Who’s benefiting from the south Sudan petro-dollar?

Last year I spent a few weeks in Juba, the capital of south Sudan where I was covering the peace talks between the Ugandan government and the LRA rebels and in the same year I attended the Global investigative journalism conference in Norway where I had an opportunity of meeting south Sudanese journalists. Most of them were based outside the country but I had a lot of discussions with them most of which rotated around media development in their home country.

The media in south Sudan just like most ‘post conflict’ countries is still undeveloped and there’s hardly an independent press. Knowing that it was just in 2005 when the comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) was signed to end decades of civil with the north it would be very unreasonable for anyone to expect a vibrant media in just a period of three years. In the absence of such a media, there’s limited ways of tracking progress whether it is political, social or economic especially whether that progress has trickled down among ordinary south Sudanese most of whom have just moved from neighbouring countries like Uganda and Kenya where the war forced them to live as refugees.

map-southsudan-050908After the CPA one thing was very prominent, the oil sharing and the agreement gave the southerners rights to this natural resource. For the last three years, the CPA has been the centre of media coverage both regional and international and it is understandable because of the long overdue need for black south Sudanese to govern themselves.

Save for a few ethnic clashes that the media has covered in the south; the government of semi-autonomous south Sudan has generally stayed out of bad coverage. During my visits to Sudan I saw the hardship that these people go through and among the journalists with whom I covered to the talks the place was called ‘the most expensive place to live south of the Sahara’. Most of the goods come through Kenya and Uganda. It takes many hours for trucks to reach Juba as they carry goods ranging from tomatoes, sugar to building materials.

I appreciate how difficult it is to overcome these infrastructural huddles but I have always wondered what changes the ordinary people in Sudan are seeing after three years. This week the BBC ran a story that partly queried the government. The problem is that we are not having these queries quite often. For instance the article says “South Sudan’s government has received nearly $7bn (£4.2bn) in oil revenue since it took over after a 2005 peace deal, but many question whether it is doing enough for its people.”

Indeed the oil bonanza in south Sudan has benefited few and it is very known in Kampala and Nairobi how lavish anybody with a slight connection with SPLM lives. By looking at their lives it would be hard to capture a real picture of the country they serve that still has no roads in place, no basic needs for most people who have returned from refugee camps in foreign countries that had become home to them.

Many of these people have made this not-so-easy trip back to their homeland and they just want to get a little help to make life in this land that is still littered by landmines. Yet their leaders continue to amass wealth with no major steps to rebuilding the country.  Most of these concerns we discussed with many of my journalist colleagues. Coming from Uganda where the current government (the only government I know) established after a NRA rebellion/struggle just like SPLM, I shared my fears. Fears based on what Uganda has been turned into. A place where those who fought for 5 years to take power have an upper hand in taking in charge of what our future should be.

A government that many in the beginning gave a benefit of the doubt with its flaws either out of fear of returning to the past turmoil or simply out of hope for a better future is still characterised by tribalism. And just like the NRM/NRA, the SPLM faces tribal questions which if not dealt with in a proper way could send this country on another conflict after they secede in the coming years.

South Sudanese should learn from Uganda after where 23 years in power, the obsession of who fought is still with us and the bush war is still used to deny us, either knowingly or not, the right to have decent elections. Not forgetting the army that never really transformed from a personal/ struggle army to a national army capable of not taking sides of who were part of it.

Southerners must be very aware of the Ugandan situation where ministers stay in a post for over 10 years even when the roads deteriorating despite huge budgets given. A place where you must know someone in the power circles to be awarded a contract or to run a good business. This sense of self importance that engulfs all those we call heroes in our countries keeps them blind from our situations. They enforce the very same government ways they went to fight.

