Creating a new capital city is not easy. Roads must be built, utilities organised and housing constructed. For the government of South Sudan, which is set to become an independent country following a referendum early next year, the task is even harder. Five years ago Juba, the nascent state’s would-be capital, was little more than a large village. Since then there has been a construction boom, but there has been little in the way of planning. Until now.
Last month the government, led by a former guerrilla movement turned political party, unveiled ambitious – some say absurd – plans to reshape Juba and nine other cities across the country. The government announced that the designs of the 10 cities would be based on animals and fruits, according to the symbols found on the state flags. Juba would resemble a rhino; Wau would look like a giraffe.
According to the colourful drawings proudly on display in the housing ministry, Juba’s new “city centre mall” falls smack in the belly of the beast as seen from the air. “Rural socialised housing” is slated for one of the rhino’s upper hind legs.
South Sudan has a lot of catching up to do. Neighbouring Kenya and Uganda have highways. The vast, war-torn south, by contrast, has a scant 60km of paved roads. The government is trying to change that – and a whole lot more – with pie-in-the-sky schemes such as the “animal-shaped cities” plan.
Reactions to the government’s plan, which seemed to have made waves in the international media more for its weirdness than its ingenuity, have been mostly negative.
Aid workers and expats were quick to scoff at the plan, decrying the idea that the government would devise a scheme with a price tag amounting to more than five times its annual budget.
But the housing ministry’s undersecretary Daniel Wani, who holds a PhD in civil engineering, rejected criticism of his plan, arguing that the government has to start somewhere. ”It’s about having a plan. Of course this project will take time. We want people to see the vision of the government and where we are going,” said Wani, “because when we came in 2005, people were expecting too much. With this plan, people will at least say, ‘oh, at least the government is thinking, even if they can’t put something down now, at least they have a plan.’”
Wani said that his ministry is not asking the government for the $10bn (€7.7bn) plus he says is needed to fund the scheme. Instead, he hopes the detailed plans will attract foreign investors, who he says have been calling him with more interest since the news broke.
Few Juba residents are so confident, though. “The problem is that the government talks a lot in the media, but then nothing happens,” said Abdelkadir Mursal, one of Juba’s many unemployed, pointing to the city’s potholed pavement and red dirt roads.