The Prospects and Challenges for Energy Security in South Sudan

Posted: November 12, 2017 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Columnists, Commentary, Economy, Junub Sudan, Mayen Ayarbior, Opinion Articles, Opinion Writers

Energy Africa Conference 2017

Denver- Colorado, November 9, 2017

Remarks by David Mayen Dengdit, Press Secretary- Office of the Vice President

Republic of South Sudan

Title: Energy Security in South Sudan

tribalism in rss


November 12, 2017 (SSB) — I am honored to be part of this important gathering, Energy Africa Conference 2017. It would have been even more special if I attended and participated physically, not least because it is held in the beautiful city of Denver where my family and I spent more than two memorable years of our lives. Indeed, it is special because it allows me to speak about my country South Sudan and the potential it holds in terms of energy resources and challenges therein.

Like most sub-Saharan countries, South Sudan is a country rich in energy resources such as oil, hydropower, and solar. Around these resources, the country’s range of energy security issues may not be so different from its continental neighbors’, yet peculiarities would control the shape of solutions and predicted costs involved.

Unlike some sub-Saharan countries that have taken steps to produce and supply energy, South Sudan is so far unable to transform its huge potentialities into reliable energy supply. Even though it could and should have done better, the country has neither built a single hydropower, nor any meaningful off-grid solar projects, nor an oil refinery, nor made any attempt to capture some of the big quantity of flared gas from its vast oilfields.

Energy security issues in the country include a history of external oil exploitation, economic marginalization and resource-driven struggle for independence, nonexistent (electricity) infrastructure (less than 1% access to the rarely available centralized power supply) and ultimately a civil war originating in an “oil curse.”

South Sudan’s oil curse:

Long before independence, South Sudan found itself at the wrong end of China’s geopolitical interests and growing appetite for raw materials in form of minerals and energy sources. In the last few decades, Africa has increasingly been China’s strategic economic partner and South Sudan’s oil among its inventory of sources of external energy supply.

Even though oil was discovered in the country by Chevron (a U.S. conglomerate) in the late 1970s, it wasn’t before a decade later that it found its way to the international markets – when the government of Umar Al-Bashir gave China exploration and production rights. That partnership came at a regrettable cost for South Sudanese whose villages, especially around oilfields, were destroyed under a pretext of protecting production and supply routes from sabotage by insurgents.

New oil windfalls enabled a ruthless regime in Khartoum to not only replenish its arsenals of Chinese, Russian and Ukrainian weapons, but use Chinese expertise to build oil refineries in the North as-well-as a domestic military industry.

With home production of armored vehicles, assault rifles and ammunitions, military offensives intensified in South Sudan and Darfur. Scorched earth crusades killed millions of innocent civilians and displaced larger numbers from their homes. Consequently, such war crimes and human rights violations prompted the UN Security Council to refer President Bashir to the International Criminal Court, which set a precedent by issuing an arrest warrant against a sitting president.

Insecurity around South Sudan’s oil followed the country’s session from Sudan in July 2011. A year after independence, South Sudan sent troops to seize control of disputed oilfields in Heglij region on the border with Sudan. The later regrouped and regained full control of the disputed oilfields, but only after fierce battles that claimed hundreds of lives on both sides.

In terms of translating energy resources into human development, it seems the country was born with ‘the Dutch disease.’ Widespread and endemic corruption characterized governmental inability to diversify the economy. Growing discontent with mismanagement of public funds and failure to deliver basic services contributed to heightened tension which later exploded into a civil war.

It is, therefore, not unfounded to argue that South Sudan’s current civil war – which started in December 2013 and claimed over 50 thousand innocent civilian lives and displaced over four million, half the country’s population – could be as much a result of political power struggle and ethnic cleavages as it was a direct outcome of squandering of oil revenues.

Currently, battles between government troops and breakaway military divisions have since raged around control of the country’s oilfields. Consequently, oil production was cut into 120,000 bpd, almost a third of the country’s output of 350,000 bpd at independence.

Hydropower and Economic Development:

Standard security questions surrounding the building of hydropower dams may not be among current concerns of South Sudanese authorities, simply because the only proposed projects are still at their feasibility study stages. National projects such as Fula 1, Fula 1 and Biden are proposed hydropower projects to be constructed on the River Nile.

However, considering that Fula rapids run close to Nimule National Wildlife Conservation Park – one of Africa’s great natural habitats hosting hundreds of thousands of wildlife, including elephants, buffalos, giraffes, Zebras, lions, leopards, etc. – it is not clear how the projects would impact the park’s ecosystem and conservation plans.

Furthermore, if not resolved soon, emerging rebel groups in the area and localized grievances against Juba may sabotage the building of the hydropower projects in the area. In absence of sustainable security, it would be irrational to hope for attracting foreign capital investment into such construction ventures.

