The Government of South Sudan is considering building a new capital city that could cost at least $5bn, according to a senior government official.

At its most recent cabinet meeting, on 4 February, the government set up a committee to look into moving the seat of government from Juba, in the south of the country, to a more central location, according to Finance Minister David Deng, speaking to MEED on 7 February.

The idea has been prompted by local opposition to the expansion of Juba, says Deng: “The local communities do not want to give land to the government for the capital to grow – we cannot even build a parliament or a presidential palace. In order that we don’t have to force them into giving up their land we are looking at establishing another capital city.”

Two alternative locations are being considered: Rumbek, the capital of Lakes state, and Ramchiel, a former base of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army on the border of Lakes, Central Equatoria and Jonglei states.

“Ramchiel was the original place we wanted to establish the capital prior to 2005, but the elders from Juba appealed to [then-leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement] John Garang to keep the capital there,” says Deng.

“Ramchiel is in the centre of the country and there would be no problem with the tribes around there giving us land. Rumbek may be another option – it was our first capital during the [civil] war – but it is far from the Nile and has water supply problems.”

Moving the capital could be prohibitively expensive, however. “I don’t think it will cost as much as $10bn, but it may well cost $5bn,” says Deng. “The move cannot be sudden – it should be gradual.”

The cost of shifting the capital was a key reason why Juba was retained in 2005, and locals are sceptical that the scheme will come to fruition.

Meetings between the government and the Juba community to reach an agreement on the city’s expansion are ongoing, says Deng.

South Sudanwill become independent on 9 July after a referendum in January returned an overwhelming vote in favour of secession from the north.