Last year, we profiled the world’s newest national capital, Juba, the capital of not-quite-one-year-old South Sudan. A few months before independence, however, the South Sudanese government announced that this arrangement was to be temporary and that the government would be looking for a more central location for its permanent home, as well as one that was planned better than the rapidly-expanding, disorganised Juba, which is quickly gobbling up land the local Bari people consider to be theirs (the disputes over land turned to violence this week, leaving multiple people on either sides of the conflict dead in a Bari drive-by shooting followed by a retaliatory arson against Bari residents). While Juba will hold its position as capital for a number of years to come, on 2 September 2011 the South Sudanese government agreed on a new capital: Ramciel, a location in Lakes state 200 km (125 mi) north of Juba and closer to the geographic centre of the country.
Ramciel (also spelled Ramshiel, Ramchiel, or Ramkiel; ram from the Dinka word for ‘meet’ and ciel from the word for ‘middle’) was chosen not just for its geographic proximity to the centre of South Sudan but also for its location in traditional Dinka territory. Unlike the sedentary Bari farmers of the area surrounding Juba, the Chiech Dinka of the Ramciel area are nomadic pastoralists with a communal approach to land ownership, making expropriation much less of a concern. As well, Lakes officials have offered the land to the federal government without condition.
Six companies bid for the construction contract to build Ramciel, with Pan-China Construction Group being awarded the contract in October 2011; currently the capital site is about to undergo a feasibility study to be conducted by a South Korean firm. The initial plans for Ramciel are very ornate by South Sudanese standards, as one can see from this link and this link: towering central skyscrapers in the middle of a Brasilia-style central axis surrounded by Sun City, Arizona-style circular residential neighbourhoods on one side and office blocks on the other.
An issue for Ramciel may be its location at the edge of the Sudd, the giant swamp formed by the White Nile. With the Sudd being one of the world’s largest wetlands, direct road links between Ramciel and other major cities, especially those on the opposite side of the White Nile, will have to be rather roundabout in many cases. Beyond that, simply transporting construction material to the new capital will be difficult; no paved roads exist in the entire country outside of Juba. The other major issue, of course, is the massive cost of the project: approximately US$10 billion (contrast that with the 2011 South Sudanese gross domestic product of just US$13.2 billion). The government’s initial goal was to have Ramciel built in five years once construction begins. The coming years shall see how that bears out.
On a related note, the globe on top of my office bureau was produced back in 1984 but evidently was prescient enough to predict the emergence of a (at least partially) separate South Sudan over a quarter-century early. (Actually, it’s most likely displaying the short-lived Southern Sudan Autonomous Region, which existed from 1972 to 1983 before being abolished by the northern-based Sudanese government, leading in turn to the Second Sudanese Civil War. The borders of modern South Sudan are largely based upon this region.)
Amos, M. (2011). The search for new nation’s capital in South Sudan. The Independent (Uganda), 29 April 2011. Available at http://www.independent.co.ug/News/regional-news/4130-the-search-for-new-nations-capital-in-south-sudan. Accessed 8 March 2012.
Amos, M. (2011). Why South Sudan prefers Ramciel to Juba as its seat of government. Pachodo, 15 September 2011. Available at http://pachodo.org/latest-news-articles/pachodo-english-articles/2249-why-south-sudan-prefers-ramciel-to-juba-as-its-seat-of-government. Accessed 7 March 2012.
Amos, M. (2012). Korean firm to survey South Sudan new capital. Africa Review, 23 February 2012. Available at http://www.africareview.com/News/Koreans+to+survey+South+Sudan+new+capital/-/979180/1333490/-/pfkdux/-/index.html. Accessed 8 March 2012.
Gurtong Trust (2011). What and Where is Ramciel? Gurtong, 8 September 2011. Available at http://www.gurtong.net/ECM/Editorial/tabid/124/ctl/ArticleView/mid/519/articleId/5689/What-and-Where-is-Ramciel.aspx. Accessed 8 March 2012.
Sudan Tribune (2011). South Sudan to establish a new capital city and relocate from Juba after independence. 6 February 2011. Available at http://www.sudantribune.com/South-Sudan-to-establish-a-new,37886. Accessed 7 March 2012.
Sudan Tribune (2012). Land dispute leaves over five people dead in South Sudan’s capital, Juba. 6 March 2012. Available at http://www.sudantribune.com/Land-dispute-leaves-over-five,41811. Accessed 8 March 2012.
Uma, J.N. (2011). Chinese firm wins contract for S. Sudan’s new capital. Sudan Tribune, 28 October 2011. Available at http://www.sudantribune.com/Chinese-firm-wins-contract-for-S,40562. Accessed 8 March 2012.