JUBA (Reuters) - South Sudan said Sunday it planned to move its capital to a more central location in the next few years, a project analysts say would be a costly distraction for a nation with almost no roads.
Juba lies to the south of the country that split from the rest of Sudan to become an independent state on July 9.
Following a resolution by the cabinet, the capital would be moved in five to eight years to Ramciel, a largely uninhabited area in Lakes state near the center of the world’s newest nation. It would sit on the west bank of the White Nile river.
South Sudan’s information minister, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, said the new site, which has no permanent buildings at present, lies roughly 100 km (60 miles) north of Juba.
“There is no adequate land in Juba. The land available is too small,” he said. “The only area that could accommodate the new government in Juba is an area for the migration of animals.”
Juba is a city of potholed streets and muddy lanes, although efforts are being made to spruce up the town with new tarmac roads, solar-powered street lighting in places and even floral arrangements in the central reservation on one street.
Benjamin said several companies, including a South Korean firm, have already put forward design proposals for building the new capital but no decision had been made. The total cost for the project is not yet known, he said.
“The government wants to put in proper infrastructure for the new city,” he said.
South Sudan’s secession, which split Africa’s largest country, followed a January referendum promised in a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war. The war left a country with few hardened roads, a poor power supply and limited other infrastructure.
“I think there are other more pressing issues than the moving or rebuilding of the capital,” said Sampson Wassara, an associate political science professor at Juba University.
“The government needs to look at consolidating and finishing the activities from the interim period before they think about making decisions that require extra expenditure,” he said.
“We are a landlocked country. We need roads and connections to Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia. These are priorities. South Sudan is isolated. It needs bridges across the Nile and roads connecting the states,” he added.
The vast Sudd swamp, one of the world’s largest wetlands, comprises more than 15 percent of the landlocked nation, which is extremely underdeveloped after years of war and neglect. By most estimates, the country, which is slightly smaller than Texas, has less than 100 km of paved roads.
Editing by Edmund Blair and Karolina Tagaris