Why is Khartoum Calling for the Dismissal of Pagan Amum as the Head of South Sudan’s Delegation to the Addis Ababa Talks?

“President Al Bashir told Kiir on the AU summit sidelines that Pagan Amum was not the right person to lead a delegation to achieve an agreement,” he said, adding Pagan is a warlord who has no interest for peace and does not care about what happens to our people in the North and the South as he has no sense of belonging to this land, his family and money are abroad. (Sudan Vision, March 4, 2012).

By Paanluel Wël, Washington DC, USA, Planet Earth

March 4, 2012 (SSNA) — It is crystal clear now that Khartoum is not comfortable with Pagan Amum, the SPLM’s Secretary General and the current head of South Sudan delegation to the on-going Addis Ababa talks between Juba and Khartoum. President Kiir appointed Hon. Pagan Amum last year, after the formation of South Sudan first government, to serve as his special envoy to the talks between the two countries over contentious issues of border demarcations, oil and debt sharing, transit fees, and Abyei regions, among others. Thus, since the independence of South Sudan, Pagan has been serving in that position as South Sudan’s chief negotiator to the Addis Ababa Talks.

However, the talks have been dragging on with no definitive breakthroughs. One sensitive issue, of late, has been on the question of the transit fees—the amount of dollars per barrel that South Sudan should pay Khartoum for the usage of their Chinese-built pipeline and refineries. Although much of the oil is produced in the South, Khartoum took the discriminative decision during the war to build all the refineries in, and pipeline through, North Sudan. With no refineries and pipeline of her own, the newly independent state of South Sudan is entirely at the mercy of Khartoum for the export of her oil.

That 98% of South Sudan revenues come from the oil make matters worse for South Sudanese leaders: Juba is beholden to Khartoum. By designed or pure chance, Khartoum is fully aware and exploitative of this Juba’s achillean heel. While Juba, in accordance with international precedents, is willing to offer 1-2 dollars per barrel as a transit fees for the usage of the northern pipeline, Khartoum is demanding a staggering amount of 36-32 dollars per barrel. On the debt issue, Juba is prepared to offer “Khartoum $2.6 billion in cash and forgiving $2.8 billion of its debt to break the deadlock.” Instead, Khartoum is asking for $15 billion in cash to break the stalemate in Addis Ababa Talks.

The disputed border region remains undesignated because Khartoum is refusing to recognize the old 1956 pre-independence border between the two nations. This is complicated further by the fact that much of the oilfields fall just at the border regions, particularly in Unity state and Abyei region. That makes it no longer about the exactitude of the borderline as to the location, and future ownership, of the vast oil wealth dotting the border regions. The case in point being the town of Jau, recurrently bombed and occupied by Khartoum, which is claimed by both sides though it squarely lies within South Sudan according to the old map of 1956.

Abyei region is presently occupied and militarily rule by Khartoum, contrary to the stipulation of the CPA that had proposed a joint ruling by the two parties. CPA-mandated referendum in Abyei, one that was supposed to run concurrently with South Sudan’s plebiscite, is yet to be conducted owing to the disagreement over whether or not the nomadic Mesiriya Arabs should vote. The only CPA-recognized connection of the Mesiriya Arabs to Abyei Region is a right to graze their cattle freely as they have been doing in the past. Consequently, South Sudan’s objection to the participation of the Mesiriya Arabs in Abyei referendum is informed not just by the fact that Mesiriya Arabs are not natives of Abyei Area—defined in the CPA as nine-chiefdoms of the Dinka Ngok people—but also because allowing the Mesiriya to vote in the Abyei referendum would lead to vote rigging since Khartoum would bring in any nomadic Arab tribe to vote in the name of Mesiriya. Simply put, it is seen in Juba as Khartoum’s grand strategy to outnumber the Ngok Dinka to tilt the referendum in their favor and retain control of the oil-rich Abyei Area.

The ensuing controversies over these unresolved post-separation disputes, couple with the stalemate over the talks taking place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, boiled over into a full blown out conflict in January when South Sudan shut down oil production over accusation that Khartoum was siphoning off South Sudan oil in direct collusion with foreign oil firms, mainly the Chinese-Malaysian’s Petrodar. Addressing South Sudan Legislative Assembly, President Kiir declared that

“At this time we have no guarantee that oil flowing through the Republic of Sudan will reach its intended destination…we can’t allow assets which clearly belong to the Republic of South Sudan to be subject to further diversion” (Bloomberg Business Week, January 23, 2012).

