The Intractable Challenge to Modernizing the Republic of South Sudan vs. Building Ramciel City
By David Mayen Ayarbior, Juba, South Sudan
February 12, 2017 (SSB) — A couple of weeks ago our country (Juba City) was ornamented by a visit from His Majesty King Mohammed VI of Morocco which lasted for about twenty-four hours (or two days). During the visit, South Sudan and Morocco signed MOUs and Cooperation Agreements in many areas, including mining, agriculture and more important: construction of a whole new capital city in Ramciel.
Being one of the richest businessmen in Africa, the Moroccan King’s first visit to a sub-Saharan African country would not have been possible if he wasn’t convinced that it made good business sense. Nonetheless, it remains a very good gesture from the King to look for business in our country. Like a few other sub-Saharan countries, the potential opportunities for huge business profit in ours are immense.
The visit has been discussed by South Sudanese everywhere. For those in government it wouldn’t have happened at a more opportune juncture as this one, where only condemnations are flying all over the place. Not only has the government been chastised by the international community and accused of all kinds of human rights violations, its very legitimacy is being challenged by potent rebellions at home. It is also struggling with “managing” the economy.
Keeping aside the political and possible economic significance of the visit, the question under serious discussion on our streets is whether South Sudan is in dire need of a new modern capital city. So many good arguments are there in favour of ‘the Ramciel dream’. Indeed, in principal, I also find myself inclined towards having Ramciel as the future capital city of South Sudan. However, the main question to me and others is: when?
Looking at the bigger picture, our country is currently devastated by a man-made disaster which is unparalleled in Africa’s recent history. Very few countries in Africa might have experienced something closer to what is currently happening here.
Eighty percent (5.8 million) of the country are food insecure (according to the Council of Ministers, Friday February 10, 2017). Over 1.5 million refugees in the region (UNHCR, February 2017). Millions of internally displaced, including over one hundred and fifty thousand hosted by UNMISS PoCs alone. An inflation rate of over 1, 500%. And to cap it all, there is no end in sight to the civil war which triggered this disaster. Where does a brand new city fall in here!?
First of all, the resettlement of the millions who are currently uprooted from their homes may need USD billions. Should they wait for over ten years before Ramciel is built? Secondly, the most fundamental prerequisite for a city is presence of a big population. To that end, we already have so many big cities with big populations. The only thing they require from government is services.
For one example, the ethnically diverse population of Juba is (used to be) approximately 1.5 million. The combined population in neighborhoods like Munuki, Gudele, Hai Referendum, Gure and Jebel could be more than half a million. They have been waiting patiently for public amenities (tarmac roads, electricity and water grids, primary schools, hospitals, etc.). The cost of such amenities is very high. It must include construction of a hydro power plant (e.g. Fulla).
Moreover, the people (existing cities and states) of South Sudan are begging for inter-state roads and railway connections. They want to visit and trade among each other easily. Millions in our country dream of a journey from Wau to Juba to Malakal and Bentiu, but this time on a train which is full of different tribes.
Unless “our” King promised everything (including inter-state roads, which is laughable), they would rather the money (loans) he offered for building our dream City (Ramciel) to be rechanneled to the more urgent priorities of connecting the states of South Sudan and building social infrastructures in existing cities.
Finally, since I have brought my/our message home, I don’t believe that any foreigner (Kings and Emperors included) can build a whole new modern city in another country. It has never happened in human history, except for Alexander the Great who thought he was going to settle in Alexandria (Egypt), a city in his Roman Empire anyways.
The Moroccan King is worth about $2.5 billion in terms of personal wealth. His country is not the richest in our poor Africa. And even if Egypt was behind the whole dream-city sham for its own Jonglei Canal nightmare, from which it refused to wake up, it would not be a worthy trade for us. In fact, the Canal will never be built, period. Egypt and Morocco, and the whole Arab world should just enjoy dreaming about it for that is the maximum they can get from the whole disastrous project. Dreaming about it.
In conclusion, countries that have two capitals like Nigeria, Ivory Coast and South Africa had just selected and modernized existing cities to be their new political capitals. It is of course possible and better to build one from scratch. But, of all rich and economically stable African countries, how can it be South Sudan: the poorest and suffering, the falling apart and destroyed, the bleeding and weeping beloved country? It doesn’t add up at all, it just doesn’t.
The writer is a Lawyer, Political Economist, and International Security specialist. He is the author of: House of War (Civil War and State Failure in Africa). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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