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[Dehai-WN] Jamestown.org: Playing with Fire: Oil Conflict Threatens Leadership of the Two Sudans

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Fri, 23 Mar 2012 23:29:03 +0100

Playing with Fire: Oil Conflict Threatens Leadership of the Two Sudans

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 10 Issue: 6

March 22, 2012 03:12 PM Age: 4 hrs

frelation_pi1%5Bauthor%5D=696> Steven Costello

The leadership in Juba and Khartoum need to find a breakthrough in their oil
dispute or they risk their own survival and the possible outbreak of an
unprecedented level of conflict – even for Sudan. In late January the
Republic of South Sudan, the world's newest nation, cut off its oil supply
to the world market. South Sudan seceded in July, 2011 after decades of
brutal civil war. For both Juba and Khartoum, oil provides the vast majority
of government revenues. The problem is that 80% of the oil lies under South
Sudanese soil but is pumped out via pipeline to Port Sudan in the north. In
recent months, South Sudan has accused Sudan of stealing large quantities of
oil in transit to the Red Sea, while Khartoum claims that this is
compensation for transit fees not paid. Oil revenue was a key issue in the
2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the Second Sudanese
Civil War and paved the way for southern independence. However, no agreement
was forthcoming and as a result, Khartoum sought $36 a barrel in transit
fees – over ten times the standard rate and far more than the $1 per barrel
the SPLM was prepared to pay (Sudan Tribune, February 7). When Juba refused
to meet the fees, Khartoum began siphoning oil as payment, leading South
Sudan to turn off the pumps.

Combined with mutual accusations of support for rebel movements and regular
border skirmishes, this dangerous standoff, has sparked speculation of a
return to full-scale conflict (Sudan Daily Vision [Khartoum], March 14).
Everyone is right to be nervous – even Sudan president Omar al-Bashir has
said that the two nations are closer to war than peace (AFP, February 3).
The mostly Arab Muslim north and African Christian/animist south have been
in conflict since before independence from Britain in 1956. Indeed Sudan was
born into civil war. The perpetual animosity between the two, built ever
stronger on conflict-related deaths in the millions, has created a zero-sum
mindset for the ruling elites in both capitals when it comes to north-south
relations. This needs to change, and it needs to change fast. Both ruling
parties, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) in Juba and the
National Congress Party (NCP) in Khartoum increasingly risk their own
survival the longer this stalemate continues, for if challengers from within
feel they can solve these problems and attempt to take power by force, the
whole region will shatter into violence resembling that of past decades.

Although Khartoum itself has seen development due to oil revenue, the rest
of the country has been largely neglected by the ruling party. Corruption,
tribal nepotism, economic stagnation, and a repressive security apparatus
have bred growing resentment within Sudan to Bashir's leadership. There were
numerous stories of divisions within the NCP prior to the recent oil
stalemate. Since then, the pressure has ramped up even further due to rising
inflation and a Sudanese pound in steep decline (Sudan Tribune, February
24). Food and fuel shortages are increasingly common, and the government
coffers are further depleted by Khartoum’s multiple counter-insurgencies.
Bashir and his ruling clique may soon face difficulties in paying Sudan’s
civil servants and security forces. [1] Together with increasingly
disaffected youth and the external pressure of the Arab uprisings, the NCP
now finds itself in a precarious position. While the hard-liners in his own
party blame Bashir for losing the south (and thus the oil revenues) by
signing the CPA, the military have reportedly warned Bashir that they are
stretched thin and that a rush to war with Juba would be ill-advised (Sudan
Tribune, January 30). If the NCP does not make an oil deal quickly, the
cracks in Khartoum could widen, and by extension fuel the low-level
insurgencies in Darfur, the Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile State, and Eastern
Sudan, emboldened by an under-funded military and political turmoil in the

