Saturday, February 24, 2024

Rapid spread Forces (RSF) threat South Sudan oil shutdown if South Sudan government doesn’t cease providing funds to SAF. The threatening of the South Sudan oil shutdown by the RSF group is one of the pressing news pertaining to the Republic of South Sudan. According to Simon Ateba, ” South Sudan has been given three weeks ultimatum warning by Rapid Support Forces (RSF)” to stop providing funds to the SAF or face a complete shutdown of its oil production.

This latest RSF ultimatum warning places South Sudan’s leadership in an unenviable position, which will have severe repercussions. The RSF’s control over crucial oil infrastructure, including the pipelines and pumping stations, grants them significant leverage in the dispute. To comprehend the gravity of the situation, it is crucial to understand the intricacies of South Sudan’s oil industry.

The oil fields are spread across two states in South Sudan, with two pipelines converging at the Heglig oil pumping stations, located in the Kordofan state of Sudan controlled by the RSF. Heglig is where the oil from South Sudan’s fields is channelled into a pipeline that leads to Port Sudan for export. While the RSF controls the pumping stations at Heglig, the Sudanese army holds authority over the outlet where the oil is loaded onto cargo ships. The implications are far-reaching not only for South Sudan but also for the stability of the region.

The disruption of oil production would exacerbate the already fragile security situation, potentially leading to further conflict and instability within the country. Furthermore, the economic fallout would have severe consequences for the government’s ability to provide essential services to its people.

Initially, one would like to touch base to South Sudan oil history of exploration. Since 1970s, Oil in greater Upper Nile State became the center of Sudan civil wars. Chevron was granted its oil concession in 1974, shortly after the agreement on southern autonomy ended the separatist war in the south. Chevron discovered oil in this autonomous region in 1978, and by the time a second civil war broke out in the south in 1983 was developing Unity and Heglig oilfields.

Located in today’s GNPOC Blocks 1 and 2 in Western Upper Nile/Unity State, these oilfields were home to the Nuer and Dinka, members of the two largest ethnic groups in the southern Sudan. Despite the role of Chevron oil company, Sudan government recruited Mujahedeen militias in Southern Kordofan state to secure protection of the oilfields in Bentiu Area to make exploitation and further prospecting possible.  During the early stage of SPLM/A establishment, Garang started by ordering troop to attack specific locations and facilities. For instant, he ordered SPLA units to strike at the two successful development projects in Southern Sudan.

The projects were the above-mentioned Chevron oil explorer company and Jonglei Canal. However, before SPLA could reach Bentiu, Anya-nya two soldiers under Paulino Matip Nhial struck the construction at Rup-Koni killing three and wounded several others caught by surprise sleeping in their rooms; and then, the SPLA attack Jonglei Canal project in Bor area; three months later after the defeat of construction workers in Bentiu.

Due to the SPLA aggressive present in the south, the government begun to immediately evacuate its employees to safety in Malakal leaving both projects in the south on the hand of southern rebels. The war in the south and the collapsing of the economy, plus the continuing political repression in Khartoum ignited the popular uprising in the country. Citizen began organizing demonstrations in the streets of Khartoum.

Prior to Khartoum Peace Agreement, oil was unexploited; companies who try to explore oil in 1970s got kicked out by the combination of the SPLA and the pocket of Anyanya-two as early as 1984 one year after SPLA formation. Chevron Oil Company of USA was forced to leave its operation as civil war was escalating. It is clear that, South Sudan is one among many countries, which are bless with natural resources. However, war prevents peaceful exploration to these resources.

Primarily, the oil production came as the result of the 1997 Khartoum Peace Agreement, which Cdr. Riek Machar’s faction and many other factions signed with the government of Sudan in the said year. Sudanese government and all factions’ majority of whom were southern led rivalry movements opposing to John Garang’s policies, stated in their 1997 peace document that natural resources had to be explore once their deal had finalized.

