Elizabeth Tesfaye Haile
January 04, 2012
It is now eight months since South Sudan joined the family of nations as a newly independent state. However, as the South Sudanese struggle to find their bearings in a very unpredictable world, compounding challenges seems to be wearing heavily on them. Elizabeth Tesfaye Haile takes stock of how some of these challenges are redefining South Sudan’s dynamics, inquiring as to whether it is greed or grievance at the heart of the simmering tensions.
South Sudan achieved its independence from the North on July 9, 2011 after a referendum in January 2011. The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement bore its fruit and ended Africa’s longest-running civil war, which claimed the lives of an estimated 2.2 million people (BBC News, 2011). However, the question remains whether South Sudan will be able to sustainably achieve peace and stability by overcoming its ongoing and future challenges. While this new country still maintains hostilities with Sudan even after its independence it has been also critically confronted by internal rebels.
Though it is difficult to exactly trace the root causes of the North–South civil war, various suggestions have been offered by scholars with regard to the causes of the war. Exclusion of South Sudan from political power and development, along with the racial and ethnic divide between the north and south since colonial times, are considered major causes for the civil war. Islamisation policies by different leaders of Sudan, especially the waging of Sharia law in Sudan by the then-Sudanese President Jaafar Mohammad al-Nimeiri, has further radicalized South Sudanese, who are animists and Christians (Batruch, 2003; ICG, 2010). In general, a historical consistency of oppressive regime from Khartoum discriminating and exploiting the South is believed to have initiated grievances by the South (Johnson, 2003, as cited in Patey, 2007).
However, it is not only grievance by South Sudanese that has contributed to the onset of the north–south civil wars in Sudan. Even if the first civil war broke out mainly due to grievance, the greed for resources, especially oil, has contributed its share to the onset of the second civil war. The first civil war ended in 1972 and granted autonomy to the South. Then, it is not by chance that war resumed again and the second civil war started in 1983 after the discovery of oil in South Sudan in 1979 by Chevron (U.S Department of State, 2011). Consequently, President al–Nimieri disregarded South Sudan’s autonomy and moved to change southern state boundaries to ensure the North would have access to future oil earnings (Patey, 2007). Sudan’s interest in south Sudan seemed to shift from political and territorial to economic. In actuality, no conflict remains static. Structural and situational factors, especially economic ones, can transform the objective of armed struggle and shape the character of the conflict. Hence, economic objectives might overtake political objectives when the priority becomes economics (Ballentine, 2003). Further, the nature of the resource also determines the type and duration of the conflict. Un-lootable resources including oil tend to lead to separatist conflicts and increase the duration of the conflict itself (Ross, 2003).
Economic interests also shape international interventions, as interventions are for the most part directed by powerful nations such as the United States, whose actions, in turn, are primarily dictated by their own economic agendas vis-à-vis the war-affected nations. Hence, it was only after the discovery of oil that the internationally mediated peace process began. And until that time, Sudan’s war had been neglected within the international arena, except from the humanitarian perspective (Batruch, 2003). In general, as Patey (2007) explains, it looks like the all of the same causes of civil war that have long plagued the African continent also attributed to Sudan’s North-South civil war.
Even though the civil wars have ended and South Sudan is separated from Sudan, the two governments still remain hostile toward each other. The main reason for their hostility is North Sudan’s economic fear and insecurity resulting from South Sudan’s independence. Under the 2005 peace deal, the oil wealth was split 50-50 between North and South Sudan.
However, this deal ended when South Sudan obtained its independence, taking 380,000 barrels per day of oil production and leaving North Sudan only 120,000 barrels of production per day ( Sudan Tribune, 2011). However, while the South possesses roughly 75 percent of Sudan’s oil reserves, the North has the refineries and pipelines, which could help both countries benefit fairly well from the oil (The New York Times, 2011). Nevertheless, South Sudan has already started complaining about the higher rates charged by the North for oil infrastructure. Hence, landlocked South Sudan is currently considering building its own refineries and pipelines and looking for other optional ports; this has created further frustration on the part of North Sudan (Kron, 2011). In general, high inflation, low foreign exchange reserves, huge debt, the loss of South Sudan and its huge oil income has prompted economic distress for the North, which analysts expect could lead North Sudan to resume war with the South in order to get back the South’s oil producing areas (Reeves, 2011).