Enraged by the accusation of oil theft and caught off-guard by South Sudan unilateral action of shutting down oil production, Khartoum responded by forcefully and unilaterally confiscating South Sudan oil:

“Sudan has confiscated 2.4 million barrels of South Sudan’s oil, bringing the total volume of crude Khartoum has seized in a row over oil transit fees to more than 6 million barrels since December, a South Sudanese official said on Tuesday. This included 1.2million barrels taken in December, four shipments totaling roughly 2.5 million barrels in January and another 2.4 million barrels reported this month.” (Reuters, Feb14, 2012).

Khartoum officials justified their illegal seizures of South Sudan oil by maintaining that their country

“Is entitled to a share of the oil because South Sudan has refused to pay the related fees since it seceded, fuelling inflation and a foreign currency shortage in the northern country.” (Reuters, Feb 14, 2012).

In spite of combative response from Khartoum, Juba has stood firm and went ahead to complete the process of oil shutdown. Austerity measures have been adopted to balance the budget and sustain the government. Dr. Machar, the vice president of South Sudan defiantly announced to the BBC that “we can live without oil” while Pagan Amum, the ruling party general secretary, said that the decision to shut down the oil was a “matter of national pride.”

In a surprising twist of fate—a blessing in disguise for President Kiir—the government of South Sudan, considered by most citizens to be totally corrupt, generally mismanaged and irreparably inept, received an astounding support and praises across all ten states of the republic for shutting down the oil and standing up against Khartoum. Remarkably, in a young country torn apart by tribal clashes, internal rebellions and besieged by abject poverty and underdevelopment, President Kiir uncharacteristic decision to order the closure of oil wells seemed to have buoyed his popularity among the citizens. The only other occasions whereby South Sudanese matched in unison were on the occasions of the signing of the CPA, the announcement of the referendum results and the proclamation of the South Sudan’s independence.

Juba’s vulnerability to and dependence on Sudan’s oil facilities has compelled South Sudan to seek an alternative pipeline to export her oil to the international market. Following the bitter fallout in January, Juba signed landmark agreements with Kenya-Ethiopia, on one side, and Ethiopia-Djibouti on the other side. The deal with Kenya-Ethiopia to build a pipeline/railway/highway from the Kenyan port city of Lamu through Isiolo to Juba was finally realized this week when the three head of states—President Kiir of South Sudan, president Kibaki of Kenya and Prime Minister Meles of Ethiopia—inaugurated the project dubbed by the media as Lapsset (Lamu Port-Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor).

Although disputed by many experts, the Lapsset project is slated to be complete within1-2 years. Whether—or how—South Sudan will remain financially afloat within the next 1-2 years is another question altogether. And so is the question of ‘what will happen to the Lapsset project’ should the talks in Addis Ababa bear fruit and Khartoum accept the proposed transport fees: Will Juba bolt out of the Lapsset project or will it dump Khartoum no matter what they are prepared to consent to at the moment? If so, then there is no point of continuing to discuss the transit fees anymore: South Sudan should rather concentrate on the other post-independence remaining issues like the border, debts and Abyei region.

Whichever way Juba goes, the inauguration of the Lapsset project will further compound the Addis Ababa discussions because Khartoum would undoubtedly complicate the negotiation process if they are aware of the total loss of any future transit fees because of Lapsset. Since there is no any indication that Juba is bluffing—using the Lapsset project merely as a negotiating strategy to put pressure on Khartoum, it is inevitable that the full realization by Khartoum of having loss the life-giving oil revenues from South Sudan oil will be of a great devastation to their economy. Khartoum might invade the oilfields or declare total war on Juba as it did in Abyei—something they are threatening now on the pretext of an alleged South Sudan’s aggression on Sudan’s territory though it is the Sudan Revolutionary Forces who carried out the humiliating assault on the SAF. President Kiir must prepare—finding a way out of this looming explosive hostility.

