the provisions of our constitution, the national council of ministers decided to relocate the national capital to Ramciel without due process of the law. Despite my ignorance of law, it is a common sense that such major decision of relocating the national capital to be subjected to wider consultation and not to be decided by few of us. That is the reason why our constitution makes it very that a decision to relocate the national capital can only be done by law. One would have expected the national council of ministers to prepare a bill for relocating the national capital and such bill to be discussed by national legislature (National Parliament and Council of States) and becomes a law after its approval.
This simple process of building a national consensus through legislative process has been overlooked by our national government and proceeded instead to implement its decision of relocating national capital by forming special committee and preparing huge and expensive project for building the new national capital. I was surprise last week to hear from our national TV the news that our national government has started with the process of moving to the new capital in Ramciel. I was rather chocked by the timing of such move by our government when our nation is facing serious and difficult economic conditions as articulated well by the national Minister of Finance when presenting the austerity budget to our national legislature.
The real question is whether the relocation of the national capital is priority to our new nation. While I do understand the reasons that might have made our government to take such a decision to relocate our national capital, the challenge of dealing with indigenous communities where the capital is located is not unique to the people of Juba but it is a common phenomenon seen in many capital cities of the world. Even in the case of Ramciel as the proposed new capital, the national government will face the same challenges that it encountered in Juba. I came to learn there are groups of people who claimed to be from Ramciel who complained to our government that they have not been consulted on Ramciel becoming the new national capital. It is important for our national government and the SPLM to continue dialoguing with the people of Juba to address their concerns rather than avoiding such challenge by relocating our national capital. We should not forget that the people of Juba, particularly the Bari community did not only participate remarkably in our liberation struggle but showed utmost level of respect to their leader Dr Garang when his body was brought to rest in peace in Juba. I know there are some individuals, who tarnished the image of the Bari community over Juba as national capital, but I am sure the average and normal Bari has seen during the last seven year the fruits of Juba as a national capital.
Also given the appalling living conditions of our people, our government is expected to make best use of the available meager resources to provide basis services to improve the distressful status of the Millennium Development Goals of our new country. Before independence our people had high expectations that their living conditions would improve after independence and it is natural that our government has to prioritize needs and to sequence such priorities to meet the needs of our people. Certainly, relocating national capital is not at all a priority to our people and it may be leisure in the context of the current conditions. During the last seven years Juba has witnessed remarkable development and expansion with vibrant economic activities as a result of huge investment by national government in building infrastructure for most of its institutions. In fact the name of Juba becomes synonymous with the name of our new nation. Also having Juba as our national capital will cement and strengthen the unity of the people of the South and this will alley the fears and feelings among some Equatorians that they are marginalized. Equally, the uncertainty around national capital is discouraging big investment in the South including the building of offices for foreign embassies in Juba. This huge political and economic infrastructure and presence of the Mausoleum of Dr Garang in Juba as well the economic hardship faced by our country will make Juba to continue as our national capital.
Luka Biong Deng is a senior member of South Sudan’s ruling Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the Co-Chair of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee. He can be contacted at email@example.com