of Cameron Reed. Cameron Reed is a graduate student of International Relations and Public Policy in the US and Germany. He has worked extensively on security and conflict analysis of the Middle East and Africa. Christopher Thompson, an expert on South Sudan and Africa relations, contributed significant sections of this report.
An overview of key conflict drivers in South Sudan illustrates politically steeped motivation, but which manifest through ethnic or resource-oriented violence. The following report sheds light on the root causes, as well as instrumental means for conflict in South Sudan. The first section covered a historical overview of the country and the current situation. The second addresses the major threats of ethnic conflict and security of oil installations. The third section evaluates economic dependence of South Sudan and human insecurity of its people. A clearer understanding of the threats to stability will facilitate stronger foundations for peace.
Economic Dependence on Oil & Foreign Aid
When South Sudan gained independence from Sudan, it became the world’s newest petro-state. Inheriting 75% of the oil reserves from Sudan in the deal, South Sudan is wholly dependent on oil, deriving 98% of its national revenues from these reserves (“South Sudan“, CIA World Factbook, 21.04.2015) and 60% of its gross domestic product. South Sudan’s non-oil economy is primarily agricultural — subsistence farming and livestock ranching — and the nation has an underdeveloped economy, leaving it dependent on foreign imports for essentials such as food, even as an enormous percentage of its budget (26%) is allocated to security.
Compounding its economic plight, Sudan benefits to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars in pipeline and processing fees from South Sudan’s continued extraction of oil, especially in light of US sanctions, and Sudan frequently has threatened to cut off its oil pipelines in order to pressure South Sudan during negotiations over oil barrel prices and debt repayment. Essentially, South Sudan can only extract oil, but the refineries and pipelines for exporting the oil exist in Sudan. This precarious economic relationship depended for many years on agreements governing nearly the 500,000 barrels of oil pumped out per day, profits of which (from 2005 to 2011) were split evenly between Sudan and what would become South Sudan — but now these agreements are a point of contention.
Furthermore, as the third largest producer of oil in sub-Saharan Africa, South Sudan’s actions affect the global economy and its private investors. In 2010, the combined production between Sudan and South Sudan was around 495,000 barrels per day (bpd). After South Sudan’s independence, the production dropped to 453,000 bpd over worker disputes and sovereignty in the oil regions. In May 2012, tensions mounted over transshipment fees, royalties, and unsettled demands for payment from South Sudan, resulting in the cutting of production to just 113,000 bpd. The largest bilateral provider of foreign assistance and aid ($400 million in 2011), the US, supported South Sudan’s plea for help in their last-ditch effort to counter Sudan, but South Sudan’s power play had the effect of raising inflation by 80%, further damaging its economy (Gabe Joselow, “S. Sudan Oil Shutdown Chokes Economy“, Voice of America, 20.06.2012). By May 2013, Sudan and South Sudan reached an agreement on oil payment schemes, and since then both countries have begun to slowly recover. Nevertheless, the government of South Sudan appears willing to use oil as a weapon against Sudan, at the expense of its economy, population, and the interests of donor countries.
Internationally, the harmony of the Sudan and South Sudan’s oil relations and the internal stability of South Sudan means profit for private foreign interests. In a report by Leriba Consulting, private investment in oil accounts for 67% of its gross fixed capital formation (“South Sudan: A Petro State in Turmoil“, Leriba Consulting, 22.01.2014). Three major oil companies entered South Sudan after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005: China National Petroleum Corporation, Malaysia’s Petronas, and India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (Katrina Manson and Javier Blas, “South Sudan’s Factions Vie for Control of Oilfields“, The Financial Times, 24.02.2014). Also, as a US State Department “Investment Climate” Report notes, “French oil company Total and Kuwaiti company Kufpec have an exploration and production sharing agreement in Block B, a geographic area covering most of Jonglei state and parts of several other states, but have not yet been allowed to start operations”. Though on hold due to the outbreak of violence in 2013, the Ministry of Petroleum and Mining recently signed agreements for construction of two small refineries as well (Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, “2014 Investment Climate Statement – South Sudan“, US State Department, June 2014).
Regional neighbors Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda also have designs to profit from future pipelines running through their countries, diversifying the export routes of oil pumped from South Sudan. Some future plans include the construction of an oil pipeline to the Kenyan Port of Lamu or to the Port of Djibouti through Ethiopia, agreements which were made between foreign investors and the government. All of these prospects, current or planned, are dependent on the security situation and require the consent of the government of South Sudan. For instance, although oil-rich fields that run beneath the Jonglei have been flagged as potential new extraction sites, fighting and lawlessness rule out that prospect for the near future. Also, fighting has put oil facility workers, especially the Chinese, in danger in the past—many workers have had to evacuate to neighboring countries and many have died.