While Juba sees Khartoum's position as weakening, South Sudan has its own
internal problems, and the stakes are perhaps even higher. Although the
SPLM, led by Salva Kiir, are right to balk at paying ten times the market
rate for oil transfers, negotiations should have continued. For Juba, whose
focus should be building the groundwork for basic services and economic
growth, cutting off the vast majority of its revenue is patently absurd. It
would seem some in the SPLM do not realize the fragile position they are in
since the signing of the CPA in 2005. The politico-military situation in
South Sudan may in the future be increasingly viewed along ethnic lines. [2]
In 1991, the SPLA split roughly between South Sudan's two largest tribes,
the Dinka and the Nuer (though many Nuer fighters remained under SPLA
command). The late leader of the SPLA, John Garang, a Dinka, was widely
perceived by his Nuer comrades to be engaging in favoritism to his people.
“The Split,” as it is known in South Sudan, resulted in horrific levels of
inter-communal violence. Over the ensuing decade, the conflict in the south
escalated with several Nuer sub-groups forming their own militias, often
funded and encouraged by Khartoum, to fight for control of the oil fields in
Unity and Upper Nile states. Upon the signing of the CPA most South Sudanese
militias were incorporated into a massive new military of over 200,000
troops (Reuters, June 21, 2011). Nevertheless, various armed insurgencies
are ongoing in South Sudan. The SPLM has bought off some rebels while
attempting to defeat others by force. Even if some of these “rebellions” are
inspired by mercenary warlordism, the narrative among some Nuer and various
other ethnic groups in South Sudan is that the country is becoming a
Dinka-dominated, one party state.

Whereas there is a long history of political upheaval in Khartoum that some
citizens see as inevitable, South Sudan's experience with statecraft is
still in uncharted waters. The sudden shrinkage of the national budget by
over 90% is justifiably raising questions about the country's leadership.
The SPLM has announced deals to build new pipelines to Kenya and Eritrea,
but these projects will cost billions of dollars and are years away
(Reuters, February 22; BBC, February 9). In the meantime, as food and fuel
shortages reach crisis levels, inflation skyrockets and signs of capital
flight begin, the SPLM does not seem to have contemplated the nightmare
scenario: a coup d’état. The SPLM and its military upper echelon is made up
of elites who not long ago were commanding various rival subgroups of the
Southern rebellion and continue to have constituencies in their home regions
willing to take up arms on their behalf. In this case the fledgling South
Sudan government may prove to be a house of cards as new militant groups
emerge seeking control of the state – and by extension oil revenues. It is a
certainty that Khartoum would fan the flames of such chaos with weapons and
other material support to those forces it sees as operating in its

If the current standoff results in internal political turmoil, we could see
the two Sudans facing power vacuums that would surely produce intense levels
of political and inter-communal violence on both sides of the border – but
particularly in the South as the thin veneer of loyalty to the regime
dissolves among elements of the SPLM and the military. African
Union-sponsored talks between the two Sudan’s in Addis Ababa led to an
accord on multiple issues, but the oil issue evaded solution, with woefully
inadequate concessions offered by both sides (Sudan Tribune; March 15).
Khartoum is already threatening to abandon even this limited agreement if
Juba does not immediately cease its alleged support of rebel movements in
the north. President Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal
Court, will make his first visit to South Sudan since independence in July
for further talks on the oil problem, prompting a public debate in Juba
(Sudan Tribune, March 18). Behind closed doors, negotiations will surely be
acrimonious and rife with suspicion. The leadership in Khartoum and Juba
have long looked at each other with a burning hatred, but if they insist on
continuing this brinksmanship they would be well advised to prepare for
sudden and intense opposition from within their respective regimes.

 Steven Costello is a freelance writer and analyst who has worked in
emergency response in Malakal, South Sudan.


1. Natsios, Andrew, “Sudan's Oil Crisis is only Bashir's First Problem,”
Foreign Affairs, February 2012

2. Steven Costello, “A Second Split for South Sudan,” July 7, 2011,




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