In that regard, because the oil happens to be in the area controlled by Riek Machar, the government has a free hand to carry out oil exploration, something that could not happen in 1980s when Riek Machar himself was commanding troops in Western Upper Nile where large oilfield located.In 1998, the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNOC), a consortium of Talisman Energy Inc., China National Petroleum Corporation, Malaysian PETRONAS, and France Finna, Sweden Lundin petroleum, Austria’s OMV and Russian oil companies were invited by the Sudanese government to exploit oil in South Sudan for Khartoum government.

Many countries except the United States of America had wanted to get involved to do business with Sudan oil. This became the first time that a pipeline has been dug to extract oil from Bentiu to Port Sudan where it has to be exported to the outside world. In observing the rushing these foreign companies had taken, it became clear that the oil richness in South Sudan had blinded many nations from seeing the effect their action will bring to local civil population in the area. In that particular period, Sudan has a reason for its oil exploration mission.

That reason was that the country was having an economic impact from its international relation, which causes its isolation.  In 1990, international monetary fund issued a declaration of non-cooperation against the Sudan for unpaid debts. Another issue was that, in 1993 the US State Department declared Sudan as a country believed to be sponsoring terrorism.

Based on these above issues, the Sudanese government have decided to look for allies and how its debt problem should be solved. The government started its oil operation by bringing in investors who were unaffected by the US condemnation, which is wanting the Sudan to clear its human rights records before it could do business with the outside world.

Soon after the oil began to flow, Sudan government forces and allied militias were able to arm themselves with weapons obtain from China, Iran, Russia and many other countries in exchange for loans to be paid by future oil exports.  In the beginning of exploration, Sudan’s oil revenues were largely expected to grow bigger than any other resources the country has ever explored.

It has been expected that many areas in the South Sudan might contain oil, despite the fact that South Sudan is a virgin land which natural resources had never been formally exploited. British and Arab colonial masters were kept away from getting their hands into these natural resources by unrest hostilities native southerners pose to them.

Therefore, natural resources among others have been in central arena in the causes of the civil war. However, that time was different. Native sons of the South Sudan were ones who allow Arab led government to exploit their God given resources. These sons of the South Sudan failed to notes that the government has a secret plan.

They realized such plan when the government chase Riek Machar’s army out of the area by force and established permanent presence in the oilfield. When the international media questioned the government’s move, their justification was that, “national resources have to be protected by the national government rather than by local arm groups.”

Hence, Riek Machar coordinating council that was supposed to provide oil protection and get some percentage from the oil share as per 1997 Khartoum Peace Agreement, was simply get rid of and refuse to be given any share. Recklessly, investors were allowed to rush into Bentiu to grab their business a share. Among these investors were Canada’s Talisman Energy Inc., and Sweden’s Lundin, which provides sufficient technological equipment to drill the crude oil in South Sudan. Their operation brought new angle on how the war being fought in the Sudan.

Before Talisman and Lundin enters the area, there were no clear roads and airstrips. This lack of communing routes made it harder for the government troops to travel freely in the South Sudan area year after year.  South Sudanese rebel use the heavy forest as the human shield. However, the roads and airstrips’ problem became not a major issue anymore after Talisman, Lundin, and other oil companies had entered the area, because the roads and airstrips they paved in order to transport their equipment being used by the government to launch attacks against civilians.

At that juncture, the war has become some sort of competition for control of the sites of resources. Due to such competition, the oil that supposes to be a blessing to people had turned to become a curse on the side of southerners. South Sudanese civilians had paid a very heavy price to prevent their God given natural resources from being looted and to protect themselves from being dominated by the northern Arab Muslim Sudanese.

More than 2 million people had perished as the result of the war and another 5 to 6 million people had been driven away from their homes to neighbouring countries. While native dwellers of the land had cleansed, the government decided to repopulate the oilfield regions with Baggara Arab settlers. Intentionally, the government had wanted to redraw the map of the country by simply locating oil rich areas to the north where resident of the land would be Baggara Muslims. Ironically, the government plan was to divert international attention from talking about the displacement of people in the oil fields. Such plan help increases the fighting.

