South Sudan urban land conflicts: Zero-sum game Vs. win-win game

Category: Writing aboard the Kenya Airways: A story on coming to Rwanda for the first time
Published on Friday, 25 February 2011 20:18
Written by Dr. Yongo-Bure, The New Sudan Vision (NSV),
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(Flint, Michigan, USA) - Zero-Sum Game:  A game in which the sum of the gains equal to the sum of the losses. In other words, what the gainers get is what the losers have foregone. This is not a healthy situation for both the gainers and the losers as the latter will definitely resist it. In the long-run, both sides lose as they conflict.

In a Win-Win Game every player gets something not at the expense of another. A Win-Win Game has a better chance of promoting peaceful coexistence because everybody in the game has something to get, regardless of how big or small the gain is. Peaceful coexistence can further be enhanced as each participant’s pie increases over time, particularly if the gains are biased towards those with less initial shares.

A growing economy is a win-win game because as the economy produces more goods and services, the chances of more goods and services for most people increase over time. In a growing economy, there will be more food, schools, health services, transportation, houses, etc. for most participants. But in an economy without growth, the only way for someone to get more goods and services is for someone else to get less; like kids squabbling over a given piece of cake. The only way to reduce the squabbling is to have a bigger and bigger pie. How do we make the pie grow is the main question over which we should ponder.

THE URBAN LAND FIGHTS can be resolved through a win-win solution because they have arisen in the context of a zero-sum game. While physically there is no need to fight over land at our present level of development, institutionally/legally urban land for all of us has become limited; and this is the main underlying cause of the conflict. Can we agree on how to resolve the institutional/legal constraints so as to ease our conflicts? We need a National Capital Area or Territory. Also each state and county needs a capital. I will focus on the National Capital. The state and county capitals can be inferred from the discussion on the National Capital.

Southern Sudanese have been arguing for Khartoum to be a sharia-free city as it is the National Capital of Sudan. Without double-standards, it should follow that Southern Sudanese should have consensus on the need for a “National South Sudanese Capital” as we plan to have a country of our own. While we may disagree on whether the National Capital should be Juba or Ramicel, we should not be averse to the idea given our argument for Khartoum as the National Capital of Sudan. The area from Ramicel to Juba would be the most appropriate location for our National Capital, given its location along the Nile and in relation to our influential neighboring countries.

For me, the National Capital should be an autonomous territory with the status of a state. It should be similar to Abuja (Nigeria), Canberra (Australia), Washington, D. C. (USA), etc. It should have a radius of about ten miles. Any native of the area is free to live within it or move outside it if he/she does not wish to live in an urban setting. The native families of the area should be compensated in appreciation for giving their land as National Capital and for the side-effects of forced urbanization. The city is in a sense forced on them. They do not have to choose whether to voluntarily move to the city or remain rural dwellers. Given budgetary constraints, the compensation could be paid partly in housing or cash and partly in bonds over a fifteen to twenty- year time period.

Once the idea is agreed on, and an area demarcated, then it should be properly planned so that different zones are demarcated for different uses: residential, industrial, commercial, etc. Different categories of residential areas should be appropriately located relative to places of employment. This will avoid wasteful demolition of unplanned settlements. Such demolitions result from lack of forward planning; and they contribute to perpetuating poverty, particularly when they mostly affect the poor. They reduce the poor back to zero instead of helping them to improve on whatever meager structures they have managed to put up. Demolitions should be avoided; and this is only possible through forward urban planning.

*Dr. Yongo-Bure is associate professor of Social Science at Kettering University, USA. He can be reached at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..