Economic Dependence on Oil & Foreign Aid – Implications
A report by the US Energy Information Administration notes that South Sudan has 3.5 billion proven barrels of oil. Wide interest in South Sudan from the international community and several private investors points to a truism of South Sudan’s most coveted natural resource — it has tremendous economic potential. Hindered by recent conflict, bordering nations of Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Sudan, as well as private oil investors, including China, India, and Malaysia, are all eager for violence to subside in South Sudan — there is still an overwhelming amount of untapped oil beneath the ground that infrastructure, such as small refineries, connecting pipelines, new export pipelines, and extraction sites can fully realize. Also, many areas have been targeted, but not formally agreed upon for development — yet another attractive prospect for oil companies. Despite the conflict, South Sudan’s Government is still insistent on keeping the oil flowing and oil production is on the rise; South Sudan cannot operate without its oil production. If conflict in South Sudan subsides, security of oil (for the integrity of the state) will become one of South Sudan’s primary concerns. South Sudan will remain dependent on oil for the long-term. In the next ten years, South Sudan, and secondarily Sudan and other regional neighbors, will remain dependent on external private actors for advancement of its oil infrastructure and production. Essentially, South Sudan’s oil has grown into the central, dynamic link for several powerful actors to exploit.
A country slightly smaller than Texas with a population of 8.26 million, South Sudan is considered by Laurence Chandy of the Brookings Institution, “[T]he world’s newest country, but its newest fragile state” (Laurence Chandy, “Aiding Stability: Improving Foreign Assistance in Fragile States“, Brookings Institution, September 2011). Lacking institutional and infrastructural capacity to provide basic services to its people, its government cannot solve its human insecurity problems when it is perpetually hindered by conflict, violence, and killing. Despite a fertile landscape and the existence of plentiful oil reserves, South Sudan fails to effectively distribute gains among its people. Furthermore, hundred of millions of dollars in aid from the US are little benefit when corruption diminishes distribution, as President Salva Kiir Mayardit admitted when he said that “[…] corrupt officials had stolen $4 billion in oil revenue from government coffers” (Sudarsan Raghavan, “With Oil At Stake, South Sudan Matters To Its Customers“, The Washington Post, 20.02.2014). Yet, the World Bank notes, “South Sudan has vast and largely untapped natural resources and opportunities abound for visible improvement in the quality of peoples’ lives” (“South Sudan Overview“, The World Bank, 05.03.2015).
Several indicators illustrate that South Sudan has very low human development conditions. 51% of the population lives below the poverty line on less than a dollar a day (John Daly, “South Sudan: The World’s Newest, Fragile, Oil-rich Petrostate“, oilprice.com, 11.07.2011). The mortality rate of 2,054 per 100,000 live births represents the highest in the world. There is a lack of road infrastructure to absorb even light climate variation, such as annual flooding. In 5 out of the 10 states, food insecurity is at crisis level. Furthermore, South Sudan has some of the poorest health indicators in sub-Saharan Africa. Diseases that have been reduced in other areas still run rampant in South Sudan, such as kala azar (leishmaniasis), which is compounded by the lack of clean water circulation — only 67% of the population has access to water (“South Sudan: Water“, USAID, 14.01.2014). Other human development indicators, such as education, are appalling in South Sudan — just 27% of the population above the age of 15 is literate.
Moreover, South Sudan is literally steeped in oil. Consistent fighting in the Unity state, especially around Bentiu, between the government forces and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO) has left oil facilities, like in the Thar Jath oilfield, derelict and deteriorating. All oil facilities in the Unity state were rendered non-operational since 2013, but the fields are still detrimental to the livelihoods of people living in the surrounding area and will only worsen. The results of a six-year study by Sign of Hope and African Water Ltd. indicates that the oil contamination of the groundwater beneath the soil may affect as many as 250,000 people (“Soaked in Oil: The Cost of War in South Sudan“, Al-Jazeera, 25.04.2015).
