By The Independent Team and Agencies
Oil money and bad politics
As we went to press, media reports were indicating that forces loyal to South Sudanese President Salva Kiir backed by Ugandan forces had retaken Malakal, the main town in the country’s oil capital
, Upper Nile state. Former vice president Riek Machar’s forces promptly dismissed the reports. Just the week before, they had chased Kiir’s forces out the town which is a major business hub and boasts some of South Sudan’s most advanced oil production infrastructure, including one of two major oil export pipelines.
Since the fighting started in mid-December 2013, control of the town has swung to and from the opposing fighters. It has meanwhile been badly destroyed in the fighting.
Fighting has spiralled into ethnic killings between members of Kiir’s Dinka people — the country’s largest group — and Machar’s Nuer. Many fear conflict on the ground has spiraled out of the control of the politicians who sparked it.
Malakal’s recapture came just two days after government troops celebrated the retaking of Bor, capital of Jonglei state.
The recapture of Malakal opened up the possibility of a shift in ceasefire talks deadlocked for two weeks, with some suggesting the government had been reluctant to strike a deal while rebels still held urban centres.
Salva Kiir’s offensive scuttled Machar’s plans of controlling the oil fields, and therefore gaining the upper hand in cease-fire negotiations by halting the government’s main source of income, according to Luke Patey, a senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies and the author of “The New Kings of Crude,” a book about South Sudan and its oil.
“Oil is the prize at the conflict’s end,” he added in a report in The Washington Post newspaper.
Bentiu is the other main town that has been heavily, apart from Bor the capital of Jonglei State.
Bentiu, which is the capital of the equally oil-rich Unity state, has also changed control several times. Its Heglig oil field, which straddles both Sudan and South Sudan, and others in the area are among the largest. The Great Nile Oil Pipeline also starts here.
South Sudan has some of the largest proven oil reserves in sub-Saharan Africa.
According to official government data, it has over 1.14 billion barrels of proven oil reserves and by 2011 was producing 326,000 barrels per day. At current global crude prices, that would bring in about UShs75 billion per day. By comparison, the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) has target collection of about Shs20 billion per day.
Significantly, although the Dinka tribesmen of President Kiir comprise about 35% of the estimated 8 million citizens of South Sudan, most of the oil is so far located in the Unity, Jonglei, and Upper Nile states which are home to the Nuer tribesmen of Riek Machar. This is where most of the proven oil reserves and production lines are located.
The Nuer comprise 25% of the South Sudan population and are the second largest ethnic group and want more say in the running of the country which so far and historically has been dominated by the Dinka.
Another consideration is that although South Sudan has enormous oil resources and a very small population, very little is being done by the Kiir regime to improve the lives of common people.
There are no new schools, hospitals, and roads being built.
Instead, according to arms sells monitoring by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), South Sudan is the biggest military arms buyer in the region.
According to Sipri’s 2012 figures, South Sudan spent US$964 million (Approx.UShs2.5 trillion) on arms that year compared to US$798 million for previous top spender, Kenya. Uganda, it is estimated, spent US$288, Tanzania US$319, and Rwanda US$79.8 million.
A report in the Washington post newspaper said part of the reason for the high military expenditure is that President Kiir has been preparing for a long war.
But as we went to press, regional leaders were heaping pressure on the warring parties to reach a ceasefire, to end the fighting and atrocities that have claimed thousands of lives displaced about 500,000 civilians.
Deadlocked ceasefire talks in Ethiopia are being mediated by the East African regional bloc, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
By the time we went to press, leaders of IGAD, were due to hold a one-day summit in Juba on Jan.23.
Key on the agenda was the negotiations in Addis Ababa, according to South Sudan’s foreign ministry spokesman Mayen Makol.
The summit followed a visit on Jan.20 by African Union Commission chief Nkozasana Dlamini-Zuma, who demanded both sides end the “senseless killings… and end the humanitarian tragedy unfolding in their country.”
In a leaked document of the “Final Draft agreement on the cessation of hostilities between the government of South Sudan (GRSS) and the Sudan People”, the warring parties are expected to declare the positions of their forces and remain at the declared positions.
The ceasefire document also spoke of a new Monitoring and Verification Team (MVT) and Joint Technical Committee (JTC) to monitor the implementation of the agreement, verify, and report to IGAD Special Envoys.
The draft ceasefire accord, seen by AFP and presented to peace delegates meeting in Addis Ababa, demands an end to “all military actions”, but also specifically highlights that both sides must “refrain from attacks on the civilian population”, including summary executions, use of child soldiers as well as “rape, sexual abuse and torture”.
Both sides would have to “freeze their forces” in their positions and create aid corridors, as agencies warn of a mounting humanitarian crisis in an already deeply impoverished nation.
Another sticking point remains Uganda’s role in the fighting on the side of Kiir’s forces.
Machar has demanded Kampala withdraw all forces, claiming Ugandan fighter jets have tried to kill him.
Little progress expected
By Jan.21 little progress was seen in Addis Ababa.
“The government was having consultations on the issue of withdrawal of Ugandans,” rebel delegate Hussein Mar Nyuot told AFP.
A separate draft deal urges Kiir to pardon and release 11 key political detainees, one of the key sticking points.
Kiir, in a presidential address on Jan.20 after government forces wrested back full control of Malakal, the last major settlement under rebel control, said that “presidential pardons and general amnesties shall be part of peace efforts”.
“I still call Riek Machar and his group to lay down their weapons and come back and participate in the building of our new nation,” Kiir said.
“Nobody will disown them for what they have done. We have a space in our hearts to forgive him and his people.”
Rebels are reported to remain powerful and in control of large areas of the countryside, and battles continue. Neither side is thought capable of defeating the other since all have wide experience as bush guerrillas. Even more difficult to achieve will be a return to life as it was before Salva Kiir sacked Riek Machar and the two served in the same government.