South Sudanese army put up resistance, which means in 1999-2002, SPLA engage in intense fighting in the oil field with the government trying to stop oil production. The movement’s operation was successful by briefly captured oil installation equipment in Heglig, sank a barge on the White Nile, which was carrying petroleum material, and forced Lundin to suspend its drilling operations in Block 5A of their concession.

This fiercest fighting occurred along the new all-weather Bentiu-Ler road built by Lundin that allowed Sudan armed forces to move deep into the SPLA territory with armored vehicles and tanks. Beside fighting with the Arab army, another heavy fighting breaks out between Peter Gatdet Yak and Paulino Matip Nhial; Matip has been used by the government to destroy the Peace Riek has signed with them and Bashir has shifted his support from Riek to him.

After Gatdet form alliances with the SPLM/A, he became hostile to Paulino for guarding the oilfield for the government. Both groups had fought fiercely in Mankien from 1999 until 2002 when Gatdet himself re-defected back to Paulino after SPLA leadership in Nairobi wanted to channel the command of Western Upper Nile to somebody else. As fighting got heavier, the government rushed for reinforcement to increase the size of his troops in its garrisons at Pultuni near the Lundin oil wells wanted to contain Peter Gatdet counter-offensive.

In early 2000, the government launched an intensive bombing campaign even few days before the signing of the Machakos document by which the Sudan government and the SPLM/A agreed on a cease-fire. When fighting once again erupted, the SPLM/A recaptured the strategic town of Torit and the government decided to suspend the peace talks at Machakos, determining to avenge the loss of Torit and able to recapture it.

Despite fighting precipitation and the international community pressure to debate peace, President Omar Hassan Al Bashir and John Garang were push to meet for the first time in Kampala in July 2003 to pledge their commitment to the peace process-taking place at the time at Machakos Kenya. This gesture of meeting each other signified a major shift from war to peace after twenty years of violent conflict.

For these long twenty years of war, South Sudan has been destroyed for good. There was no visible physical infrastructure, no commodity resources, and illiteracy rate has increased in its ultimate high. In the period of May 1983 to July 2003, a month could not pass by without heavy fighting taken place anywhere in the areas of Southern Sudan. Day after day, warfare has been constantly expected and it actually occurred regularly without stopping for longer time. Each side could pause only to regroup and fight again when they are ready.

Although the government had the advantage of having more men and more military equipment, SPLA army pose heavy damaging on them by tactically fighting them during the rainy season when swampy, highly-grasses, and deepest forest made it impossible for Sudanese arm forces to get rotation.

Furthermore, northern Sudanese soldiers in the south find it harder to cope with such a swampy situation while SPLA soldiers had gotten used to it and were motivated by protecting their natural resources which were being looted and themselves from being Islamized, Arabized, or enslaved in their own land. The punitive raids carried out by the government and Murahillen militias have been so destructive.

Thus, the destruction of villages to make ways for oil companies and the uses of oil revenues by the government of Sudan to finance the wars against its own citizens angered many people including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the International Crisis Group, Justice Africa, and the Institute for Security Studies. All these organizations including the United States of America were outraged by the human right abuses associated with oil production in Sudan.

Often times, disturbing reports regarding human rights abuses and the lack of the Sudanese government’s commitment to prioritize peace negotiations, forces above organizations to campaign against the governments of countries whose companies were doing business with Sudanese oil to either suspend their oil production until when peace and security has fully been attained in the Sudan.

However, multitude of foreign interests toward Sudan militated against any unified international position on the best approach to ending the tragedy of oil contribution to war. On the contrary, these organizations did not stop; they went ahead with their protesting agenda to suspend these foreign oil companies from exploring South Sudan oil. Although oil companies that engaged in business with South Sudan oil became the target of criticism by these international human rights coalitions, many of these companies refuse to back down.