Further, the dispute over the border district of Abyei remains unsettled. In accordance with the comprehensive peace agreement, the referendum of Abyei district has been planned to take place in 2011. However, due to the disagreement between the North and South Sudan, the referendum has been postponed indefinitely (IPS, 2011). The Sudanese army occupied Abyei town in May, 2011, violating the 2005 peace deal and conflict assumed between the Sudanese army and the other faction of SPLM, SPLM -North (aligned with South Sudan). A deal on demilitarization of Abyei has been reached on June 20, 2011, led by the African Union. The United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) consisting mainly Ethiopian peace keepers is patrolling the Abyei area since June 27, 2011(Reuters, 2011). Even if the conflict over Abyei is usually described as economic, ethnic rivalries between the southern group Dinka Ngok and northern nomads, the Misseria has been a challenge for the referendum to occur (Copnall, 2011).
The Kordofan Question
Although ceasefire has been reached in Abyei, another conflict escalated in Sudan’s only oil producing state of South Kordofan, which borders South Sudan (Reeves, 2011). The origin of the conflict goes back to the dispute that marred the state’s gubernatorial elections in May 2011. The National Congress Party (NCP)’s incumbent Ahmed Haroun won the election over the SPLM-N’s candidate Abdel Aziz Al-Hilu, who alleged that the vote was rigged and refused to accept the outcome (Sudan Tribune, 2011). The conflict is between North Sudan’s army and SPLM-North (SPLM-N), and it spilled over into Blue Nile state (AFP, 2011). South Kordofan and Blue Nile states are home primarily to Nuban people who associate themselves with South Sudan and fought with SPLM-A against the Sudanese government during the civil wars. However, these states were not allowed to participate in the January 2011 referendum to form South Sudan, and the “popular consultation” process as promised by the 2005 peace deal was repeatedly delayed. Ethnic cleansing has been claimed against the Nubans by the Northern Arab militia, and the crisis has been mentioned as “another Darfur” (The Guardian, 2011). North Sudan accused South Sudan of supporting SPLM-N, although South Sudan claimed that it stopped its ties with the SPLM-N after independence (ICG, 2011). The United States proposed splitting South Kordofan in two as a mean to accommodate the rebels SPLM-N, though it was rejected by Sudan.
The humanitarian crisis is growing at an alarming rate in these two states. Approximately 1.4 million people have been killed or injured by the military (The Guardian, 2011). The UN accused the Sudanese government of bombing civilians in these north-south border areas and even bombing civilians crossing South Sudan’s border. Around 140, 000 people fled the conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states (BBC, 2011). UNHCR says that almost 33,000 people have fled to Ethiopia from Blue Nile, while South Sudan has absorbed more than 50,000 refugees since fighting began in June (IPS, 2011). The government of Sudan also embargoed foreign aid directed towards South Kordofan and Blue Nile state. The UN humanitarian chief is calling now for free access to provide humanitarian assistance to the two Sudanese states (UN News & Media, 2011).
The international community, including the UN and US, is committing effort to end the crisis in these states and also to stop the confrontation between North and South Sudan. For instance, the African Union panel led by former South African president Thabo Mbeki, attempted to mediate between SPLM-N and the Sudanese government (BBC, 2011). The AU hailed, on June 29, 2011, the preliminary deal between Sudan and SPLM-N, which was supposedly intended to lead to a ceasefire in the ethnically divided South Kordofan region; however, it failed to prevent the spread of the conflict or result in ceasefire (Terra Daily, 2011). Humanitarian organizations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, are also constantly reporting human rights abuses by both conflicting parties, especially that of Sudan’s government, for bombing civilians (Sudan Tribune, 2011). Consequently, both Sudan and the new nation of South Sudan are anticipating the possibility of a new war based on the current cross-border attacks and economic hostilities (BBC, 2011). The North-South border has not been officially designated since the South gained independence in July. Troop build-ups are being identified on both sides of the Sudan-South Sudan border (Straziuso, 2011).
The Internal Rebellion: Greed or grievance?
Apart from the conflict with Sudan, South Sudan itself is in civil war with different rebel groups. Meanwhile, violent cattle raiding is also igniting ethnic and tribal disputes in some communities, creating further instability.
