Housing demolitions in Juba: a new Khartoum?

On Thursday 14th, last week, there was a demolition of a site in the centre of Juba. About twenty houses, tukuls and small business huts were flattened, the tin roofs lying among the mud bricks and bits of plastic buckets. Women were picking through the rubble, and men were standing about in small groups. We didn’t stop; there were some police watching things closely. But all the action was well over.

This was the latest in a growing line of summary demolitions in Juba. While these residents had apparently been warned for several years that their technically illegal squatting was going to lead to removals, they weren’t offered anywhere else to go or any help in relocating their small businesses, the tea stalls, shisha stands, mobile credit booths and barbershops that line the street on the way to the ministries road. The site is the property of a ministry, which apparently wants to build on the land (although it’s unclear where it thinks it will get money, at the moment).

Juba is growing very fast. Nearly every piece of land has a disputed claim to it, and three or more potential owners. What were basic squatter sites are now prime pieces of turf, and houses are being moved or part-bulldozed to make way for wider paved roads. Every day there’s another story – today, a man working at the cathedral told me about how his house suddenly lost its kitchen because some officials claimed 20 feet of land was public property and they needed to lay a road. Half of his house was bulldozed overnight; the current solution is that he takes 20 feet from the neighbour, and so on!

The worst demolition lately was what locals call the war in Komiru in Munuki, near where I work, in March. Ten people were reported killed in the illegal demolition; allegedly some ministry officials forged demolition papers to claim some land, and it is still entirely unclear who actually owns it – just like the majority of Juba.

Demolition by government fiat is something that comes up again and again in my research on Khartoum since the 1950s; the demolition campaigns of settlements of migrant workers in and around Khartoum has a long history, although its notoriety and intensity peaked in the 1990s and early 2000s. The problems were similar: a militarised, authoritarian state, endemic corruption, illegal land occupation, poverty, overcrowding, a complete lack of urban planning and social antagonism. It is very sad – although not surprising – to see people, some of whom experienced demolitions of similar kinds in Khartoum, either suffering or implementing the same short-termist nightmare in Juba.

On Thursday 14th, last week, there was a demolition of a site in the centre of Juba. About twenty houses, tukuls and small business huts were flattened, the tin roofs lying among the mud bricks and bits of plastic buckets. Women were picking through the rubble, and men were standing about in small groups. We didn’t stop; there were some police watching things closely. But all the action was well over.

This was the latest in a growing line of summary demolitions in Juba. While these residents had apparently been warned for several years that their technically illegal squatting was going to lead to removals, they weren’t offered anywhere else to go or any help in relocating their small businesses, the tea stalls, shisha stands, mobile credit booths and barbershops that line the street on the way to the ministries road. The site is the property of a ministry, which apparently wants to build on the land (although it’s unclear where it thinks it will get money, at the moment).

Juba is growing very fast. Nearly every piece of land has a disputed claim to it, and three or more potential owners. What were basic squatter sites are now prime pieces of turf, and houses are being moved or part-bulldozed to make way for wider paved roads. Every day there’s another story – today, a man working at the cathedral told me about how his house suddenly lost its kitchen because some officials claimed 20 feet of land was public property and they needed to lay a road. Half of his house was bulldozed overnight; the current solution is that he takes 20 feet from the neighbour, and so on.

The worst demolition lately was what locals call the war in Komiru in Munuki, near where I work, in March. Ten people were reported killed in the illegal demolition; allegedly some ministry officials forged demolition papers to claim some land, and it is still entirely unclear who actually owns it – just like the majority of Juba.

Demolition by government fiat is something that comes up again and again in my research on Khartoum since the 1950s; the demolition campaigns of settlements of migrant workers in and around Khartoum has a long history, although its notoriety and intensity peaked in the 1990s and early 2000s. The problems were similar: a militarised, authoritarian state, endemic corruption, illegal land occupation, poverty, overcrowding, a complete lack of urban planning and social antagonism. It is very sad – although not surprising – to see people, some of whom experienced demolitions of similar kinds in Khartoum, either suffering or implementing the same short-termist nightmare in Juba.

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2 Comments

Filed under South Sudan

2 responses to “Housing demolitions in Juba: a new Khartoum?

  1. terahedun

    The article is posted twice – but great piece on demolition in Juba. Are they taking into consideration safety standards for the newly created roads?

    • Hmm – I’ll try to solve that, I can’t see the duplicate. And no – I don’t think there are any real safety standards built in; the solar powered street lighting half-installed for independence last year actually works, to my surprise, but isn’t strong enough to light the streets in the evening, and the traffic police are frequently disinterested and most often give impromptu fines (apparently mostly at mealtimes). It’s all a little haphazard…

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