By Zeinab Mohammed Salih
The fighting in South Sudan that is stirring international impatience is fueled by oil revenue, analysts say.
So long as South Sudan’s oil exports enrich the people in the country who have strong ties to arms suppliers, a United Nations-imposed arms embargo will be ineffective, says a former government minister in the conflict-torn nation.
The U. N. Security Council imposed an arms embargo last week on the world’s youngest country in an attempt to end fighting that began nearly five years ago. The resolution, proposed by the United States, prohibits countries from providing weapons to South Sudan until May 2019 and came just days after the country’s opposition groups rejected the latest peace proposal.
Enforcing the embargo will be very difficult, says Luka Kuol, who previously served as minister of presidential affairs for South Sudan. Individuals in South Sudan profiting from oil exports simply have too much money for arms suppliers to ignore, he says. “The very people who hold the oil revenue are the ones in connection with the countries that supply weapons to South Sudan, countries like Uganda, Sudan and Kenya.”
South Sudan isn’t a large exporter; in 2016 the country shipped $1.34 billion worth of goods abroad, ranking it as the 138th-largest export economy in the world, according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Observatory of Economic Complexity. Nearly all of the country’s exports that year – $1.33 billion – came from crude petroleum. As a result, South Sudan is the most oil-dependent country in the world, according to the African Development Bank. Oil accounts for about 60 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
Despite sitting on vast tracts of oil reserves, South Sudan is one of Africa’s poorest countries, torn by years of conflict that has put its economy in freefall. Its GDP per capita, just $1,111 in 2014, had plunged to less than $200 by 2017, according to the World Bank.
The country obtained its independence from Sudan in 2011 after more than 50 years of fighting – the longest civil war in Africa. It broke off from Sudan after years of complaints about political and economic marginalization by Muslims in the north, who have ruled Sudan since its own independence in 1955. More than 2 million people died and millions others were displaced during the decades of war.
Only two years after South Sudan became independent, however, another civil war erupted, this time along ethnic fault lines. The sharpest conflicts are between President Salva Kiir’s Dinkas, the largest ethnic group, and the Nuer minority led by Riek Machar, the country’s former vice president. The fighting has left more than 50,000 dead and displaced about 4 million people internally and abroad, notes the Council on Foreign Relations.
Earlier in July, smaller opposition groups rejected a power-sharing proposal signed by Kiir and Machar, saying the offer neglected vital issues such as deciding on the number of states and establishment of a commission to oversee boundaries, according to the Sudan Tribune.
Kuol, who today is a professor for security studies at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., says the U.N. resolution shows that member states of the Security Council believe that South Sudan’s warring parties and Sudan’s mediators are not serious about reaching a peace agreement.
Other analysts say the Security Council action is a warning to South Sudan’s government and rebels. “The international community is so disappointed with the government, especially after they extended the term of the president,” says Atem Simon, an analyst and writer from South Sudan.
Adds Ramadan Abdo, another South Sudanese analyst based in Sudan: “The (Security Council) resolution on South Sudan would be understood as a rebuke, especially to the government that has the money to buy weapons and to the oppositions to stop the war crimes and all the inhumane acts.”
The Security Council resolution came after the release of a U.N. report detailing how South Sudan’s government and allied soldiers carried out a campaign this past spring of killings and rapes. The report said at least 232 civilians were killed, including 50 women and 35 children. Another 120 women and girls were raped or gang-raped during the campaign, according to the report.