A Hopeful Future is on the Horizon for War-Weary South Sudan

After five years of devastating civil war, tens of thousands of civilians dead, and millions of refugees displaced from their homelands, recent events in South Sudan may herald a more positive outlook for the war-torn nation.
A Hopeful Future is on the Horizon for War-Weary South Sudan

In August, South Sudan’s oil and gas minister, Azhari Abdulqader, announced that the Toma South oilfield in the Unity State region of the country had resumed oil production after suspending operations in 2013 due to the outbreak of civil war. The South Sudanese government and rebel forces signed a peace deal on September 12, giving further hope for stability.

In the short term, South Sudan hopes to expand its existing oilfields and increase oil production with the aim of mending its ravaged economy. Relations with Sudan, to its north, have been showing signs of improvement, with an increasing level of commitment from both countries to rebuild South Sudan’s oil production facilities.

South Sudan’s short history has been fraught with disaster. Two years after the country’s secession from Sudan, civil war broke out, precipitated by ethnic tensions and political rivalry. The war, which displaced a quarter of South Sudan’s population, also severely disrupted the country’s oil production, causing many oilfields to cease or scale back operations in 2013.

Until this point, South Sudan’s economy relied heavily on oil, and the resulting incapacitation of this revenue stream severely affected the ability of the nation to sustain itself. The subsequent economic collapse, alongside the general destruction of the war and the crippling of the nation’s agricultural sector, caused widespread suffering to the South Sudanese people, and created a major refugee crisis.

Recent peace talks brokered between the South Sudanese government and opposition forces have proved successful, with a final deal signed by President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar on September 12. The deal, brokered by Sudan, was the result of 15 months of negotiations between the warring factions; the two leaders hugged and smiled for the cameras during the signing ceremony in Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa.

President Kiir stated that the peace deal would herald an end to hostilities: “I call on everyone, as a leader of South Sudan, that this agreement which we have signed today should be the end of the war and the conflict in our country.”

Machar was similarly confident in the deal, stating: “[T]oday we celebrate, not just in South Sudan, but throughout the world.”

Despite the optimism of its leaders, instability still boils just under the surface in South Sudan. The brutal five year war that has plagued the young nation for so much of its existence is not easily dismissed. In May, a UN report outlined atrocities committed by government forces during the course of the conflict, including gang rape, ethnic cleansing, pillaging, and the forcible displacement of civilians from their homes.

“Our people are right to doubt us because we have let them down so many times . . . , but this time around, we are telling the people of South Sudan to count on us to implement this agreement fully.”

Such scorched-earth tactics have left indelible scars on the population and will likely hinder progress towards long-term peace. Speaking to the BBC after the ceremony in Addis Ababa, Stephen Par Kuol, a negotiator for the rebel forces, said: “Our people are right to doubt us, because we have let them down so many times . . . , but this time around, we are telling the people of South Sudan to count on us to implement this agreement fully.”

Whether the deal will result in sustained stability in South Sudan is difficult to predict. The desire for peace by both sides in the bloody conflict may stem from war-weariness or, more likely, from a lack of funds and military initiative. For those counting on the oil economy to rebuild the nation, the support of neighbouring states will be paramount.

South Sudan is a landlocked country lacking the means to process and export the crude oil that it produces. As a result, it relies on a pipeline that runs through Sudan in order to export its oil to international markets, a situation that is greatly to Sudan’s advantage. A sustained peace agreement would mean increased confidence from Khartoum and further cooperation between the two nations. In June, Khartoum and Juba agreed to repair oil infrastructure facilities that had been damaged or destroyed during the course of the civil war. The two countries also agreed to set up a joint force to defend the rebuilt facilities against attacks from rebel forces.

Speaking to Reuters, Michael Makuei Lueth, South Sudan’s information minister said: “There is an agreement between the two oil ministries of the two countries. They agreed to cooperate and work together in order to repair [the damage].”

The Toma South oilfield processed 20,000 barrels per day (bpd) at the resumption of production in August. It is expected that this number will rise to 240,000 bpd by the end of the year, following the restoration and maintenance of the oil production facilities.

South Sudan will be relying on its ability to attract foreign investment in order to rebuild its shattered economy. For this to happen, it will need to maintain the stability promised by the recent peace deals, and ensure that the resulting revenue is channelled effectively. If South Sudan’s leaders can keep their promises under the peace agreement, and if relations with Khartoum can be further developed, the outlook for the war-weary nation may be somewhat brighter.