Grawert: ‘Oil companies are at risk in South Sudan’

The conflict in South Sudan between government and rebel forces has disrupted oil production. Now rebels say the oil companies must leave.

Dr. Grawert 2014-04-17 at 12.43.54 AM

Dr Elke Grawert, a researcher at the Bonn International Center for Conversion. (Photo: BICC|DW)

April 16, 2014(DW) — In South Sudan rebels loyal to former vice president Riek Machar say they have seized the capital of Unity state, Bentiu, and have warned oil firms operating there to pack up and leave within a week. The conflict between the rebels and the forces of President Salva Kiir had already disrupted oil production, upon which the government depends for most of its revenue. DW spoke to Elke Grawert, a researcher at the Bonn International Center for Conversion, an independent German thinktank, for an assessment of the situation.

DW: Dr Grawert, government forces in South Sudan dispute that Bentiu has fallen but if rebel claims turn out to be true, how big a setback would this be for the government?

Dr Elke Grawert: Maybe we should start with the origin of the conflict. It is a power conflict between President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar. We have the situation that there is a power struggle within one party about the presidency. If the rebel force now captures oil fields – the main resource of South Sudan – that just intensifies the power struggle. I believe that in Upper Nile state, the rebels seized control of the capital Malakal and then the army of South Sudan, the SPLA, recaptured it, then the rebels took it again. This could also happen in Unity State with Bentiu so it is not now settled that it will be under the control of the rebels for ever. The crucial point is: how do they get out of the armed confrontation where this power struggle has now brought them.

The rebels are ordering the oil firms to leave. Why are they doing this? Who is going to pump the oil out of the ground once they have gone?

I think it has to be understood that the oil companies will not be able to continue production in such a state of insecurity. Before it was the SPLA, the South Sudanese army, which protected the oil fields together with some intelligence forces of the South Sudanese government. Now it will be unclear who protects them. They have already evacuated a lot of staff and reduced oil production. I think if the rebels claim to chase them out, it is also in the interests of the oil companies to leave for the time being because nothing is secure. They are at risk and I think it is difficult if the rebels take over and the companies try to continue producing as they did before. I don’t think this is very realistic.

If the rebels control the oilfields in South Sudan, does that mean the government has lost this conflict?

If the rebels retain control of the oilfields, this will put pressure on the government to find a solution. It can still be a military solution, and as far as I can see, civil war is still the main option for both sides, government and rebels. The risk is that we have a scenario where the civil war is starting again, unless they are forced to negotiate politically. During the earlier civil war, the southern part of Sudan did not have any oil resources and still had a very long civil war for 22 years. So I think the worst case scenario could be that they have to go back to the same way of fighting without oil resources, where they just depended on looting, maybe on some support from outside to obtain weapons and on diverting aid for their purposes. That was the situation during the earlier civil war. There is a now an attempt by IGAD, the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development, to deploy a detection and deterrent force. That followed the ceasefire agreement in January which was not respected. There could be a major role for IGAD to get the two sides to the negotiating table again but there are still many reservations on both sides. I think the military solution is still the one which is preferred and I think the SPLA will try to get back the oilfields by military means.

Interview: Mark Caldwell

Dr Elke Grawert is a researcher at the Bonn International Center for Conversion, an independent German thinktank.

Source: DW

2 comments

  • Do not always depend on SPLA as a capable force to capture Oil fields for Salva Kiir but SPLA divided itself with 70% gone to the Rebel side, Dr. Machar. Despite a hug foreign armies present on the side of the president, his 30% SPLA would never beats 70% SPLA of the rebels. It is imperative for Salva Kiir to give peace a chance by stepping down just very simple if love South Sudanese. IGAD deterrent forces would never do any thing than ten of thousands UPDF (Uganda armies) which fought with objective of (Nuer) ethnic cleansing but resisted to its end capacity. Now, rainy season has come where foreign tanks and even their MIG & Gun-shift will have difficulty role to play, which shall be more disastrous defeats to the president himself to leave power forcefully. The world must be looking for the right mean to force out foreign armies from South Sudan territory and the president to accept stepping down, we will have a peace within the same day he quit the presidency.

  • We know we freedom fighter that have oils in ours land of great upper Nile that you international community ( like Russia, China, and Malaysia company ) you do not need any peace in south Sudan to come only to support the killer Salva Kirr in order for you to cheat our resource or oils for that reason we will shut down all oils company because they belong to us . This time all of us we freedom fighter vow to liberate the brutal killer Leadership of Sava Kirr through out the country

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