South Sudan is an ethnically diverse country. The Dinkas are the largest ethnic group, followed by the Nuer and Shilluk (BBC News, 2011). In the country, power-sharing across tribal lines is not done. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and its armed wing, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), are the main constituents of the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS). SPLM is dominated by South Sudan’s largest ethnic group, the Dinka, and is accused of ignoring other ethnic groups, in particular the second largest – the Nuer. Military and oil interests are dictated by the Dinka, themselves driven by different objectives (The Economist, 2011). Ethnic belonging is not simply a source of identity; it is also a source of livelihood and social capital in many weak states (Ballentine, 2003). The presence of ethnic diversity usually makes a country safe from civil war, as argued by scholars (Collier, 2001). However, since the dominance of one ethnic group over the others still prevails in South Sudan, exclusion of other groups begets grievance and violence. Apart from political exclusion, several complaints have been voiced in South Sudan, including inflation, corruption, and unemployment since independence.
Hence, a series of armed rebellions have appeared in 2010-2011 in South Sudan; several in the state of Unity, such as the South Sudan Liberation Army (SSLA) and a force led by former SPLA General George Athor (BBC News, 2011; ICG, 2011). Even very recently, in September 2011, a new rebel group called the National United Front emerged. The majority leaders of the rebel groups are also former senior officials of SPLA or militia leaders who fought in the civil wars. Although it is difficult for these rebel groups to overthrow the government at present time, indeed they will cause instability in specific regions, such as Unity state, which produces a third of South Sudan’s total oil production (BBC News, 2011).
President Salva Kiir promised amnesty for all groups who rebelled against the government after the April 2010 election, right on Independence Day. Some successes have been achieved such that some rebel groups surrendered to the Juba government. However, a majority of rebel groups are active, especially in the oil rich Unity state. For instance, though one faction of SSLA led by Peter Gadet reached a ceasefire agreement with Juba, another faction of SSLA rejected the deal and announced that the ceasefire decision was made without the consultation with the group (Kuich, 2011). George Athor, who was killed in December 2011 during a clash with South Sudan, had been a senior member of SPLA who rebelled against GOSS once he lost the April 2010 governmental election in Jongeli state (Aljazeera, 2011). He was believed to be one of the most powerful of the post-election insurrectionists (Sudan Tribune, 2011; ReliefWeb, 2011).
The Enemy From Within
Various grievances, such as rising inflation, corruption, nepotism, tribalism, inequality, and high unemployment are described by rebels. For instance, the current faction leader of SSLA, Major General Bapiny Montyuil, in an interview with the BBC spoke out against the discrimination of South Sudanese by Salva Kirr’s regime, and he stated that the people need freedom, education and development (BBC News, 2011). Apart from the presence of real grievance issues at hand, it should be noted that grievance discourses are highly crucial for rebels in order to shape popular perception about the violence, and also to recruit supporters. Rebels need grievance discourses to function no matter how their objectives vary (Collier, 2001).
On the other hand, some of the rebels’ actions clearly reflect predatory behavior and their greed for power and resources. For instance, Major General Bapiny Montyuil clearly indicated that oil and overthrowing Salva Kirr’s regime are major targets for his group. As Keen (1998, p.11) suggested, war is the continuation of economics by other means. George Athor also urged for the formation of a new government in which his group would get “two or three” ministerial posts until the organization of the vote (Sudan Tribune, 2011). As David Keen explained, much of the violence in contemporary conflicts has been initiated by elites seeking to defend their vested interests. Further, some economic aims, especially obtaining unlootable resources such as oil, can be furthered by controlling the state (Keen, 1998, p. 12-13). Also short term economic advantages of violence for rebels could include pillage or securing protection money from civilians (ibid).
Some SPLA troops also joined rebel groups. In contrast to SPLA troops’ salary delay and associated frustrations, rebel groups promised decent salary and allowances for SPLA soldiers once South Sudan is liberated from Saliva Kiir. They also announced that each household in South Sudan will obtain compensation from oil after liberation of South Sudan (South Sudan News Agency, 2011; CIA Fact Book, 2011):
“It is our position that once Salva Kiir is removed, our government will give each household across the ten states of South Sudan a share of oil money. We will ensure that the oil money is accessible to each and every citizen of South Sudan. Under Saliva Kiir regime, the oil money is controlled by Awan clan where he originated from. As soon as the current regime is toppled, each Southern Sudanese will get monthly payment from the government as the way to redistribute oil money”
As Collier (2001) argues, groups rebel when rebelling is financially viable. Rebel groups, unlike governments, cannot finance conflict through taxation or other legitimate revenues. Rebel groups might have genuine grievances, but they only rebel if they know they do well out of war. Some rebel leaders led by greed may instrumentalize ethnicity and other grievance discourses to meet their economic agenda. On the other hand, ordinary people driven by fear, grievances or need for greed may turn to violence for a solution to their economic and social problems (Keen, 1998, p.12). It is expected that grievances would arise in such a chronically underdeveloped war-torn country emerging after decades of conflict. Hence, the presence of the dissatisfactions and grievances as claimed by rebel groups in South Sudan cannot be denied; however, they could be addressed through non-violent political opposition. This is also partially due to the fact that post-conflict societies are at substantial risk because of what has happened to them during conflict. Violent ways of handling matters are usually learnt during conflict and, thus, post-conflict societies may have a limited tradition of conducting their political conflict nonviolently (Collier, 2001). Insecurity among rebels and lack of trust in the government to address their dissatisfactions non-violently, along with the lack of a strong and transparent political system in South Sudan both contribute to the problem. This is also exacerbated by the abundance of weapons, particularly after the end of conflict. However, unrealistic dissatisfaction related to individual oil income distribution in South Sudan, as claimed by rebels, is far from a true grievance; rather, it indicates greediness on their part.