The only two companies that responded positively were Sweden Lundin and Canadian Talisman; the reason of these two companies back down was that church and human rights groups of both countries kept lobbing their governments to discontinue allowing their companies to operate in South Sudan.

Moreover, the American activist groups demand that United States government should impose sanctions on these companies and delist them from American Stock Market. On file, the United States foreign laws asserted that countries delivering military hardware to countries that sponsor international terrorism would be punished with sanction.

All documents considered details of violent escalation in the oilfield, as well as the contribution of oil revenues to the Sudan government’s war effort has been singled out as an immediate reason why these companies must have to stop operating in Sudan. The reaction of these companies and governments to this evidence was that they are helping in developing the areas by building schools and health centers for the local populations. However, reports from native displaced persons and human rights groups indicate that, oil companies were serving Baggara Arab communities who have come to resettle in areas where Nuer landowners had been displace.

The effect of oil production on the local communities had extremely been so negative. As the government stigmatizes the region’s population, it feels no responsibility toward people it claims to govern; which mean it does not care at all for their well-beings. Therefore, the resources Sudanese government had exploited, was for its own benefits. The resources the State could have spent on caring for the population in the region were purely divert to the war effort or to the benefit of the few ruling elites and high-ranking military officers in Khartoum.

South Sudan has been heavily relied on oil production as its economic lifeline since its independence from Sudan in 2011. However, on January 20, 2012, the government of South Sudan decided to shut down its oil production. The decision came as the result of a long discussion in South Sudan parliament overseeing why Sudan is looting South Sudan oil money.

The situation was exacerbated by unilateral actions taken on the part of the government of Sudan to divert Southern Sudan oil passing through its territory. At that time, Sudan justifiedfy its action by stating that Juba left it to deal with the national dept, which the two countries should share paying. To Juba, Khartoum’s actions amounted to the illegal confiscation of $815 million worth of oil.

The government of South Sudan determined that, from its perspective, it would rather see the nation’s wealth sit in the ground, safe from further theft at the hands of the regime in Khartoum, just as they did during the war: until a sustainable agreement with Sudan can be reached or an alternative mechanism for export is secured. South Sudan inherited around 75 percent of Sudan’s oil production.

When it split off from Sudan and became an independent country in July 2011, oil export remains to take place through the pipelines in Sudan while the two countries are still faced with some outstanding issues. On top of these issues were the border demarcation and some security measures between the two countries. Sudan said it was taking the oil in lieu of unpaid transport fees.

Immediately after the shutdown, South Sudan opted to channel its oil production to Ethiopia heading to Djibouti and the other one heading to Lamu Kenya. Without delay, Juba signed memoranda of understanding with Djibouti and Ethiopia as well as Kenya as potential partners in a new pipeline.

The oil minister says feasibility studies for each pipeline should be completed in the next six months. After that, the ministry will decide which project to pursue. The deal was that oil in Upper Nile State must be exported through Ethiopia all the way to the port of Djibouti, and the oil in Bentiu must be shifted through Kenya to Lamu on Somalia border.

In 2012, South Sudan was facing a severe economic crisis, and the Khartoum government, which is under international economic sanctions, demanded an important price of $36 for the transit and exportation of South Sudanese oil. Juba refused and proposed the ¼ of the requested money. However, the international community particularly Washington pushed Juba to agree on $9.10 for the oil produced in Upper Nile state and $11 for that of Unity state which produces some 20% of South Sudan’s oil”.

After the sealing of the deal, Sudanese officials under the cover of anonymity said Khartoum got $25 per barrel hinting that Juba finally accepted to move from the small amounts proposed during the talks. Kamal Obeid a Sudanese official, who leads Khartoum delegation in the talks with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, told the official Omdurman Radio that they added the transitional financial assistance (TFA) to the average of the agreed oil transportation fees.

