Meet Juba, the World’s Newest National Capital


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On 9 July, Southern Sudan will announce its long awaited independence as the Republic of South Sudan. While the exact geographic arrangement of South Sudan is still to be determined due to the volatile dispute over the status of the Abyei region, the country will definitely consist of Bahr el Ghazal, Equatoria, and Upper Nile regions. The capital of the new country will be the capital of the state of Central Equatoria, Juba.

CountriesRecognizingSouthernSudan

Countries that have announced they will recognise South Sudan are in green (the African Union as a body also will recognise the new country); countries with no publicly declared position are in grey. Only Eritrea, Iran and the Gadhafi regime have spoken against recognising South Sudan as of June 2011. Source: Bearas, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:CountriesRecognizingSouthernSudan.PNG. Used under the terms of the Free Art License.

Juba is located about 180 km by road north of the Ugandan border on the White Nile River, and dates back to 1922 when it was founded as a Greek trading post at the southern terminus of Nile river traffic. The city was the site of the 1947 British-Sudanese colonial conference that affirmed the unity of Sudan as a single entity in advance of independence in 1956 (until that point, Britain had treated the two halves separately) and, in the process, essentially handed control of the country to the north (of the 800 administrative positions vacated by the British, all but four went to northerners), exacerbating the north-south conflict that has persisted ever since. Since then, Juba has been the political and commercial centre of South Sudan. According to the last Sudanese census, the population was not quite 115 000, but the last approved census was all the way back in 1993 (the southern government rejected the results of the 2008 census).Based upon the most recent estimates, the population is over 370 000 and growing quickly, with tens of thousands of people moving into Juba each year. As the south controls 75% of Sudan’s petroleum resources (which provide for 98% of the South Sudanese annual budget), Juba is expected to become a rather prominent hub for the oil industry, with the major investors coming from China (CNPC), Malaysia (Petronas) and India (ONGC).

There are many infrastructural challenges that have to be met in Juba. Things like sanitation systems are essentially non-existent. The 568-bed hospital is severely understaffed and constantly full. There is no post-secondary education in the city (there is a University of Juba for South Sudanese students, but it’s still located in the suburbs of Khartoum awaiting the construction of an actual campus in Juba for September 2011). Much of the transportation network has been damaged or left in disrepair from years of warfare. For example, the A43 road (the Gulu-Nimule) that connects Juba with Uganda and is the major source of land communication to the south remains unpaved and is often impassable entirely during the rainy season. In 2008, close to 300 transport trucks carrying goods and perishables were stuck in the mud for an entire week. The World Bank and the Japanese government have since funded a US$102 million project to tarmac the entire road. The city itself has just three paved roads, one of which is a concrete road built by the British back in the 1950s. There are no railroads for hundreds of kilometres in any direction; rail links to Kenya and Uganda have both been proposed.Given the state of surface transportation, it’s little surprise that Juba Airport is one of the busiest in East Africa. Juba may also have to deal with ongoing punitive measures from the north over oil revenue. As the major pipeline for South Sudanese oil has to travel through Khartoum to Port Sudan, any conflicts between the two governments could result in the pipeline being shut off; something the Khartoum government has already threatened to do. Earlier this week, rumours of the northern government poisoning the White Nile, the city’s main water supply, sent residents into a panic (it proved to be false). Rather than access to well water, much of Juba gets its water from tanker trucks that roam the city selling water taken from the Nile at prices unaffordable to the average person.

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The bridge across the White Nile at Juba. Source: DEMOSH, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sudan_Juba_bridge.jpg. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence.

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The main market square in Juba.

With the designation of Juba as the national capital, expect numerous embassies to be opened in the city. There are already a dozen consulates established in JubaWestern-style accommodations, banks and supermarkets are slowly creeping in. As Juba settles into its role as a capital and oil centre, amenities will begin to emerge and prices for valuable goods will come down. It will be very interesting to track the development of the world’s newest capital.

Further Reading

Fisher, J. (2007). Peace brings boom to south Sudan. BBC News, 8 January 2007. Available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6241259.stm. Accessed 26 June 2011.

Muller, P. (2011). The World’s Newest Capital? Foreign Policy, 6 January 2011. Available at http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/01/06/the_worlds_newest_capital. Accessed 26 June 2011.

Ocowun, C. (2008). Gulu-Juba road frustrates traders. New Vision, 3 September 2008. Available at http://newvision.co.ug/D/9/579/647875/Gulu%20Nimule%20Road. Accessed 26 June 2011.

Sudan Tribune (2011). Juba’s population panics over rumours of water poisoning. 23 June 2011. Available at http://www.sudantribune.com/Juba-s-population-panics-over,39316. Accessed 26 June 2011.

Thome, W.H. (2010). Railway link from Juba may go directly to Kenya. eTurboNews, 14 September 2010. Available at http://www.eturbonews.com/18517/railway-link-juba-may-go-directly-kenya. Accessed 26 June 2011.

United Press International (2011). Khartoum wields oil stick against Juba. 22 June 2011. Available at http://www.upi.com/Business_News/Energy-Resources/2011/06/22/Khartoum-wields-oil-stick-against-Juba/UPI-47191308738060/. Accessed 26 June 2011.

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