The scramble for the South

A spate of secret and exploitative land deals may cause instability and more economic hardship in the new state

Almost 10% of the land in South Sudan, due to win its formal independence on 9 July, has been sold or leased to foreign and local companies, according to a new report. Foreign investors have signed agriculture, biofuel and forestry deals which will take up 2.64 million hectares.

That’s the size of Rwanda. Including local domestic investment, tourism and conservation projects, the land transfer totals 5.74 mn. ha. or 9% of the South’s land mass, says the report, published by Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA).

Worried about the implications of some of the more opaque arrangements, officials in Juba are preparing to suspend some deals. A fierce confrontation looms over Jarch’s deal with Paulino Matiep Nhial.

The Chairman of the Southern Sudan Land Commission, Robert Lado Luki, and Unity State’s Deputy Governor, William Daud Riek, told Africa Confidential that Jarch’s contracts with Matiep were legally invalid. We hear Jarch’s colourful American Chairman, Philippe Heilberg, is due in the South to persuade officials.

Developing agriculture is a priority of the Government of Southern Sudan. A large underpopulated territory combined with plentiful water means that the country has great potential but it remains largely unexploited. Oil, which accounts for 98% of GOSS income, will run out by 2050 at the current production rate, says BP’s latest review of world energy.

Regulation has failed to keep up with land allocation. In 2009, the GOSS passed the Land Act to govern land leasing but it offers only a broad framework and no implementing mechanisms have been introduced. Other laws, including 2009’s Local Government Act and Investment Promotion Act give guidance but lack detail and are not always consistent.

A Land Commission was created in Juba but its role is limited to that of advisor and dispute mediator. State land commissions have been set up in some of the ten states, including Unity, but no power has yet been devolved to these bodies.]

A land policy bill has recently been drafted but controversies mean it could take several months before it is passed. Meanwhile, South Sudan has to deal with millions of dollars of land investment that are not properly regulated. Companies are unclear about what changes may be coming.

To view this article in full, please visit Africa Confidential.

Leave a Reply

Richard Nield is a freelance journalist, photographer and filmmaker covering the Middle East and Africa. In 10 years covering the region, he has been published and broadcast by clients including the BBC, Reuters, Al Jazeera, The Economist, The Financial Times, The Independent and Foreign Policy magazine. He has reported from throughout the region, including Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, South Sudan, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.