Having retraced the fundamental root and the picturesque trajectory of the on-going differences and quarrels between Juba and South Sudan, it is just fanciful to hear Khartoum announcing today that any “Breakthrough in Addis Talks Depends on Changing the Current South Sudan Delegation.” In other words, Khartoum sincerely believe that should President Kiir nominate someone else other than Hon. Pagan Amum, then they would be able to get $32-36per barrel as a transport fees, and $15 billion as a compensation for the loss of oil revenues following South Sudan secession. What is more, even the indefinitely postponed Abeyi’s referendum would go ahead with Mesiriya accepted as voters. South-North border demarcation would get started with Khartoum’s interest well catered for in total disregard to the 1956 pre-independence borderline.

This is how Mona Al-Bashir of the Sudan Vision, a northern newspaper, summarizes Khartoum’s views on the stalemate, blaming everything on Pagan Amum:

“Prof. Ibrahim Ghandour, who is also the NCP Spokesperson, indicated that previous round of talks had failed because South Sudan delegation was not willing to arrive at an agreement and the delegation members harboured ill-intent towards Sudan and their leader [Pagan] is also notorious of his hostility towards the North and the Arabs. “President Al Bashir told Kiir on the AU summit sidelines that Pagan Amum was not the right person to lead a delegation to achieve an agreement,” he said, adding Pagan is a warlord who has no interest for peace and does not care about what happens to our people in the North and the South as he has no sense of belonging to this land, his family and money are abroad. Ghandour, however, pointed out that the Sudanese Government cannot interfere in the process of how the South selects its delegation but if it wants to achieve peace with Sudan it should alter its delegation members” (Sudan Vision, March 4, 2012).

In spite of the independence of South Sudan, Khartoum still behaves, and considers South Sudan, as if it is still just one of its provinces. South Sudan, to those in Khartoum, is just but a colony to be manipulated at will no matter how it may claim to be independent. In fact, judging by their official demeanors, utterances and actions, South Sudan independence is yet to register in the minds of Khartoum officials. They might be milking the past. During the 1960s as many African countries were shedding off colonization, it was not uncommon for the head of a newly independent African state to receive direct orders from London or Paris. For example, the market and the price of their agricultural produce were pre-determined according to the whims of the former colonial master.

By publicly asking an independent state to alter the list of its delegation to the negotiating table, Khartoum appears to be harboring a neo-colonial mentality of the past whereby African independent states remain subservient to their former colonial masters in spite of their proclaimed independences. Yet, there is nothing on the ground to substantiate Khartoum’s European-ness over Juba. South Sudan has more resources—oil, arable land, minerals etc. South Sudan does not depend on Sudan’s market for agricultural produce nor oil: China is the main consumer of most raw materials from Africa. With the commencement and the future completion of the Lapsset project, Khartoum will be more dependence on Juba for economic opportunities than vice-versa.

Therefore, to prevent Khartoum from proclaiming unmerited propaganda war against Juba, President Kiir must stand behind Pagan and his team. After all, whatever that Pagan present at the talks is what President Kiir and his cabinet proposed and consented to, to be presented at the negotiating table. Picking another person will not change the parameters of the talks since none of the South Sudanese chief negotiators would ever venture outside the officially sanctioned mandate from the government of South Sudan. Khartoum displeasure with Pagan could be attributed to Pagan’s sharp-shooting, take-no-nonsense approach to negotiation. Take for instance Khartoum ludicrous claim of South Sudan’s aggression reported to the UN Security Council today: such gibberish would not be entertained before Pagan.

There are unconfirmed reports/rumors that President Kiir is considering replacing Pagan Amum. President Kiir must never listen to one-sided story from Khartoum. Any changes called for must be initiated and executed by both parties—Khartoum must also replace the head of their delegation if Juba has to reciprocate in kind. Since when has Khartoum been the official advisor to Juba? Do they really have South Sudan’s interest at heart? Definitely not and so is the implausibility of their call to ouster South Sudan chief negotiator. Assumed that President Kiir give in and recall Pagan tomorrow, will South Sudan replace the next head of the delegation if Khartoum is not happy with him?

PaanLuel Wel is the Managing Editor of PaanLuel Wel: South Sudanese bloggers. He can be reached through his email address ([email protected]), Facebook page, and Twitter account or on the blog: PaanLuel Wel: South Sudanese bloggers.

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