Saturday, July 28, 2012

South Sudan’s False Dawn

Author: Declan Galvin

South Sudanese citizens wave flag,
celebrating one year independence anniversary.
It is of little surprise that the one year anniversary of South Sudan’s independence passed with little mention from anyone outside its immediate East African community. This kind of complacency is all too emblematic of the international community’s forgetfulness with regard to the fragile states and regimes it supports and props up, only to later be drawn into expensive military operations (Afghanistan, Somalia, and the DRC are just a few examples). Therefore, we would be doing ourselves justice to use this occasion to reflect on some of the major economic and military developments in South Sudan, her new and not-so-new relationships within East Africa, and what likely opportunities and problems are on the horizon.

Perhaps most significant, is that South Sudan will likely go to war within the next year. However, I hasten to add that outright war between South Sudan and Sudan can still be avoided if appropriate mediation and diplomatic machines become activated, and run as intended.

South Sudan halts oil production.
South Sudan has halted its oil production, accusing Khartoum of placing unnecessarily high transit fees on its oil. As you may remember, the majority of the oil fields now belong to South Sudan while the refineries and ports for international sale are still located in the north. The deal, which may seem foolish in hindsight, was grounded in the hope that this “fixed” economic reality would promote cooperation between Juba and Khartoum; and that upon the independence of South Sudan it would continue to utilize the ports and infrastructure available to her in the north, with the profits and expenses being shared in some equitable way. To make matters worse, along with the majority of the oil fields, South Sudan also has most of the arable land for farming—making Khartoum extremely dependent on the unmitigated flow of oil from its new neighbor for its own economic well-being. The halted oil production is only one—albeit a significant—contributing factor to the mistrust and insecurity between the north and the south. Additional issues center on: continued accusations from both sides about funding nasty insurgencies and proxy groups, questions of citizenship for their nationals living across the newly minted border, as well as the border itself. The contention with regard to the border between the north and the south recently gained new traction when Juba accused the Sudanese Armed Forces of deliberately bombing suspected militants inside of South Sudan, an assertion that Khartoum denies.

This drama and quasi-war has not gone unnoticed by Uganda, whose largest trading partner happens to be South Sudan. Indeed, Kampala may have a very significant role in the future of South Sudan because, as an editor of a major East African newspaper put it when I asked him about this, “I think it is in Museveni’s interest to show [Juba] that he can be of great help and that they need him more than anyone else in the region.” He continued by saying, “No doubt therefore, if he can show [Juba] that he is so important to them, which he is in my view, he adds another ally onto his list but this time a partner with a lot of benefits especially a huge export market and negotiating power in the East Africa Community...silently, I think [Juba] knows that Museveni is a potential shield from [Khartoum].”

This analysis certainly seems consistent with on-the-ground developments. A recent article in the Independent claims that with the purchase of fighter jets, Museveni is attempting to build the region’s most powerful military with the help of the United States. To be sure, it is no secret that the United States and Uganda maintain very close ties, with the US being the single largest donor to the Museveni government in terms of foreign and military aid. The fact is that the United States sees a long-term ally in Kampala, someone who can have “boots on the ground” in areas the US wishes to avoid. This is relevant because Juba knows that its military cannot succeed in a full-scale war against Khartoum without assistance; and it also knows that Kampala sees South Sudan as a lucrative export market.

Ugandan President, Museveni
I highly doubt that Museveni will sit by idly while his largest trading partner gets pummeled, and then summarily dragged into another generational war. Moreover, the effects of such a conflict and humanitarian disaster—especially with regard to refugees—would at worst destabilize Uganda, and at best prove to be a major strain on its economy. An exodus of people from South Sudan, many of whom would be Ugandans who currently live there, would most likely rekindle insurgent and anti-Museveni ambitions that seem to have subsided in recent months. Museveni has a lot to lose from Khartoum and Juba going to war; and whatever justifications he needs to defend Juba would surly present themselves in time, should that event ever take place.

The final development, worthy of noting, is the recent deal brokered between South Sudan and Kenya for the construction of a new oil pipeline going from South Sudan to the Kenyan coastal port of Lamu. This pipeline would circumvent Khartoum, and alienate the Sudanese government further as it still relies on income from Juba. This development is significant to understand because it would effectively free Juba from its economic obligations with Khartoum. That Sudan feels slighted by this development is an understatement, to be sure.

It is important to discuss these issues, especially in the context of South Sudan’s first birthday, and realize that while its creation was met with jubilation only one year ago, her future remains very uncertain. It is also true that, while Juba’s allies may seem to have her best interests at heart, some of them have a dodgy history of openly funding insurgents, war-profiteering, and eliminating uncooperative foreign leaders. Juba would do well to be mindful of even her friends, and recognize that her future may be far less rosy than originally anticipated.

Declan Galvin is an MA candidate at New York University concentrating on African Politics and Security. He is an avid observer and commentator on global issues, and was recently honored as an NYU Africa House Fellow. He has lived, worked, and conducted research throughout the African continent since 2008, presenting and publishing his findings in a number of social and academic venues. In addition to his scholarly work, he has consulted and worked with non-profit organizations throughout the world. He may be reached at for questions or comments.

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