By Roger Alfred Yoron Modi
In March 2011, Bari Community BC issued its position rejecting to offer land to the South (thern) Sudan government to build a national capital in or around Juba.
Gen. Alfred Lado Gore, who was the chair of BC at the time, officially submitted the document containing the Community’s stance on the government’s proposal to establish a Capital City in Juba, to Gen. Oyay Deng Ajak, the then GoSS Minister of Investment who led the committee to investigate the site for the new capital, in the presence of the then Minister of Housing and Infrastructure, Jema Nunu Kumba, the then Minister of Culture and Heritage, Gabriel Changson Chang, Juba Paramount chief and other government officials, at Kator B Court.
The territory for the Capital City in Juba proposed by the government was 19,000 km sq. It is important to note that the five largest cities in the World by land area, according to worldatlast, are New York (8,683 km sq.), Tokyo (6,993 km sq.), Chicago (5,498 km sq.), Atlanta (5,083 km sq.), and Philadelphia (4,661 km sq.).
In comparison with South Sudan’s neighbours, Addis Abba is just 527 km sq., Nairobi is 696 km sq., and Kampala is 189 km sq., according to Wikipedia. So, anyone can clearly see that the proposal by the South (thern) Sudan government to establish a 19,000 km sq. Capital City in Juba was completely unreasonable.
On the other hand, if I can remember well (I have lost some of the documents), the Bari Community also said they would have considered giving 5,000 km sq. (not 19,000 km sq.) for the proposed Capital City.
While rejecting the government’s proposal, the Bari Community argued that land is central to the Bari people and it is the only resource left because of the war. Further, they said the Bari land is not big and the community thought of securing it to accommodate displaced Bari people who are coming home.
Some of the reasons the Bari Community cited against giving Bari land to the proposed new Capital territory included: Land grabbing with impunity, Cattle Raiding and Child Abduction, and insecurity in Juba and the state as a whole. The Bari Community said they support the proposal to relocate the Capital City out of Juba.
It is worth pointing out that, at the time, the government had already made a proposal to relocate the Capital City to Ramciel while approaching the Bari Community on their position regarding Juba. And so, after receiving the Bari position and a report of the government’s ad hoc committee which was formed to look into the Capital City issue, in September 2011, the council of ministers chaired by President Salva Kiir resolved to relocate the national capital from Juba to Ramciel and directed the minister of housing and physical planning to come up with modalities for the relocation process.
The cabinet reportedly approved a 10-billion dollar plan in 2011 for the relocation of the capital to Ramciel. However, eight years down the line, whether it is due to political games or challenges caused by the war since 2013 or both, the Ramciel plan achieved nothing much and the government clearly cannot be able to get the billions it needs for the relocation anytime soon.
On the other hand, if you have been to Juba you could see that, most especially since 2012, Bari chiefs and youth seriously embarked on allocating their lands to the public (very large lands) in Juba and the villages in and around Juba. I’m sure if you have been to Juba in recent years, you could be aware of the allocation of the famous “tokens”. Surprisingly, chiefs and people from other tribes have also been allocating lands in and around Juba to the public. The state government (at least in the years I was there) would give official documents (title deeds) to the buyers of such lands (tokens) after some verifications and further payments. Of course, in between, shady deals have been happening, after paying the bad boys (they are from different and many tribes by the way), some people would still not get titles for the lands they paid for. But this is a topic that would require a focus on the procedures for land acquisition and the entire justice system in the Country.
All in all, a number of villages around Juba have already been allocated and occupied (I’m talking about the lands bought and occupied by people from the different tribes in Juba).
Indeed, people are free to sell their land on a willing-seller, willing-buyer basis and I have no problem with that. I have not been able to know if the position of Bari Community regarding the relocation of the Capital has changed or not. However, with the expansion that has taken place in Juba, I’m wondering if the stance of the Community regarding the Capital City remains the same as it was in 2011.
On their part, the central government continues to talk about relocating the Capital City to Ramciel. For example, in February 2017, it was reported that South Sudan is moving its capital city away from Juba to Ramciel and Morocco is financing the new capital according to an agreement (which is not seen by the public) signed between the South Sudan government and Morocco’s King. Meanwhile, the Moroccan Minister of Interior, Mohammed Hassan only said, “The Kingdom of Morocco has taken upon itself the commitment to finance the project (assessment fees) worth five million dollars.” There is no official document or report in the public domain saying Morocco is financing the building of new capital in Ramciel.
