South Africa’s Deputy President Kgalema
Motlanthe believes the referendum
will go well. (Image: Bongani Nkosi)
• Mustafa Biong Majak Koul
Director General of Information
Southern Sudan Government
When Africa is mentioned, wild animals often come to mind. Now, in Southern Sudan, this is being taken a step further with plans to restructure two cities into the shapes of a giant rhino and a giraffe.
It’s hoped this will help rejuvenate the impoverished and war-weary region.
The one city, Juba, will take the shape of a rhino, while the city of Wau will be modelled on a giraffe. Both animals are national symbols of Sudan.
This ambitious plan, which will need U$10-billion (R68.2-billion) to implement, has been introduced in the run-up to a referendum in January 2011. If the majority vote is “yes”, Southern Sudan will split from the north and become fully autonomous.
Sudanese authorities are busy talking to investors about raising the project’s budget, which is almost six times more than the southern region’s 2010 budget of $1.9-billion (R12.9-billion).
The National Congress Party, along with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) govern northern Sudan, while the SPLM oversees the southern region.
Daniel Wani, the under-secretary of Southern Sudan’s ministry of housing and physical planning, said of the plans: “It’s very innovative and it’s unique, that’s our thinking. The ministry of housing thinks you have to be unique to attract the people.
“The advantage is that there will be uniformity of planning. It will be very easy for future generations to follow our thinking, what we wanted to put in place, because we are not planning for now, we are planning for tomorrow,” said Wani.
Architectural firms from Canada and Sudan drew up the designs, which, if approved, could take 20 years to execute.
Architectural drawings of Juba, the region’s capital also called the Rhino City, show that police headquarters would be situated at the rhino’s mouth, an amusement park at the ear, an industrial area along the back and residential housing throughout the four legs.
Jemma Kumba, the minister of housing and physical planning, said: “Juba is made up of slums and the plans would bring order to the city’s chaotic layout.”
But there are some sceptics who believe the project will never take off, and others maintain the money should go towards initiatives that would do more to improve lives in the region.
“This is just one of a collection of crazy ideas and it’s very unlikely to ever happen,” said a Juba-based contractor familiar with the blueprints.
Nora Petty, an aid worker for the Malaria Consortium NGO in Juba, said: “It doesn’t seem like the government of Southern Sudan should be using its resources or staff time on these projects when the people there lack basic services like healthcare and water.”
Oil, religion fuel civil war
Sudan gained independence from British colonial rule in 1956 and had its first taste of instability in May 1969, after the civilian government was overthrown and Jaafar Numeiri took control.
In 1978 large reserves of oil were discovered in Bentiu, Southern Sudan, and in 1983 Numeiri introduced Sharia Law, which led to hostilities between the north and south, which was mostly Christian at the time. A vicious civil war ensued.
Numeiri was overthrown in a military coup in 1985. Current president of Sudan and the head of the National Congress Party, Omar al-Bashir, came to power in 1989 when he, as a brigadier in the Sudanese army, ousted the existing government.
Heart of the conflict
Today’s conflict in the oil-rich Darfur region is a continuation of the civil war, which flared up in February 2003 when the SPLM Army and Justice and Equality Movement groups in Darfur took up arms, accusing the Sudanese government of oppressing and committing genocide against black Africans in favour of Arabs.
Several hundred thousand are believed to have died there – either from direct combat, or starvation and disease caused by the conflict.
Although the situation remains volatile, UN and AU peacekeeping forces maintain a heavy presence in the region and the International Criminal Court has issued a warrant for the arrest of President al-Bashir on charges including war crimes and torture.
South Africa’s position on Darfur
South Africa is keeping a close watch on developments in Darfur, especially in light of the upcoming referendum.
Speaking in parliament on 3 November, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe said the country’s government was “reasonably satisfied that preparations for the referendum are progressing well.”
“Sudan was mired in conflict for many years. Through mediation efforts mainly from the African Union, the main political parties signed a historic Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) on 9 January 2005,” he added.
“Part of the agreement is that a referendum be held to give the people of Southern Sudan an opportunity to decide whether or not the region should secede.
“In terms of the CPA, the National Congress Party and Southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement agreed to work together to address the causes of conflict in different parts of the country. The two parties have formed a government of national unity to govern Sudan as a whole, while the SPLM governs Southern Sudan,” Motlanthe said.