When the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed in 2005, the former rebel group Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) stressed that land belonged to the people. But since taking the reins of the independent nation in 2011, the SPLM has failed to implement that promise.
Conflicts are rife across South Sudan’s ten states, as groups and clans vie for control of swathes of land. In Unity State, for example, Jikany and Leek Nuer groups both claim ownership of the state capital Bentiu. They try to block any other group like the Dok, Jageay, Bul, Nyuong, Haak Nuer, Dinka Parieng and Dinka Abiemnhom from gaining entitlement.
In the most extreme cases, more than ten people are at loggerheads over a single plot.The antagonism peaks in urban centres, where an area of land is often claimed by two or three people. In the most extreme cases, more than ten people are at loggerheads over a single plot.
Such conflicts are meant to be resolved by the South Sudan Land Commission but it has repeatedly failed to draw up a policy on land, failing in its official mandate.
Complicating the issue, politicians themselves have joined the race for land. In larger South Sudanese towns across all ten states, high ranking officials are entitled to several plots. Even though they often have no immediate plans for the plots, they protect their territories incase they want to exploit it in the future.
As land is increasingly viewed as a valuable natural resource, competition has soared. Some are forced to abandon their land under pressure from powerful individuals working for the government.
Land owners are routinely forced to leave their plots after officials argue that the signatories are not reliable.Even owning paperwork, which costs more than 2,000 South Sudanese Pounds (about US$570), is often not enough. Land owners are routinely forced to leave their plots after officials argue that the signatories are not reliable.
Conflict over land is tightly linked to corruption. Government officials have turned themselves into white-collar professionals and are known to confiscate land to hand it over to wealthier people in exchange for payment. This problem is widespread in big towns across South Sudan, underlining the need for South Sudan’s Land Commission to beef up regulations and stamp out the scourge of land grabbing once and for all.