These are lessons that will not easily be learnt in the absence of the media but they are worth taking. It will not be an easy road because unlike in Uganda where the media had somewhat a level of independence and professionalism that one paper can bring to the attention of the nation how much a president spent to provide the presidential jet for his adult married daughter to give birth in German because he can’t trust Ugandan doctors, this capacity is absent in Sudan. Some have tried to use the new media like the Sudan tribune to bring out news from the south these forums are just a drop in the ocean.  Well the coverage of events doesnt necessarily stop what happening but the spotlight might help keep check. Much  as the coverage of the north and south divide is important so is the coverage of how the southern government is performing otherwise ordinary people will find it hard to believe that the north eve let off some oil wells to the south.

6 thoughts on “Who’s benefiting from the south Sudan petro-dollar?

  1. Why is Africa so rich in resources and yet so poor? And why do the resources keep on disappearing and yet people remain poor? It baffles me how the people from congo zaire, where there is alot of minerals are one of the poorest. The things that make me shake my head. And in Europe, what minerals do they have but why are they stable and live well? Where do they get their resources from?

    1. The west has been the one who creates the climate for these conditions, then the victims falls into the same traps for generation.Africans need to take risponsibility for their own actions also.United we stand Divided we fall.

      I have a solution for this chalenge,but it will take every African to solve it, one at a time.Make small changes in your life by helpping one another. jews are a prime example

    2. If person decides to trash your house and you let them do it, time and time again, whose fault is it ?. We don’t see what gift God has bistowed uppon us and they see it. All Africans must show pride for Africa where ever they are. We must also do what it take to rebuild her one brick at a time.

      Ali Barewa

  2. I got this response via email from Jane a south sudanese journalist based out of the area:

    Absolutely, well put, Belle,

    You know, South Sudan really amazes me! I have tried to understand the South Sudan situation based on the fact that she has been at war for 48 years after independence. That is if you take out the 10 less turbulent years right after the Addis Ababa Peace Agreement in 1972! At least when Joseph Lagu (Leader of Anya Nya 1) signed Addis Ababa, him and his men were able to maintain 10 years of relative calm. Right now, South Sudan is a boiling pot and you know who the SPLM/A cum GOSS blame it on? It is the National Congress Party Government of Al Beshir, and they are partners in that outfit!

    Inter and intra -tribal clashes are raging in many parts of the South including very close to Juba among the Dinka and Mundari, yet all the GOSS can say is, it is NCP and Al Beshir!

    Truly, the ordinary folk in Southern Sudan have not yet realised this thing called Comprehensive Peace Agreement. It is still being shared amongst those who fought. It goes without mention that while Khartoum is using the petro-Dollar to beautify Khartoum, (Khartoum has an amazing road net work! I haven’t seen that in East Africa!) And the best our Southern freedom fighters have done is a strip of tarmac from Juba airport to the Presidents’ office!

    Who’s benefiting from the South Sudan Petro-Dollar? Your guess is only as good as mine.

    When you are in Juba, you don’t really get to see the normal ordinary folk. They are all hidden in their huts and to them, this CPA and all its wealth sharing rhetoric is not part of real life. A few months go, poor families were evicted from their humble homes without compensation because ‘Government needed to develop Juba city” And that is as far as the misfortune goes for the South Sudanese ordinary people. The city has been hijacked by the presidential sirens, NGO’s land Cruisers and normal people have literally withdrawn from the city center.

    And the media? No, there is no media. I have been following the Ugandan media struggles from NRM/A’s entry. From the Weekly Topic to the Monitor and other publications right now, not to mention the broadcast media, its been turbulent, but its nothing compared to what those who have the audacity to call themselves journalists have to go through in South Sudan, first to survive before they even try to tell that story! I am sure while talking to the Sudanese journalists at the GIJC’ 2008, you had the question lingering “Why are all these South Sudanese Journalists based in other countries yet there are all those rich stories tell from South Sudan!” Yes, because they don’t want to lose their sanity or even worse, life.

  3. It is amaizing how thugs are elected to the bidding for the west. Discrimination, subgugation and oppression is the same all over the world. The western civilization are masters of this craft, and leaders of the developing countrys have become students of it. We as Africans need to realize this, Unite, and stand together to help one another in this struggles one person at time. Mahatma Ghandi did it and so can we. We have the resources and the people to do it.

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