BY: Malith Alier, Jinja, Uganda, FEB/23/2014, SSN;
Land grabbing is a grossly over misrepresented phenomenon among town and city dwellers in South Sudan. According to the CPA, land is defined as a communal asset. This means that land is the property of a particular community whose ancestors originally inhabited that piece of land.
This definition was appropriate for the interim period i.e. from July 2005 to July 2011. However, this definition stuck beyond the stated period and continuous to create difficulties not only to individual persons but also to various levels of the government.
The first land confrontation was between the Central/Federal Government and that of Central Equatoria State.
For Juba to be a true capital of South Sudan, the Central Government requested Central Equatoria State to relocate to Yei or any other town of its choice.
In defiance of Central Government request, the Central Equatoria Government cited the CPA provision and its own State transitional Constitution as reasons that enable it to exercise jurisdiction over Juba.
However, instead of fighting on, the Central Government led by the SPLM revisited a little known Ramciel Project and strove to accelerate relocation of the capital from Juba to the designated capital, Ramciel.
The SPLM led Central Government has a particular way of dealing with national issues of magnificent concern like the Ramciel and Juba issue.
One would assume that there exists the same provision in the South Sudan Interim and Transitional constitutions that make Juba the capital of South Sudan just like the Central Equatoria Constitution.
If so, both Constitutions have conflicting provisions that need to be sorted out by law.
The South Sudan Transitional Constitution is not subordinate to that of Central Equatoria but it is the other way round.
In case of similar federal States the world over, any conflicting provisions in federal and State Constitutions are resolved through the courts. Always the federal Constitution prevails over State Constitution.
This is the path South Sudan Government should have taken instead of choosing a less controversial but costly relocation at the time when the country has no known developed infrastructure and resources to support the relocation.
The planned relocation is a good idea whose time is premature. Many notable South Sudanese object to this relocation on the grounds that the country is not ready for it right now.
There are issues of rampant corruption, poor infrastructure and prohibitive high costs of the project itself.
Looking around us, there are many examples of planned relocations on the African continent. Tanzania relocated its capital from Dar Es Salam to Dodoma. Nigeria relocated from Lagos to Abuja, Uganda relocated from Entebbe to Kampala.
Further afield, Australia relocated its capital from Sydney to Canberra. These are a few among many more examples of recent relocations.
So, relocation of national capitals is not a bad idea but it must be carefully planned if it were to succeed.
The Government of the Republic of South in it assessment failed to identify true reasons that make relocation necessary.
These reasons include:- poor plan of the existing capital, lack of space for expansion and problems of strategic location of the current capital. Some people argue that a capital should be located in the centre of a country.
Land grabbing and loggerheads with any State government are not sufficient reasons for relocation. With open mind these problems could easily be solved constitutionally.
The Central Government abandonment of Juba for Ramciel has a number of consequences a part from being unachievable at the moment.
First, the Central Government is seen as weak and unaware of legal avenues at its disposal. These legal avenues can be used against States that challenge the Federal Government authority in matters of which is has jurisdiction like land, foreign affairs and defence.
It is the Central Government that should delegate some land issues to the lower levels.
Second, the abdication of Central Government has emboldened State Governments and local communities to become obstacles to land distribution programs equitable to all South Sudanese.
Juba is the most difficult city to acquire land title in the whole country. It is also where cries for land grabbing are the loudest.
Reason, the land acquisition is obfuscated among different levels of the Government and local Bari communities.
The other towns with the same scenario are Yei and Nimule. The Madi of Nimule is often at the loggerheads with Eastern Equatoria Government over war time displaced people that settled in Loboni, Mugali and Magalatoria.
The UN which used to feed the internally displaced people there invented the term IDPs or Internally Displaced Persons. This term is nostalgically still in use today to describe those who settled in Nimule despite the fact that the three settlements have been abandoned and the country is independent.
Nobody should be identified by this UN demeaning term “IDP” in their own country.
This was the same message by Minister of Interior when he visited Nimule last year. This message however, was not well received by the Madi diehards who want to continue with regressive land policies over the coming years.
