South Sudan is keeping African cartographers and GPS programmers busy. In addition to having to update maps to include the boundaries of Africa’s newest state, they now have to reflect South Sudan’s decision to change its capital city only two months after independence. By SIMON ALLISON.
The idea of changing capitals had been mulled over for some time, but the decision was nonetheless momentous. Juba, the current capital, had been the primary base of the south for decades, and had seen a huge construction boom in the last few years as corporations, aid agencies and returnees rush to establish themselves near the seat of government. Already, Juba had become journalistic shorthand for referring to the government of South Sudan (as opposed to Khartoum in the north). But Juba isn’t a very suitable capital. Shortages made land very expensive and difficult to come by, and indigenous groups were unwilling to make space for the large plots required by the national government. Local government was also reluctant to let the city become some kind of federal area under national rather than local jurisdiction.
The new capital will be in Ramciel, located near the middle of the country and almost completely undeveloped. It’s envisaged that a new city will be created over the next five or six years, with government operating from Juba until then. The choice of Ramciel was partly symbolic, thanks to its central location, and partly in deference to South Sudan’s liberation icon, John Garang, who, before his death, declared that was where the South Sudanese capital should be. There are rumours that Ramciel might even be renamed John Garang City.
The location of its capital city is a headache for any new nation. While some countries already have established government centres, others create them from scratch. Nigeria built Abuja to escape the Lagos chaos, for example. South Africa fudged the issue completely with our unique (some would say ridiculous) three-capital system, where the three branches of government are spread around the country. DM
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