More cases of Land grabs in South Sudan

By Jay Johnson, South Sudan

March 26, 2013 (SSNA) — In my previous article; title: Stop squatters, land grabbing, Occupation and Colonization nonsense (South Sudan News Agency, March 22, 2013), I provided the facts and terms of agreement surrounding the Mukaya payams case in the state of Central Equatoria. The intention was to challenge the myth of land grab and occupation by Dinka and Western Nilotic former IDPS, politicians and army generals.

I argued as you might recall that the former IDPS in Equatoria region are neither land grabbers nor occupiers, but citizens of the Republic of South Sudan, exercising their constitution right to move and live within the define border of South Sudan. I did also point out unequivocally that there is land grab in Equatoria region and South Sudan in general. The perpetuators of land grabs are elites from our respective communities both in the government and villages.

In this article, I intend to discuss two additional cases of land grab in Jonglei and Western Upper Nile state to show that land grab is not an Equatorian issue. It is a national problem that should not be look from regional and tribal perspective. It cannot be blame squarely on Dinka and Nuer elites as the evidence show in Oakland Institute report. In fact, the Mukaya Payam land investment deal should dispel the myth of Equatoria land grab by Dinka and Western Nilotic people. The land lease agreement was signed by Mukaya Payam Cooperative, an Equatorian organization run by Equatorian elites. The reaction by Pojulu community of Mukaya Payam indicates the fictitious nature of these deals. 

Mukaya Payam

The Mukaya Payam Cooperative and Nile Trading and Development did the land investment agreement at the back of Pojulu community as I have alluded to in my previous article. The deal went beyond the boundary of not only of Mukaya Payam but Lainya County. The total land area for Lainya County is 345,000 hectares as opposed to 600,000 hectares, with option of additional 400,000 hectares of land that was agreed to in the lease deal. In fact the deal extends into Yei River and Juba counties administrative boundaries.

For those who have never been to Central Equatoria, Lainya County and Mukaya Payam in particular, is located between Juba and Yei River County. The USAID paved road which link Juba and border town of Nimule pass through Lainya County. Juba and Yei River county land might have been illegally appropriate without their knowledge if the deal is still binding as we speak.

As you will find in the attached Oakland Institute report, the Mukaya community seems to have learnt about the deal following the interviewing of some community members by Oakland Institute staff. Ironically, the government of Central Equatoria, especially governor Wani Konga and the state ministry of land and physical infrastructure were made aware of the deal. A letter was sent to the governor and state ministry of physical infrastructure prior to the completion of the deal by Mukaya Payam Cooperative and Nile Trading and Development.

Subsequently, a signed letter of protest was sent to governor, Wani Konga and president Kiir by the Mukaya Payam community. I do not know as of now what subsequent actions and measures were taken by both governments. More details can be found in Oakland Institute report.

Land grabbing, which is the acquisition of large piece of land by domestic and foreign companies for commercial purposes is not confine to Equatoria as the Equatorian elite want us to belief. Citadel Capital and Al Ain wildlife acquisition of lands in Western Upper Nile and Jonglei state should perhaps put this myth to rest. Like Mukaya Payam deal, these two deals were done at the back of the affected communities. For instance, the Murle community in Jonglei Boma national Park area and citizens of Pariang and Guit County were deliberately and systematically marginalize and excluded in the negotiation.

Western upper Nile State

The state of western Upper Nile entered into a 25 years land investment lease agreement with Citadel Capital group, an Egyptian based company in 2009. The deal covered 105,000 hectares of land in Guit and Pariang County. An annual lease fee of $125,000.00 payable to the state government was agreed upon.

The land in question was to be used for maize and sorghum production. Citadel Capital agreed to sell its produce locally so as to meet local food insecurity in the region. The company was exempt from taxation for 10 years and was given unlimited capital repatriation. Citadel capital also secured the right to irrigate its crop using the water from Bahr el Ghazel River, which lies 5 miles south of the farm.

The deals affected 5 villages with population of 1,250 people and were to relocate once the company commences its operation. There was no environmental and social impact assessment conduct to gauge the feasibility and suitability of the project to the environment and society.

The community request for employment was ignored. The company instead look south to South Africa for migrants farm workers. Although the land is own by the affected community, they were deliberately excluded in the process. Citadel negotiates the deal with state governor, Taban Deng Gai. As reported by the Oakland institute, Citadel Capital did promise community benefit projects. These projects are neither operational nor initiated.

Jonglei State

The United Arab Emirate based tourism and conservation investment company, Al Ain Wildlife entered a 30 years lease agreement with government of South Sudan ministry of the wild life in 2008. This deal happen Following President Kiir trip from UAE. The president office is reported to have instructed the ministry of wild life to sign the agreement with the company. The agreement covered 1.68 million hectares of land in Boma national park, which Al Ain agreed to develop and manage for tourism and conservation.

