Juba, South Sudan’s Capital (for now)

My colleague who has been working as a consultant in South Sudan on and off for the past 4+ years was giving me a little background on Juba as the capital.  Apparently, after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in 2005, the original capital was Rumbek. The city is pretty tiny, no paved roads, and the airport is just the basic dirt runway, but it was an SPLM supported city, so it was chosen. The MOH built their nice, fancy building there, expecting that the interim administrative capital would become the permanent capital… and then the capital was moved to Juba, a tiny little town which had been occupied by the northern Sudanese during the civil war.

Juba has become one of the fastest growing cities in the world in the past few years. Both returnees and an influx of thousands of expats and NGOs overwhelmed the city’s capabilities.  My colleague relayed when she moved here in 2006, people were being charged even more astronomical rates for renting their buildings than today (which, is pretty high, seeing as it’s a post-conflict zone)… and then being told they also had to pay to finish installing the roof.  But basically at that point, buildings become bidding wars for the biggest donors/NGOs.  Makes sense why Juba has grown so fast in the past few years.

All this brings me to the fact that while looking up some information today, I found out a few weeks back, Southern Sudan officials decided to look into moving the capital to a new city. Whether it does come to pass or not (and if so, how soon) will determine the future of the city. The majority of development here is driven by the fact that the national government offices are all based out of here, in addition to most NGOs having their main offices based out of here.  While the city may growing a little more rapidly than it can handle, the simultaneous development occurring on a daily basis is pretty amazing. In just 5 years, from pictures I’ve seen and stories I’ve heard, the city has built and rebuilt itself incredibly in order to meet development demands –  I’d be intrigued to see the city after another capital move, which wouldn’t happen probably for at least another 5+ years. But again… whether or not it actually happens is a whole separate issue. Nation building, hurrah!!  Imagine when they were trying to figure out in the US where to put the capitol city and moved around every 6 months. This is like that, but more awesome.

In other news, I might be getting to go on a supervisory visit to a clinic outside of Juba for several days next week. Fingers crossed that works out.  We’re finishing up the first part of my position (which is basically a big needs assessment to determine what precisely I’ll be doing) and I’m eager to get started. Have already met with tons of people, including partners, subcontractors, and one of the directors at the MOH.  I’m pretty pumped, if pretty exhausted.

And in case you’re wondering, yes, it’s still hot.  I know you’re shocked (just shocked!) that didn’t change in the past few days.  (We’re in the hottest part of the year. Although highs of 30*C instead of 39*C aren’t really a huge amount cooler. Life 4* north of the Equator, eh? Rough.) Being on the equator also means that you pretty much get 12 hours of day light no matter what. Which is awesome.

PS, if you’re looking for a good article on life/development in Juba and it’s odd state right now, this one’s pretty solid.  Excerpt:

Before it started shaping up to be the world’s newest capital, Juba had hung on as a garrison town occupied by the northern Sudanese army for much of the civil war. Evidence of the conflict – bullet holes in the few colonial era relics and rusted tanks on the outskirts of town – are only partially fading into the background as the “new Juba” is built on top of the ruins.

The result across the capital is a hodgepodge – a schizophrenic reality, where barefoot, filthy children live amid heaps of trash in what used to be a cemetery a few hundred feet from prime Nile River-side “cottages” that cost more than $4,000 to rent per month.


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