By James Okuk
July 23, 2013 - Oil has been one of the curses in the Sudan before South Sudan broke away from it. In the name of oil, the Sudan Government conducted a scorched earth policy within its Southern part in 1990s. In the name of oil unfair sharing of wealth was concluded in Naivasha-Kenya in 2003 - 2004 where Southern Sudan was given less than a half of the income from its own petrodollar resource. Unfortunately, the same oil has continued to be a bad resource even after South Sudan became independent from Sudan.
In the name of oil the borders between South Sudan and Sudan couldn’t get demarcated up to date. In the name of oil the two regimes in the one split country kept on conspiring against each other for the downfall of one of them and in revision of old enmities.
Last but not least, in the name of oil majority of the citizens of the two neighboring countries continued getting subjected to unnecessary and unchosen suffering emanating from insecurity as well as from spree of corruption on petrodollars.
At the hight of such mischievous oil politicking, the SPLM regime in South Sudan took it upon itself in 2012 to shutdown all the wells so that oil don’t flow into the chinese companies’ pipelines that passed through Sudan. The reason given for the shutdown was that the government of Sudan decided to steal the crude and take a big quantity under the pretext of claiming rental fees for the use of oil production facilities and passage through Sudanese land.
In addition, the government of South Sudan launched a destructive attack in an oil contested border area called Panthou (that has been operated by the government of the Sudan in the name Heglig). For over a year there was no South Sudan oil flowing to the international markets via Sudan though the later’s oil continued to flow because of the available infrastructure and facilities over there.
The regional and international communities became seriously concerned about that dangerous situation and urged Juba and Khartoum to dialogue out the contentions and negotiate some agreements with the help of African Union High Implementation Panel (AUHIP). The end-result of that mediated negotiations was cooperation agreements signed in Addis Ababa on 27th September, 2012. The deals were highly welcomed by the United Nations and other well-wishing bodies.
However, the implementation of those agreements remained a nightmare because of the condition set by Sudan government that nothing shall be done unless the problem of the armed rebel movements in Sudan is resolved. Juba wanted its oil to flow through Sudan without attached conditions while Khartoum wanted Juba to first joint hands with it to flash out all the rebels in the Sudan before any of the cooperation agreements could see light. The situation became cooperation-and- conspiracy at the same time when it is a known truth that these can’t boil within one pot.
Nonetheless, Khartoum relaxed its condition later and allowed South Sudan oil to flow despite the ongoing war in Kordofan and Dar Fur Sates as well as in Blue Nile State. Khartoum was hoping that Juba would get trapped to succumb to the Chad-Sudan like deal of joint border armed command and patrol. But before it could get longer Khartoum reneged on its compromise and notified the operating oil companies and the government of South Sudan to stop pumping oil through Sudan within sixty days and at latest by 8th August 2013 if the rebels in Sudan continued to exist with an alleged support from Juba.
1- Oil and Power of Purchasing Means of Insecurity:
Now given these facts as narrated above, I would like to state my opinion as a concerned citizen in the Republic of South Sudan on how to end such bad politics around oil resource.
It is known that oil brings dollars and other hard currencies that are very helpful to an economy that is based on import of good and services as well as export of privileged few citizens for quality education and medical treatments abroad; not to forget tourism and other recreation expenditures.
Also oil dollars are direly needed in purchasing arms for a country that is still being haunted by militaristic hangovers and believe in bullets-violent for securing a lost security due to lack of all-people’s trust in their respective government leaders.
The National Congress Party (NCP) regime in Khartoum could have a logical point of blocking the perceived source of arm sales and other assistances going to the rebel groups that are threatening its power survival in the the Republic of the Sudan.
Similarly, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) regime in Juba has a point in wishing a downfall of a power that it perceives as supporting armed forces that are creating havoc of insecurity in South Sudan and marginalizing old comrades who shared with it the liberation trenches; a power that closes its borders to spread hunger beyond.
But even if SPLM-South forgets about its SPLM-North and disowns it as if its comrades did not co-exist with them in the past, wouldn’t it be possible that a support could come elsewhere? Are there no sympathisers of the marginalised in the world other than Juba? This is a question worth answerable by examined national conscience rather than calculated government interests.
The highest interest of any country is the security that emanates from the attitude of its very citizens. Marginalization and other forms of injustice is a contradiction that will always cause insecurity. Sudan and South Sudan should learn how to resolve their own problems from the root causes and not from the surface of events. If their citizens are made to be unhappy with their living standards, then you expect rebellions and other forms of insecurity. External support and assistance come only after some citizens develop dissatisfaction with the manner their government runs the affairs of the country. Happy citizens don’t rebel! This a basic truth that needs not be compromised if Khartoum and Juba would like to enjoy the serenity of stability.
2- Blocking Flow of Oil So that the Opponent Suffer:
Going by the facts, it was the SPLM-Juba who started the game of shutting down the oil flow, perhaps, with ulterior motive that the NCP-Khartoum shall get weakened and collapsed economically. Indeed, Khartoum did suffer and it is still suffering from the consequences of such a decision that made the world to shake its head in disgust and throw up its hands in despair. The new country was seen as becoming a trouble-maker in the region. The blame was immediately put on Juba and pressure followed until 2012 September cooperation agreements were reached. The oil flow got resumed and a glim of lost hope came back, especially with more petrodollars coming to Juba and some going to Khartoum in form of assistance to its paralyzed economy.
