Juba has temporarily halted Sudan government’s endless Pilfering of South Sudan’s oil: Will Khartoum kneel to Juba or adopt brinkmanship policy?

By: Peter Lokarlo Marsu

January 21, 2012 (SSNA) — I candidly laud the efforts of the government of South Sudan in relentlessly pursuing the battle against the Khartoum regime in its endless practices of pilfering South Sudan’s oil. The triumphant decision arrived at by the Council of Minister in Juba that pronounced the shutdown of the oil production in South Sudan is exceedingly commendable and hence, my ensuing humble reaction runs as hereunder:

Sudan’s theft of South Sudan’s oil

I might well begin by acknowledging the disenchanted note made by South Sudan’s Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Dr. Benjamin Marial who made the subsequent depressed remark in the wake of the recent collapsed post secession talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia between Juba and Khartoum: “How can we be discussing with Khartoum on the issues of oil especially the transit fees while they are now confiscating our oil by force.” His tone has emphatically summed up both an aura of ire and tone of extreme public disapproval of Sudan’s theft of its Southern neighbour’s oil resource. I would candidly extol all along the efforts exerted by the South Sudan government’s negotiating team to the parleys so far coxswained by the chief negotiator, Mr. Pagan Amum, who is also the Secretary General of Sudan peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM) in the new African country, in firmly refusing to sit down with the negotiators from Sudan’s prowling and goon regime. One is downright at askance as to whether Sudan is conscious of its reckless choice of drifting along such cataclysmic political trend. The government of Sudan is incontestably acting in a lesser civilized standards in conducting its diplomatic transactions with the Republic of South Sudan. It is time that the restive regime of Sudan reconciles its intrinsic contradictions, aborts its supercilious and abysmal conduct in favour of acknowledging and bestowing due respect to South Sudan’s sovereignty and territorial sacrosanctity. Sudan misguidedly believes that it has nevertheless the final say when dealing with South Sudan’s oil, even though the latter has now attained a full statehood. Such a wicked and old fashioned reading has encouraged the Sudanese government to persist on its barefaced thievery of the oil resource without ignominy. The regime in Sudan does possess neither legal nor moral sanction to use South Sudan’s oil without the knowledge of Juba. Such an abhorrent practice comes closer to signify criminal accomplishments, which is unmistakably alien to the guidelines and rules governing international conduct and actions of a responsible state. Quarantining the oil and blocking its shipment to the international markets is not only pure callousness in its conventional sense, but emphatically a paranoid feat which is typical of the mien of the country’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP). One would perhaps be persuaded to cogitate on whether or not the Republic of South Sudan, being the victim of Sudan’s colossal larceny has done adequate handiwork on its part in an attempt to dissuade the Jallaba (Sudan government) from stealing South Sudan’s oil. A sizable public opinion in South Sudan is unanimous in the conviction that Juba is partly to blame for being precariously docile and grossly lacking assertiveness in its official approach of dealing with the recalcitrant regime in Khartoum.

The culture of being non-assertive goes as far back as the September 2005 during the setting up of the so-called Government of National Unity (GONU) in Khartoum. The Government of South Sudan started shoddily by failing to secure the Ministry of Energy and Mining. That regrettable gremlin along has hunted South Sudan until today. Securing that ministry at the time might probably have strategically placed the former government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) in the knowing about the entire management of the oil industry in the Sudan, but that did not happen, and the dealings in the Ministry of energy and mining became shrouded in excessive secrecy, only known to the NCP. No one to this day knows precisely how much oil was and is being produced and how much oil revenue has been generated. GoSS never bothered to investigate the discrepancies in the production figures when they later showed up, placidly stomaching the modus vivendi. To add gloom to the helpless setting, the Committee of six southern officials appointed by GoSS back in 2005 to superintend the functioning of the oil industry in Khartoum shortly became lacklustered, inoperable and subsequently muffled. Unless the Newest African Nation formulates a weathered contemporary political model and workable solution in respect of the South Sudan oil that could effectively deal with the NCP-led mulish government of Sudan, the Republic of South Sudan runs the possibility of getting further entangled in more South-North oil and political confrontation.

The shutdown of oil production in South Sudan

All would acquiescein the verity that Acta Non Verba is definitely the precise Latin expression to go by (Deeds not words) in dealing with the NCP regime that does not play by the rules of orthodox diplomacy.

