Hundreds of residents of Western Bahr el Ghazal rallied in the state capital this week for a somewhat unusual cause: they want the national capital of South Sudan to be relocated from Juba to their state capital, Wau.
“Wau is an old town and we are ready to receive any state institutions," said Mary Emilio Bafuka, the head of a local NGO called Women of South Sudan.
State Governor Zachariah Hassan Rizik said earlier this month, when President Salva Kiir visited Western Bahr el Ghazal, that, unlike Juba, Wau has enough land to house public institutions and the potential to produce electricity on a large scale to power the government and residents. It has also remained peaceful during the conflict in the country.
State Information Minister, Derick Uya Alfred, said relocating the national capital to Wau will help to create jobs in the region and boost the local economy.
Room for all
He also reiterated what Rizik said -- that there is plenty of room in Western Bahr el Ghazal for everyone who would come to the region if the capital were moved there.
“We have enough land and there are no people living on it," Uya said. "If you go to Raja County and other directions, there is a lot of land. This land might belong to people but it could be rented, and then they will be better off.”
Not the first time
Antonate Benjamin Bubu said South Sudan should take a leaf out of other countries' books and relocate the capital. Nigeria moved its capital from Lagos to Abuja in 1991 and Tanzania moved its administrative capital from Dar es Salaam to Dodoma in 1974.
“I have seen, in many countries, that the capital can start out in one place and then be relocated to another so that the new area can develop," Bubu said.
"The idea is not new," he added.
Even the United States, in its early days, had eight different capitals before a permanent one was established in Washington, D.C. in 1800, 14 years after independence.
Paul Sabin Wadito, 30, shrugged off historical precedent and said he doesn't want to move the capital. He fears that doing so will harm Western Bahr el Ghazal's less-well-off residents because powerful people might try to take their land from them.
A member of the government, Information Minister Michael Makuei, said a rally of several hundred people in Wau was not enough to move the capital, in any case.
"Whether this capital will be transferred or not is not the question of one state demanding it. It needs more than that," Makuei said. He added, however, that the government respects the right of the people of Western Bahr el Ghazal to freely express themselves.
It's not the first time South Sudanese have considered moving the national capital.
In 2011, the cabinet approved a $10-billion plan to relocate the capital to Ramciel in Lakes state. Officials said they needed to move because they could not find enough land for government buildings in Juba.
That plan was never implemented, largely because funding was not available.