Resources: Blessing or curse?
South Sudan is characterized by a wealth of resources, in contrast with the resource-poor country of North Sudan. It has one of the richest, agriculturally fertile lands in Africa with more-than-adequate water supplies. The country has about 10-20 million head of cattle and also wildlife herds, which can help establish eco-tourism in the future. This new country produces three-fourths of the former Sudan’s total oil output at nearly a half a million barrels per day. Though South Sudan’s population was based for a long time on subsistence agriculture, the country now highly depends on its oil revenue, with oil constituting 98% of South Sudan’s budget (BBC News, 2011; CIA Fact Book, 2011).
GOSS is accused of spending on military and not in human investment. Further accusations of oil revenue misuse are widespread, and the social and environmental consequences of extraction on the local communities persist (ICG 2011; Aljazeera, 2011). The oil resource in South Sudan can be a ‘blessing’ to be used positively for development, or it can be a ‘curse’, as witnessed in the Niger Delta in Nigeria, where conflict is fuelled to serve the economic interests of multinational companies and corrupt government officials.
There are many factors that could make South Sudan vulnerable to future wars and make the resource more of a curse than a blessing. Its high dependency on natural resource exports, weak institutions and poor governance, unemployment, lack of diversified economic opportunities, limited education, vast geography and conflict history are some factors, among many (Pineda & Rodriguez, 2010). A high level of natural resource dependence is a risk factor for civil war, fuelling competition over resources. A high level of dependency on primary commodities also makes the country’s economy vulnerable to price instability and global financial shocks. In addition, the vast geographical area of the nation matters, as distance could pose difficulties for the government to effectively address and manage rebels (Collier, 2011). Last but not least, the presence of diasporas abroad is also another factor, since they serve as huge contributors to rebel finance. South Sudan has a vast number of diasporas, who fled their region mainly due to the civil wars (ibid; Ballentine, 2003).
The nature of the resources in South Sudan, mainly oil, is also another factor that poses a challenge. Different resources are associated with different types of conflict. Oil is an un-lootable but obstructable resource, since it must travel through a long, above ground pipeline. Hence, it presents rebel groups with an unceasing flow of extortion (Ross, 2003, p.65). For instance, during the second north-south Sudan civil war, SPLM periodically attacked the workers and equipment in pipeline construction. SPLA then used the money it extorted from western oil firms that wished to protect their equipment to fund itself (ibid).
Even if there are various factors that could make South Sudan’s resource a curse, the situation with resources is not bleak, as long as GOSS chooses the right path for development. Natural resources can be a blessing rather than a curse if GOSS could manage its wealth and invest it in human development, diversification of its economy, such as by strengthening the agriculture sector and investing in science and technology. As Pineda and Rodriguez (2010, p.10) argue, countries can benefit from natural resources and can create sustainable economic growth and development through proper export diversification, human and physical capital investment, volatility and real exchange rate control. Further, many success stories have also been witnessed from natural resource wealth including those of Norway and Dubai. Even without going the extra miles to Europe or the Middle East, lessons could be learnt from the African nation of Botswana. Botswana more importantly invested in its own people, which South Sudan can learn from.
The way forward
Since the South recently achieved independence, long–suppressed grievances increasingly emerged (ICG, 2011). There are high expectations of the new government by the people, which could be very challenging to be met by this undeveloped nation in th short term (Aljazeera, 2011). Some of the expectations set by rebels, such as individual distribution of oil money, are unlikely and unfeasible for South Sudan to realize. South Sudan is one of the least developed nations with very poor infrastructure and social development. According to the United Nations, approximately a third of the South Sudanese population will need food aid starting this year because of crop failures and the widespread violence that killed more than 3,000 people in 2011.