Revenues from the industry were agreed to be shared in the ratio of 70% for Al Ain wildlife and 30% for the government of South Sudan. About 15,000 people from Anuak, Murle, Jie and Kachipo were affected by the project and were told to relocate 4 hours’ drive away from the area. By the time the Oakland Institute was gathering data for the report, the company had completed the construction of guess accommodation near Maruwa village.

The locals were neither consulted nor were environmental and social impact assessments conducted prior to the agreement. Promise for employment, educational facilities, health centers, airstrips, boreholes, housing, roads and model village have not yet been realize. The company instead, to the disappointment of the locals hired a park manager from Juba.

Unsurprisingly, government officials interviewed by Oakland Institute have complained of mysterious planes that land and takeoff from the area without the knowledge of the government. And God knows why Al Ain Wildlife behaves that way. I have been told that the Boma Mountain ranges area is rich in valuable minerals, which the Al Ain Wild Life is probably exploring or extracting some minerals without government knowledge and permission.

On the positive note, it is fair to argue that investment from domestic and foreign companies should not always be view with suspicion and contempt. If done in transparent and non-fictitious manner, they can contribute to overall economic development of the country. Foreign investment in particular can provide the needed revenue to the government and local communities. Equally important is the provision of employment to the local population as most of these deals last for an average of 30 years.

What is troubling and disturbing is the deceptive and vague language in which these lease agreements were written. From pure legal perspective, this is problematic because contractual and binding legal agreement must be specific to help the parties to the agreement in the event of legal dispute. The government of South Sudan has limit if not zero chances of renegotiating the contract or wining the legal case should it decide to take for instance the Al Ain wildlife to international court of arbitration. Predictably, the UAE Al Ain wildlife have so far renege on its promise to the local Murle, Jie and Kachipo communities with regard to social benefits projects.

It is inconceivable to see how the communities will benefits from these deals made at their back by government and community elites. Community benefit project were either verbally promise or vaguely written so that the companies cannot have legal obligation to fulfill them. In other word, they lack specificity which is critical in contractual agreements such as this.

The deals also lack transparency and inclusiveness. This perhaps indicate the extent to which corruption have invaded our society.  Apparently and unquestionably, the government is the chief culprit in all these deals. The ministry of wildlife was instructed to sign the Boma National Park in Jonglei by President Office. We can speculate as to why the president and his office act the way they did. But clearly, there was lack of transparency in the deal. Social and environmental impact assessment could have been done prior to any agreement. The Kachipo, Jie, Murle and Anuak communities in the project area should have been consult and involve in the negotiation process.

The unethical practices of stealing and looting national resources, especially oil revenues have gone south this time to our only durable asset, THE LAND OF OUR FOREFATHERS AND MOTHERS! This is the land for which thousands of South Sudanese paid the ultimate price during the civil war.

Contrary to Equatorians elite belief of Dinka grabbing of Equatorian land, the practice is widespread and complex as these cases have reveal. It is being perpetuate by multinational corporations, Equatorian politicians and elites as well as by government officials. The Dinka and western Nilotic civilians in Equatoria region are innocent and deserve unconditional apology if fairness mean anything to the Equatorian elites.

The local communities, in which these deals take place have been systematically and deliberately marginalize and excluded. It is the villagers who will suffer and paid the price from negative social and environmental consequences associate with such investments. Moreover, the locals as is the case in Western Upper Nile and Jonglei state are the one who will be displace from their ancestral land without prompt and fair compensation.

Land is a precious commodity from which the hopes and future of our pheasants and farmers is tied to. Imagine what the average villager life would be without land in a country like South Sudan, where the private sector is nonexistence. How will these people earn a living if the elites can, with a stroke of a pen give away their land to greedy foreign corporations, whose sole purpose is to make profit at any cost to the local community?

As citizens, we need to be aware of such and other similar cases of corruptive practices. Otherwise our community and state representative both at national, state and village level will squander our precious asset, the land. I recently came across the case of Kenya Taita Teveta county. The residents of Taita Teveta County in Kenya coastal province are living as squatters on their ancestral land because the president- elected, Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta somehow own the land.

Perhaps the lesson to be learnt from these cases is that not everything western, whether democracy or capitalism should be wholeheartedly embrace without skepticism. Foreign investment does not automatically translate to economic development. Foreign companies like to invest in Africa because it is profitable and in part due to lack of regulations and high level of corruption by government officials. Perhaps, the myth of Equatorian land grabbing and occupation by Dinka and Western Nilotic need fresh examination and evaluation for the sake of fairness and justice.

Jay Johnson is a former freedom fighter and can be reached at [email protected]


Oakland Institute: Report in land investment deals in South Sudan:

Mukaya Payam community letter to Central Equatoria State governor:

Mukaya Payam lease agreement:–Lease_0.pdf

Letter from Murle community:

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