But now instead of expressing gratefulness to the SPLM-Juba, the NCP-Khartoum resorted to a behavior of paying back by hitting on South Sudan with the decision to block the flow of oil by the first week of August 2013. The decision seems to carry ulterior motive of making SPLM-Juba to suffer and perhaps collapse, especially given the current wrangling and looming crisis for securing top leadership within its ranks. If SPLM-Juba run out of cash it would automatically run out of organising crucial activities and programs as well as confidence of the citizens. This could generate a frustrating long-wait for national elections and a ’permanent’ constitution as well as a short-cut to overstaying in power. Such level of insecurity might add to more devastating problems. What is the way out from this trap of oil curse that is supposed to be a blessing?
3- The Chinese Oil Companies Care About Oil Only:
If oil is there the Chinese Companies are ready to be there regardless of the territory. They could be in Sudan and they could be in South Sudan at the same time as long as there is oil to be produced to the benefit of China’s economy. They have built the pipelines that are now used by the government of Sudan to bully the government of South Sudan. But also they could consider these within the principle of loss in any business.
Hence, they could still built other pipelines to transport South Sudan oil to the international markets because there is already a guarantee of reserves of oil here. If they failed to grasp the new opportunity, they would know it well that other companies from different countries could be ready to come and built alternative pipelines for South Sudan as there is high profits in this business. They are intelligent to afford losing both past and future!
But the question lies in the time the government of South Sudan is going to decisively decide to put its priority on new pipelines route via Ethiopia and Djibouti. Once a final decision is made without hesitation, the Chinese companies and investors in oil sector would immediately come in to build the alternative pipelines for transporting South Sudan oil to the international markets. They shall treat the past as past and deal with the future profitably. May be the decision of the government of Sudan is going to be a blessing in disguise for government of South Sudan to decide finally and find salvation elsewhere for transporting its crude oil without dirty politicking on the pipelines and transits.
4- Borrowing Would Be Conditioned by Anti-Corruption Measures.
But even if the Chinese or other companies come up to take the bidding for building new oil pipelines, where will the government of South Sudan gets its cash during intervals of construction time? Probably, its budgetary and other expenditures would get fueled from borrowings and loans because a government can never declare bankruptcy whatsoever the case. Some limited bankable notes of South Sudanese pound could get printed but with caution from high inflation rate.
Some international aids and assistances would also be there but this time round it is not going to be business as usual. Stringent conditions would be attached to all these; notably a demand for sincere and seriuos anti-corruption measures. The President of the Republic of South Sudan would be pressured to fire and deal accordingly with all those who are corrupt and suspected of gangerism for corruption within his government. A lean and efficient government might be encouraged.
Also the government of South Sudan would be asked to improve human rights situation and good governance in the country before being bailed out from the economic crisis of the second oil flow shut down from the side of Khartoum this time. It would be a case of do-or-collapse for the SPLM-Juba, particularly, given the current political situation in the country where the SPLM might fail to get registered as a political party since its rivaling top leaders would not be sure whether they will continue to lead this bush party or fall to rags.
The borrowing conditions would be bad news for those who have been used to abuses of public interests and the common good. Notwithstanding, it would be good news for those who want the country to get back on the right path of independence and self-reliant.
5- The Way Forward:
Last year it was a mistake of SPLM-Juba to shutdown the flow of crude oil from the wells of South Sudan so that it does not pass through Sudan. Now it is the turn of the NCP-Khartoum to mischievously block the flow of crude oil from the wells of South Sudan via the territory of the Sudan. It is case of tit-for-tat in a Tom-and-Jerry like behavior. What is the way out then?
Is it by calling upon the government of China to pressure Khartoum so that it reverse its avenge bullying decision? Is it by allowing the African Union Verification Committee to come to the undemarcated borders between South Sudan and Sudan in order find out whether there are Sudanese rebels being supported by Juba over there? Is it by staging numerous complaints and counter accusations at the UN Security Council? Is it by chattel diplomacy by Thabo Mbeki and some AU prominent members between SPLM-Juba and NCP-Khartoum?
For me, the government of Sudan has already send out a signal of way forward in notifying the oil companies and the government of South Sudan not to dare transporting the oil crude via Sudanese land by the first week of August 2013. The NCP-Khartoum has decided specifically and it would know how to own the consequences of this decision.
It is now the turn of SPLM-Juba to come to a final decision by hitting the last nail on the oil passage coffin prepared by the government of the Sudan this time. It is high time for Juba to comply with the blockage notification by Khartoum and shut down the wells of oil in South Sudan peacefully without looking for troubles.
Juba may start drafting letters of notification to Khartoum, the AUHIP, regional and international bodies as well as brothers and friends. The letter should indicate that as of the second week of August 2013 when Sudan receives no longer the crude oil from South Sudanese wells, Juba shall declare null and void the agreement on oil transit and other related and attached economic assistances to the Sudan.
Openness for renewed re-negotiation of the other remaining cooperation agreements should also be alluded to so that anything connected to oil revenue there would get removed from the texts. Other concessions that were offered by Juba (e.g., division of assets, debt relieve, monetary assistance, etc) should be reclaimed. Thereafter, a normalized relations with Sudan could be conducted like the ones with other neighboring countries, far from oil dirty politicking.
The right time is now for Juba to start committing itself seriously in 2013 to construct oil pipelines via Ethiopia and Djibouti. This shall be the end of the routine yearly oil crises with Khartoum. Our president needs to consider traveling widely abroad at the highest level of diplomacy to look for new friends and revitalize the lost trust of old friends. Over-sitting in Juba in this tough time is not going to generate much help needed to bail out the Republic of South Sudan from the looming economic crisis. Also he needs to travel frequently to states of South Sudan to talk directly with the people and mitigate their frustrations. This might be costly in terms of finance, energy and time but crisis is never cheap.
With patience and right decisions at the right time South Sudan might avoid falling into doom fit and pity. I trust in power of togetherness!
Dr. James Okuk is a lecturer at the University of Juba. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org