In addition to these internal matters, important external considerations may influence decisions to build hydropower dam projects in the country. Surely, in order for it to establish industries and lift its citizens out of poverty, South Sudan will have to build hydropower dams and an expansive electrical system. However, being the newest member of eleven Nile Basin states, it has found itself in the middle of colonial based water security tensions and arrangements.

As Egypt and Sudan continue to claim exclusive rights over use of the Nile water, the other Nile riparian states launched a new initiative, the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), which seeks to replace colonial agreements in order to “develop the river in a cooperative manner, share substantial socioeconomic benefits, and promote regional peace and security.”

For South Sudan to utilize water for energy generation and build its first ever hydropower dam it will have to share its intention with not only fellow disgruntled upstream countries, Egypt and Sudan downstream may have to be convinced too. For instance, Ethiopia is facing the same tension with Egypt over its ambitious efforts to provide energy security for its growing population (over 90 million) and meet basic economic development targets.

Currently, as the $4.8 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam – the biggest in Africa, is about to be completed, some senior Egyptian politicians threatened to take their country to war with Ethiopia if its colonial water rights are endangered and Nile water flow to Egypt reduced due to the project.

As it stands, the only hydropower supply a few South Sudanese enjoy is from a cross-border gird connection. This is found in the border agricultural city of Renk, where over one hundred and twenty thousand inhabitants are connected to Damazin hydropower dam a couple of kilometers across the border in Sudan. There are similar ideas to use cross-border grid connections to Uganda and Ethiopia as the fastest means to extending electrification to the dark urban centers of South Sudan.

Traditional Biomass:

Given their country’s very low level of economic development, South Sudanese rely on fuel wood and charcoal for meeting their basic energy needs. Having no other source of energy, wood energy continues to account for all daily energy consumption, particularly in cooking and heating.

Since independence, there has been an exponential rise in public demand for charcoal in growing urban centers in the country. Such high demand is increasingly contributing to deforestation and environmental degradation. The capital city of Juba alone, which has a population of no less than a million inhabitants, is surrounded by rainforests that are increasingly coming under pressure due to felling of new trees for charcoal. Other towns like Yei, Yambio, Wau, and Rumbek are all urban centers that rely on charcoal for their daily energy consumption.

Due to the current war-time economic meltdown and high demand for charcoal, the trade around Juba city has become attractive and risky. Such conditions have made charcoal trade the preferable business for soldiers and other armed men who could venture out into the forests.

These circumstances governing charcoal trade have also turned it, as if overnight, into an extremely expensive commodity – where a single sack of charcoal which may not take a household for two weeks is more expensive than a senior civil servant’s monthly salary can afford. Such high prices for the most basic of commodities in town has negatively affected household food security and, indirectly, led to increased night robberies and theft.

Potential for Solar Energy

Solar and wind are among the most sustainable sources of energy. While South Sudan may not enjoy strong winds, it enjoys an average of ten hours of sunshine per day all year round, with radiation on the horizontal surface of about 5-6 kWh/m2/day (Rapid Situation Assessment and Gap Analysis Report, UNDP 2013).

In spite of such huge potential for harnessing available energy from the sun, the only known solar project in the country is used for pumping water to over 50,000 displaced people in the eastern county of Akobo. This Red Cross sponsored solar powered water pumps demonstrate the ease with which off-grid rural populations could be reached in a cost-effective and sustainable manner.

Hence, in order to expand energy supply to rural hospitals, schools, markets, etc. solar photovoltaic energy generation ought to be the ideal choice. And considering initial relatively high costs of installation of solar systems, such pilot projects like the one in Akobo need to be sponsored by government, UNMISS (United Nations Mission in South Sudan), humanitarian agencies, and friendly countries, or through public-private partnerships.


In conclusion, as a sub-Saharan country on the equator and an oil producing state, South Sudan is rich in untapped energy resources but extremely poor in public energy production and distribution. Its growing urban centers could be very profitable destinations for energy firms, both producers and utility providers.

Growth in electricity use through diesel and gasoline powered generators is conspicuous all over the country. Investment in off-grid solar systems, cross-border grid connections, and liquefied petroleum gas may combine to provide short to mid-term solutions to the country’s extremely inadequate energy supply.

I hope, with these few remarks and further research, energy production and supply in South Sudan could become part of the investment portfolios of some participating energy firms at this conference.

Thank you.

The author is the spokesperson for the Vice President, Dr. James Wani Igga and can be reached via his email: Mayen Ayarbior <>

The opinion expressed here is solely the view of the writer. The veracity of any claim made are the responsibility of the author, not PaanLuel Wël: South Sudanese Bloggers (SSB) website. If you want to submit an opinion article or news analysis, please email it to SSB do reserve the right to edit material before publication. Please include your full name, email address, city and the country you are writing from.


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