Juba must be lauded for having a finger on the pulse of the country’s public opinion and consequently for adopting the monumental decision ever taken in announcing the shutdown of the oil production in the Republic of South Sudan. Though long overdue, the council of Ministers of the government of South Sudan under the leadership of the President of the Republic has heeded to the public outcry in the country that calls for swift action against Sudan’s government not only for stealing South Sudan’s oil, but likewise for behaving like an desperado state towards the newly independent African country. Khartoum has undeniably been pilfering, secretly storing and selling South Sudan’s oil since the year 2000 with tacit technical assistance from the oil companies led by the CNPC, China’s National Petroleum Company that had teamed up with the Malaysian PETRONAS and Sudanese SUDAPET to constitute the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC). Some commentators suggest that Sudan government had been pumping out 1,000,000bpd while furnishing lesser statistical figures of between 450,000 to 500,000bpd, and others believe that Khartoum has pumped millions of barrels of crude oil to some underground storage facilities since the conclusion of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005 in anticipation of the secession of South Sudan. Yet the unscrupulous NCP regime keeps up the tempo of blatantly filching the oil, this time disguised as payment in kind for the use of its oil facilities by the government of South Sudan. As this was not enough Khartoum has shockingly and audaciously demanded $36 dollars per barrel as rental and transit fees. Thanks to South Sudan’s Council of Ministers for putting a halt to Sudan government’s nicking of South Sudan’s oil. In my last “open Letter” to the President of the Republic of South Sudan, I did cogently spell out the need for Juba to take full control of its oil resource and I further added that as South Sudan would hardly be referred to as a sovereign state if Sudan still maintained separate contractual agreements with foreign oil companies and concomitantly exercised unilateral authority over the oil in South Sudan.

The Post Secession Talks and the African Union

With the oil issue temporarily put to rest following the termination of the oil production in South Sudan, the skittish post-secession talks expected to resume in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia under the auspices of the African Union High Level Implementation Panel should now address the major issues, namely: the border demarcation between Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan as premised on January 1, 1956 configuration and the conduct of the adjourned Abyei Referendum for the people of the Nine Ngok Dinka Chieftain that was transferred to Kordofan as of 1905. This should be grounded in context of the pronouncements of the Hague-based Arbitral Court of 22 July 2009. Other matters would be tackled at a later date. With respect to mediation, South Sudanese have immeasurably experienced the maladroitness of the African Union in offering starry-eyed solutions to the continent’s problems. A case in point was the payment of the sum of $5.6 million dollars that the continental organization had aberrantly advised the Republic of South Sudan to pay to the government of Sudan, purportedly for patching up the snag in Sudan’s fiscal gap. Looking into the AU’s dubious policy on Sudan, the organisation had initially expressed reticence about Sudan’s impending partition. One would still graphically recall the day when Jean Ping, the current Chairman of the African Union Commission who (Chinese father and Gabonese mother) had issued a controversial remark in 2010 in regards to the holding of the Southern Sudan Referendum (Sudan: Regional Perspectives on the prospects of Southern Independence, Crisis Group Africa Report No. 159, 6 May 2010). Adopting the long cherished Arab League’s official goal and stance that rejected secession for South Sudan, Jean Ping moved on swiftly to declare in Ethiopia that South Sudan must not be allowed to secede, as it would preclude the disintegration of Africa. One has yet to see the oracle of those prophets of doom.

Another ill-starred scenario involving the AU was the showcase in Sudan’s western region of Darfur, where the AU had compromised its responsibility much to the delight of the government of Sudan. I have no intention to dwell on such limpid lack of political sensitivity on the part of the African Union, but suffice to state that the AU is seemingly feeble and helpless in resolving contentious problems in African. If the AU honestly intends to mediate between Juba and Khartoum, it must adopt a rational, non-partisan and sensible approach.

I would finally end my humble reaction by making the following remark: First, it took the Chinese company 18 months to construct the pipelines extending from Higlig and Bentiu to the Red Sea coast. The government of South Sudan could plan to take the Lamu or Mombasa option, while on the interim basis arrange a line of credit from international financial institutions as well as through bilateral agrements to cover budget gaps. Such action would be buttressed by generating funds from non-oil sectors including customs.  Such would be accompanied by slashing down some of the unjustifiable public spending and other belt-tightening or austerity measures. It would perhaps be immensely inaccurate to perceive that the government of South Sudan would collapse by shutting down the oil production in South Sudan. The policy makers in Juba must have certainly weighed the cost of in action emanating from failure to shut down the oil production in South Sudan against any tangible benefits that accrue from the sale of the oil. I personally believe that one would hardly be successful in arguing that more quality negotiations and diplomatic encounters with Khartoum could alter the mechanics of thinking in Khartoum and provide an avenue for amicable adjustment and settlement of the escalating oil dispute between the two countries.

Second, for the government of the Republic of South Sudan to institute a lawsuit against the non-law abiding government of Sudan in addition to other parties such as some of the foreign oil companies that may have collaborated with and assisted the government of Sudan in stealing and selling South Sudan’s oil resource, does not seem to be a plausible proposition to pursue as it will certainly be quite frustrating for a single reality. The Hague-located International Court of Justice (ICJ) which is United Nation’s highest court and its principal judicial organ, would presumably handle the case, albeit feasible, it would manifestly be a long-drawn mêlée in that; it generally takes a couple of years before a verdict is reached which would definitely be galling in the case of South Sudan that aspires for quick resolution of the problem. Furthermore, even if the court verdict is delivered, the guilt party may refuse to honour the ruling, similar to the decision of the Abyei Tribunal that Khartoum has largely trampled underfoot. It would thus be sagacious to pursue more hard-nosed approach to deal with the government of Sudan.

The Author is a former Casual Lecturer in the Graduate School of Business and law (GSBL) at RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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