Recently, politics, factional fighting, and ethnic tensions have magnified systemic human insecurity problems and stunted the flow of humanitarian aid. Over two days of fighting in Malakal (April of 2015), nearly 1,500 people were displaced to UNMISS shelters where 26,000 people already seek refuge. USAID pledged $16.45 million for the 2015 Fiscal Year, focusing now on long-term, rather than provisional types of goods, such as agriculture, water sanitation, hygiene, and nutrition, which suggests preparation for an even longer duration of fighting (“South Sudan Crisis Fact Sheet #7“, USAID, 27.04.2015). The most recent UNHCR report, as of April 24th of 2015, indicates that over 260,000 refugees lie within South Sudan, about 530,000 South Sudan refugees lie outside of South Sudan in bordering countries (Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda), and the total number of internally displaced people reached just over 1.5 million (“South Sudan Situation“, UNHCR, 24.04.2015). Due to protracted conflict, these numbers continue to rise and delivery of aid will become increasingly difficult.
Sadly, humanitarian infrastructure is becoming a target for killings, which signals a transformation of violence from strategic bargaining to out-and-out ethnic killing. In an NPR news report from February 27, 2014, Doctors without Borders’ Sarah Maynard mentioned that a long-standing medical facility had been looted and patients shot in their beds (David Greene and Sarah Maynard, “Violence in South Sudan Targets Hospitals“, NPR, 27.02.2014). Maynard did not provide details regarding the reasons for the attack, but the location of the facility in Leer suggests it was the target of an ethnic group. This kind of attack indicates that humanitarian groups, such as Doctors without Borders, will have a more difficult time operating in South Sudan in the near future.
Human Insecurity – Implications
South Sudan’s uneven development, or the Government’s concentration on economic benefits of oil to solve the other problems of the state, has pushed the South Sudanese people deeper into dire conditions of human insecurity. Rising incidences of conflict in South Sudan, which affect hundreds of thousands innocent civilians, also contribute to this insecurity. For the near future, South Sudan will require security, especially of humanitarian operations, to even reach a point of stability to improve in core areas of insecurity. At the same time, internal instability stemming from South Sudan’s human insecurity disasters, which the UN and Doctors Without Borders are attempting to placate, is inextricably tied to the stability of its surrounding countries, most notably the Central African Republic (CAR). The unceasing conflict in the CAR between Muslims and Christians, the early stages of which have been likened to the Rwandan genocide and ethnic cleansing, coupled with the displacement of South Sudanese people outside of the country has dangerous implications. Considering South Sudanese displaced peoples are primarily Christians, some may certainly become entangled in peripheral violence in CAR. Again, external pressures from the CAR add to the fragility of South Sudan’s internal situation and compound the difficulty of international efforts to ensure the safety of the mass exodus of people from the region. For the immediate future, international humanitarian organizations and the UN, especially as factions are targeting hospitals and UN camps are bursting at the seams, will need improved security measures to execute their operations successfully.
Other processes in South Sudan, such as transnational organized crime, human trafficking, and the presence of terrorist groups, namely the Lord’s Resistance Army, are likely to thrive in this state of conflict. The CIA World Fact Book indicates that, as of 2013, South Sudan has made progress in reducing child soldier conscription, but stand on the Tier 2 Watch List because South Sudan has not demonstrated evidence of increasing effort to address other forms of trafficking, such as sex or forced labor trafficking. The current state of South Sudan is an opportunity for illicit activity to grow and thrive. Human insecurity is the underlying driver of instability that tends to provide a fertile environment for other known processes in South Sudan to exist, such as the harboring of terrorist groups and human trafficking. A holistic approach that balances both immediate and long-term solutions to human insecurity will in turn stem the flow of illicit activity and conflict.
Domestic Rebel Groups
Several rebel groups currently active in South Sudan pose the greatest threat to South Sudan’s peace and stability. The current crisis has strengthened, weakened, or aligned various groups in new ways, but it is worth distinguishing a few of the groups because they pose a threat that may outlast the current Civil War. There are a large number of rebel groups in South Sudan, ranging from small bands of rebellious youths to highly professional militias led by defected Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) generals.
• South Sudan Democratic Movement (SSDM) under George Athor
Since the signing of the CPA in 2005, rebel groups have popped up and disbanded in various regions of the country. The SPLA has taken military action against a number of groups since 2005 in order to dismantle their forces or kill their leaders. Notably, South Sudanese government forces killed warlord George Athor on Dec. 20, 2011, decapitating one of the fiercest rebellions in the country. Athor was a former SPLA lieutenant general who formed a rebellion called the South Sudan Democratic Movement (SSDM) in 2010 after losing an election to become the governor of Jonglei state. Border guards killed Athor while he was attempting to reenter South Sudan for what the government called a recruitment drive (“South Sudan Rebel George Athor Killed“, BBC, 20.12.2011).
• Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-North)
Both Sudan and South Sudan have accused each another of providing financing and armaments for rebellions in their country. Sudan has accused South Sudan of supporting the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-North), a rebel group active in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan. The SPLM-North split off from the SPLM after the signing of the 2005 CPA left the Nuba Mountains on the Sudan side of the border. South Sudan’s government is a natural patron for the group because of the historical ties between the organizations, but it is unclear how much support is being given as of now. The Sudanese government also has accused South Sudan of supporting Darfuri rebel groups in their fight against the government. In response, South Sudan has accused the Sudanese government of supporting various destabilizing militias in the South such as the Yau Yau rebellion in Pibor County, Jonglei state. These accusations added repeatedly added to tensions between the two nations in negotiations.
• South Sudan Liberation Movement (SSLM)
Formed in 1999 during the Second Sudanese Civil War, the South Sudan Liberation Movement (SSLM) declared its intention to protect and defend the interests of certain Nuer populations in Unity and Upper Nile states by maintaining a non-aligned posture in the conflict (“South Sudan Liberation Movement Press Announcement“, Reliefweb, 31.01.2000). The SSLM was unimpressed with the signing of the CPA and its implementation from 2005 and 2011, and the group subsequently released a statement in November 2011 that called for a more inclusive government, development of the northern states, and reduced corruption (Peter Gadet Yak, Carlo Kol and Bol Gatkouth Kol, “The Mayom Declaration“, Sudan Tribune, 18.04.2011). The statement coincided with an increase in hostilities by the SSLM. One attack against government forces in Unity state in late October 2011 left 75 people dead (the SSLA claimed they killed 700 government troops; “South Sudan Rebel Group Attacks Town in Oil-rich State“, BBC, 29.10.2011). The SSLM rebellion is particularly sensitive because Unity and Upper Nile states are the location of a vast amount of oil reserves and production facilities. The SSLM accepted an amnesty offer from President Kiir in April 2013, temporarily ending its rebellion after a peace deal between Sudan and South Sudan included an agreement to stop support of rebel groups. The SPLA reported that around 3,000 rebels, many of them SSLM, vacated their rear positions in Sudan and crossed the border to surrender (Hereward Holland, “Thousands of South Sudanese Rebels Surrender After Thaw With Sudan“, Reuters, 26.04.2013). The SSLM remained demobilized until late December 2013, when a commander declared himself governor of Bentiu, dislodging the elected Nuer governor (“Ex-rebels Issue Three-day Ultimatum for Surrender of Dissident Unity State Commander“, Sudan Tribune, 23.12.2013). Quickly, 5,500 former SSLM fighters banded together and demanded that the SPLM commander leave the city. The force has remained active in the region throughout the ongoing crisis, issuing political statements and generally defending the interests of the Nuer in Unity state. It is unclear whether this new incarnation of the SSLM will remain intact if a settlement is reached to end the current crisis, but if the group renews its rebellion it could become a significantly destabilizing force in the Nuer-populated regions of northeastern South Sudan.
• Murle Rebellion (SSDM under David Yau Yau)
Another iteration of the SSDM is also called the Yau Yau or Murle Rebellion, launched by David Yau Yau after he failed to win election to the Jonglei state legislature in 2010 at the same time as George Athor (see above). Yau Yau initially claimed his motive for rebellion was election irregularities, even though he lost to the SPLM candidate by a wide margin, but he later claimed that his group’s rebellion was a result of political and economic marginalization of the Murle in Pibor County. Yau Yau is known to have had a relationship with now-deceased SSDM leader George Athor, and he emerged as the leader of the SSDM following Athor’s death. However, Yau Yau has occasionally accepted amnesty deals from the government (SPLA), each time reportedly defecting again because of displeasure with his integration package (“SSDM/A Cobra Faction“, Human Security Baseline Assessment for Sudan and South Sudan, 06.11.2013). Yau Yau defected from the SPLA most recently in mid-2012 to rejoin the Murle Rebellion after SPLA abuses during the disarmament operations against Murle fighters aggravated the community. The SSDM released a manifesto in April 2013 outlining grievances that included ethnic inequality, corruption, and lack of access to justice. The manifesto also called for the current government in Juba to step down and the establishment of a transitional government until the 2015 elections. The SSDM has remained active during the current crisis, representing Murle interests in Jonglei state and occasionally engaging in hostilities.