Juba actually offered $3.028 billion as transitional financial assistance to Khartoum in line with its previous commitments to participate with the international community to help Sudan overcome the financial difficulties resulting from South Sudan independence. Obeid said to calculate the TFA payment; it was agreed that Juba would pay $15 for each barrel exported during a period of three years and a half.

So, when you add $10, which is the average of oil transportation fees to $15 of TFA, you will get $25, the Sudanese official said. While Khartoum remained silent over the agreed price, Pagan Amum, South Sudan top’s negotiator during oil negotiations, immediately released a statement in Juba to say that his government made little concessions to Khartoum on the issue.

He said, “Juba proposed $7.20 and accepted $9.10 for PETRONAS oil.” PETRONAS is a national oil and Gas Company of Malaysia that involved in oil business in many countries in the world including Sudan.  According to Pagan, “the agreement is also offered $9.16 and accepted $11 for the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC) oil, as a compromise proposed by the mediation” Sudan’s foreign ministry explained two days later that its delegation accepted the offer proposed by the mediation and left the venue of the talks.

This became the final deal between the Sudanese government and South Sudan. When the war broke out in South Sudan in 2013, many voices from rebel groups were calling for an oil shutdown. Some oil pipelines in Unity State were actually shut down. However, many oil fields remained safe from shutdown. Nevertheless, the current shutdown threat is different given that Sudan instability is the main cause.

Although South Sudan produces about 170,000 barrels of oil daily, the oil has to go through Sudan to reach Port Sudan, where it is loaded into cargo ships. As a result, 10,000 bpd is given to Sudan as transportation fees. Every month, Sudan receives roughly $18 million dollars from South Sudan’s oil. The latest ultimatum places South Sudan’s leadership in an unenviable position, as any decision made within the timeframe will likely lead to severe repercussions. The RSF’s control over crucial oil infrastructure, including the pipelines and pumping stations, grants them significant leverage in the dispute.

In today’s news outbreak, Simon Ateba indicated that the war between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) has put the country’s oil industry at risk, threatening catastrophic consequences for the young nation. The RSF’s demand that South Sudan stop providing funds to the SAF presents a critical conundrum.

If South Sudan complies, the RSF may retaliate by preventing the export of South Sudan’s oil through Port Sudan, effectively choking the nation’s economic lifeline. On the other hand, if South Sudan continues to provide funds, the RSF threatens to shut down the pumping station at Heglig, impeding the flow of oil to Port Sudan.

South Sudan produces about 170,000 barrels of oil daily, and 10,000 bpd is given to Sudan as transportation fees. Every month, Sudan receives roughly $18 million dollars from South Sudan’s oil. The latest ultimatum places South Sudan’s leadership in an unenviable position, as any decision made within the timeframe will likely lead to severe repercussions.

The RSF’s control over crucial oil infrastructure, including the pipelines and pumping stations, grants them significant leverage in the dispute. One could sum up this topic of oil production by stating that oil in South Sudan has been made a curse by many political actors in both Sudan and South Sudan. South Sudanese people were killed by the Sudan government, and Nuer was killed by Salva Kiir Mayardit by buying many killers, including Ugandans and many others in both countries.

In conclusion, the Sudanese conflict, which erupted on April 15, 2023, has seen the RSF gain significant control in the capital city of Khartoum and other surrounding suburbs like Kordofan state. It’s not impossible RSF could not shut down the oil. In light of this rapidly deteriorating situation, the South Sudan government is in a hot pot. It needs urgent diplomatic efforts and international intervention in order to stop oil shutdown and avert the impending disaster.

It is left with limited options and must navigate a precarious path to safeguard its economic interests and ensure stability within its borders otherwise economic conditions facing South Sudan will increase which does not bother some of us including this writer.

Lul Gatkuoth Gatluak is a writer on Sudan and South Sudan Affairs. He Resides in the United States of America He could be reached on email  lulgatluak09@gmail.com

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