Further, inflation also topped 80 percent, and trade income including oil has been reduced due to disruption by border violence (Reuters, 2011). Moreover, any revenue generated in South Sudan including oil money needs to be spent on sustainable investments, such as human development and building infrastructure for trade and development. Hence, direct distribution of wealth as stipulated by rebel groups is unsustainable and will not help South Sudan tackle its inherent poverty sustainably. Nevertheless, the construction of sustainable peace in post-conflict societies such as South Sudan must aim to address realistic grievances, such as equal representation of the peoples of South Sudan in all political, social and economic spheres, are paramount for sustainable development.
Looking Beyond Juba
In line with this, GOSS need to commit itself to constructing a government where each ethnic group is fairly represented. GOSS needs to also fight corruption and build transparent and accountable governance. Effective governance serves as a bridge to avert the relationship between natural resources and the opportunity for rebellion (Ballentine, 2003). National and international actors must also look beyond Juba to the many challenges and threats throughout the regions of the emerging Republic (ICG, 2011). The international community could also play a role in negotiating power re-distribution in South Sudan.
GOSS should strengthen its provision of public services, such as education and health services, and invest in employment creation for the young population (Collier, 2009). Only 27% of South Sudanese aged 15 years and above can write and read (CIA Fact Book, 2011). Education is one among other elements considered a risk for natural resources to become a curse rather than a blessing (Pineda & Rodriguez, 2010; Ballentine, 2003). There is also a positive correlation between economic decline, high levels of poverty and unemployment, and the incidence of armed conflict (Ballentine, 2003). Hence, GOSS should diversify its economy, encourage private investment, and decrease its prime dependency on natural resources, thereby also creating diversified employment. It should also encourage its diasporas to invest and contribute to South Sudan’s development.
The nature of un-lootable resources is more of a benefit for the government than it is for rebels, especially as it tends to make non-separatist conflicts short. This is because un-lootable resources require effective rebel and group leadership, in contrast with lootable resources such as diamonds, which can be easily exploited (Ross, 2003). Hence, this could be used as a window of opportunity by GOSS if it can establish a stronger, representative and united party to hasten the end of conflict. Further, the GOSS needs to take care while handling civilians in conflict regions. Taking harsh measures against civilians purported to be associated with rebel groups can further intensify the conflict (Keen, 1998).
GOSS needs to provide adequate compensation for its soldiers so that they will not be attracted to other economic benefits. For instance, the former Sudan’s soldiers during the North-South civil war sold arms and ammunition on the open market, which finally reached the hands of the rebels. It should also not be assumed that violence is always characterized by rivalry. Cooperation can also happen between opposing groups and members when the need exists (Keen, 1998).
In a nutshell, it should be noted that South Sudan’s stability cannot be achieved without addressing Sudan’s stability and the north-south hostility. Hence, there is a need for the international community, including international institutions such as the UN, IGAD and AU, to facilitate dialogue and cooperation between Sudan and South Sudan by arranging conditions for agreement, particularly on oil and border disputes. Both Sudan and South Sudan benefit from their peaceful coexistence, as they depend on each other for exploiting oil resources in South Sudan. South Sudan’s plan to construct its own pipeline and refineries will not be viable in the short term; hence, it is a must for South Sudan to depend on Sudan’s oil infrastructure for an indefinite period of time.
Moreover, a coordinated international effort including the US, EU, China, the Arab League, and other friends of Bashir’s government is required in order to stop Sudan’s civil war. China, the oil partner of both countries, is considered to play an immense role in bringing peace between the two countries (Sudan Tribune, 2011). Achieving Sudan’s stability is very complicated and thus demands an all-inclusive approach. Although relying on past experiences, it is expected President Bashir will refuse international requests to stop the conflicts. However, there is a chance that his government will agree to international help, since the country is economically weakened. External interventions to cease the civil war in Sudan may also include arranging debt relief by the US, facilitating the writing of a new constitution, legalization of the north-south border, facilitating dialogue between Sudan and its rebels, popular consultation about CPA with the South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, and arranging Abeyi’s referendum and new election in Sudan.
In the coming days, the Juba-based leadership and their external friends might have to look beyond Juba. If, after all, they do not want South Sudan to join the long list of failed states, they must diversify their economic interests and start perceiving the population as a resource rather than a burden.