As Juba, Yei and Nimule continue quarreling over how to deal with land; other towns are more progressive and accommodating and therefore, have devised progressive policies that are favourable to locals as well as other prospective land owners.
Bor, the recently war devastated capital of Jonglei State is a case study in the country.
The first independence Governor of Jonglei Mr. Philip Leek initiated a land distribution programme in 2007 after consultation with local people.
The local people, like the Madi, opposed the idea because they felt that they will be disadvantaged in the process of distribution.
However, the former Governor managed to sufficiently address their concerns and they were the first to receive land allotments wherever, they are located.
The Land distribution programme was going on well before the recent upheaval in the country. The case of Bor is the best example of a successful land distribution programme to emulate.
There are important issues South Sudanese have not known about land. Land is a factor of production like capital and labour.
Land is a very important economic factor without which production is impossible to realise.
Land is a resource that holds other resources like minerals. If these minerals are not exploited and developed than they mean little to mankind.
The same to land, if not develop it has little value to man. This is to say that a surveyed land is more valuable than free land.
The intensified migration to towns meant that land be surveyed and allotted to individuals or institutions for a meaningful use to take place. Nobody loses anything in this process.
If one is not directly allocated a piece of land he/she can have an option to buy from legal owners and ownership is completely transferred forever.
Indeed, it becomes easy for those who transfer from one city to another. They can sell their homes from where they’re leaving and buy from where they’re going. This means a total peace of mind to everybody in the country.
Opposition to land distribution programme can cause unintended problems as seen in parts of the country particularly those cities that hinder allocation of lands to those who need it.
Juba is not only the capital of the republic but is also a cosmopolitan city that accommodates all sorts of people around the globe.
Instead of being narrow minded, the authorities should devise clear land policies that cater for diverse needs of South Sudanese and other people who join them as businesspeople or as diplomatic community.
Every one of the mentioned stakeholders has unique needs that warrant specific attention.
Strangely, holding to “our ancestral land” only emboldens those who feel marginalised to take the law on to their own hands.
The incident when about fourteen (14) people were killed in Komiru, Juba was a horrific result of not transparently allocating land to legitimate claimants.
Remember that the so-called land grabbers have legitimate claims to land ownership anywhere in the country. The questions they normally asked include; now I am in this city where my family and I should stay?
Also during the liberation struggle, the fighters fought anywhere regardless of where they come from. The transitional constitution of the Republic of South Sudan confirms this notion in no uncertain terms.
South Sudanese should stay anywhere in the country without discrimination according to both Interim and Transitional Constitutions.
The second problem is the legal battles over land cases that otherwise are avoidable. In most cases, those who are accused of land grabbing are those who found an empty land settle on it only to be informed later that they had grabbed that land.
The third problem is the loss of income to the government. Many land deals are done underhand far from the government radar. In Juba alone there are tens of thousands of land leases going on since 2006.
The Ethiopians, Eritreans and other investors have taken advantage of this legal loophole and are the prime beneficiaries of these illegal land deals.
This issue had prompted one of the Citizen Newspaper Columnists, Mr. Sunday D Tor, to refer to Juba as Juba Na Foreigners instead of Juba Na Bari as advocated in the past.
The final problem is to do with the legal implications of these illegal land deals in the foreseeable future. Will more land problems arise between land owners and foreign investors? Will they come to the government? How shall the government handle these cases?
All in all, land grabbing is a man-made issue that should never have been had the government taken charge to allocate land transparently.
The government and local communities have made land in the cities like a forbidden fruit. South Sudan as a country has abundant land compared to other parts of East Africa. Why should people fight over urban land is something that warrants special government intervention.
Nobody should call a fellow countryman an IDP in their own country. This is a shameful UN tag that has no meaning in an independent South Sudan.
The country is too big for the people of South Sudan and as such even welcomes the Sudanese nomads of Mesiryah and Rezegat yearly.
It is mind boggling why should South Sudanese be so vindictive on one another in regard to the land issue which has claimed millions of lives to liberate it?