Last Thursday, the First Vice President Taban Deng Gai was quoted as saying “Ramciel is coming soon, by February 2020” during his speech at the SPLA Day celebrations. Really? 2020? You can make your own judgement about that statement.
In March this year, the FVP Taban also said, “I believe when we embark on Ramciel…Ramciel actually is going to change the attitude of the people of Juba.” (Whatever he meant by that.)
Though personally, I would prefer the Capital City to remain in Juba (I’m not a Bari by the way) based on a just and realistic agreement between the Bari Community, the State Government and the Central Government, I also have no problem with relocation to Ramciel, however, so far it looks like the government’s talks about relocation to Ramciel are just political and nothing practical has been achieved that corresponds with the years the plan has taken. Even getting the required billions anytime soon for the project is another problem.
So, who is not honest here? Who is fearing/avoiding an honest dialogue over the matter?
On one hand, it is undeniable that the Capital City being in Juba has brought huge economic and other benefits to the Bari and other people who own land in and around Juba.
But how useful are those benefits to Bari Community when the issues of insecurity in Juba cited by the Bari Community in 2011 when they rejected the government’s proposal for the Capital City has only worsened? Two civil wars started from Juba (2013 (with targeted killings based on ethnicity) and 2016), there’s continues rampant killings with impunity, and arbitrary detentions; while getting justice for a grabbed land remains almost impossible.
On the legal aspect, recently we have seen a voice from the resolution of the ongoing National Dialogue at the regional level (Bahr El Ghazal) saying “Land should belong to government” not “Community.” What shall be the implications of such a resolution on the lands owned by Communities (including Juba) if that’s what the National Dialogue is going to adopt in its final resolution? Even more practical, on land ownership, etc. what are the implications of the controversial Land Act, 2009 which many South Sudanese never knew came into force in the first place?
The R-ARCSS has now provided for several reforms in land policy and administration including in Article 220.127.116.11.1. which says, within twelve (12) months of the Transitional Period, the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity shall “initiate an in-depth national debate to review the current national land policy and the Land Act, 2008, in order to achieve consensus over land tenure, use, management and address issues of land grabbing, other malpractices involving land, carry out necessary reforms, undertake mapping, and to maximize economic utilization of land in South Sudan.”
However, the problem, as can be clearly observed, is not only about land issues and insecurity. It is also about opening up democratic space in the Capital City and the Country at large; people cannot be living in constant fear, threats, intimidations and harm just because of exercising their democratic right. And the R-ARCSS has provided for those reforms. The challenge, as has always been, is in the implementation.
On the issue of the Capital City, I would urge that, instead of this continues hide-and-seek game the government is playing, that they are relocating in this or that year but without any real achievement in that regard, etc., the government should review and substantially cut down its extremely unreasonable 19,000 km sq. proposal and then seek honest dialogue with the Bari Community on the matter, based on the respect of indigenous land rights, in a free and democratic environment.
Another major concern is that if the government cannot demonstrate its honesty to timely and fully implement Peace Agreements it signs with political parties including armed opposition groups at the national level and guaranteed by the international community and powerful countries, then on what basis should such a government be trusted that it will honour an agreement it shall reach with an ethnic community or a state government? The burden is all on the central government to prove its commitment to justice, freedoms and peaceful coexistence.
As for the Community, the other issue they would have to consider is whether or not selling the lands in and around Juba on their own, as is happening, is more profitable than giving the central government a reasonable piece of land for Capital City at whatever amount the government would be willing to pay.
In conclusion, having not seen a statement from the Bari Community since their stance in 2011 on the matter, despite the expansion in Juba and everything mentioned here above, hence I asked: has the position of Bari Community regarding the relocation of the Capital City from Juba changed?
I’m not making a decision on behalf of anyone. I have provided all the above information, analysis and observations for the concerned parties to see the current realities and freely choose whatever that works best for them.
Know your rights.
Have your say on community, and national issues.
Roger Alfred Yoron Modi, a South Sudanese journalist, is the former Managing Editor of Juba Monitor Newspaper and former Editor-in-Chief of Bakhita Radio. He can be reached via his email: [email protected]