By Martina Schwikowski
The unity government in South Sudan is not operational and further conflicts are looming. The falling price of oil is further contributing to a grave economic and humanitarian crisis in the war-torn country. South Sudan’s peace deal is again in jeopardy as the newly-formed Government of National Unity (GNU) did not take up its work as planned on Friday. As a result, one of the first major milestones in the peace process has not been reached. The swearing in of the transitional government would have been a huge step toward bringing stability to South Sudan.
President Salva Kiir’s government and Riek Machar’s armed opposition have frequently confirmed their commitment to implementing the peace accords that were struck last year. Kiir’s faction received 16 ministries, including the posts of defence, finance and justice. Machar’s group was given the important petroleum ministry among ten others.
But an apparent stalemate between the two major rivals poses a new threat to the fragile agreement. According to the president’s spokesperson, Ateny wek Ateny, Machar has recalled his advance team leaving his newly negotiated post as vice president of South Sudan empty.
“I would have been surprised, if this government would have been established,” said Peter Schumann, former director of the UN Mission in Southern Sudan. “Both parties have different agendas and do not follow their agreements.”
Schuman also fears that the continuing conflict has already plunged the country into a deepening humanitarian crisis.
“There is no peaceful solution, because both parties are trying to control territory and oil resources,” he said.
Martin Oloo, analyst and former advisor to the South Sudanese Parliament, is of the view that Salva Kirr and Riek Machar should be shown the door.
“The challenge is informed by the fact, that chaos in South Sudan benefits the major protagonists: Salva Kiir and Riek Machar.” He added that they thrive on chaos and are not looking for peace.
“The solution is to push them out of the door and to allow other people in who can actually help in this conversation. If these two are out of the way, the chances are that we are going to see peace in South Sudan,” he said.
Oil and power
South Sudan has been mired in conflict since December 2013 when clashes broke out in the capital Juba between troops loyal to Kiir and soldiers backing Riek Machar, the former vice president. Africa’s newest country quickly descended into mutual killings between Kiir’s Dinka and Machar’s Nuer people.
Facing heavy international pressure and the threat of sanctions, the three split factions of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), Kiir’s government, Machar’s SPLM In Opposition (SPLM-IO) and the smaller intermediate faction of dissidents (SPLM Former Detainees), signed a peace agreement in 2015 brokered by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
The civil war, fought mostly in oil-producing areas, has displaced more than 2.2 million people, including about 600,000 who have ought refuge in neighboring countries. The current fall in oil prices is contributing to the dire situation since the country’s income is heavily dependant on oil revenues.
President Kiir said in November that a slide in oil prices on international markets would eat into government reserves. Production, which stood at 245,000 barrels per day before violence erupted, is down by roughly a third.
Huge economic loss
Kiir said that his country will struggle to resettle thousands of refugees and those displaced internally during nearly two years of war. He called on donors to help South Sudan with its humanitarian needs.
“Oil revenue so far has never been invested in reforms,” said Schumann, adding that it was used to equip and restructure the army and security police forces instead of improving education, health and infrastructure. According to Schumann, that was done using donor money.
“1.3 billion dollars is the latest appeal for the survival of the population,” he said.
When South Sudan became independent from Sudan in 2011, an agreement to pay transit fees for the use of oil pipelines running through the north was put in place. South Sudan is paying $24 dollars to Khartoum for each barrel transiting through Sudanese pipelines to Port Sudan on the shore of the Red Sea. As global markets slide, the current oil price of less than $30 dollars, a 12-year low, leading to a significant economic loss for the country.
Falling oil prices, combined with a fixed fee for the use of export pipelines, means that South Sudan is now losing money on every barrel it sells. If the Sudanese government is unable to agree on lower fees, the country may have to put a stop to oil production, the ministry said last week. Oil production in South Sudan is now believed to be costing the government at least $4 a barrel, further battering its economy.
“If the oil money is no longer available to finance the military, we will see different armed groups robbing the civilian population and fighting for income,” said Schumann. “The interest of the international community will become less and less. They have already contributed to this failure because they have never been threatened with sanctions and have stepped back instead of playing the role of a guarantor for stability.”