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South Sudan’s era of prosperity?

Many South Sudanese hoped the country’s emergence as the world’s newest nation would begin an era of prosperity, but the country has remained mired in disputes with its northern neighbour over oil, the border and a many other issues.

The landlocked South shut off its oil production in January, instantly erasing 98 percent of state revenues, as part of a dispute with Sudan over how much it should pay to export crude using pipelines and other infrastructure in the north.

Discontent has been rising over the oil shutdown, which piled hardships on people already weary from years of conflict. While many South Sudanese are still basking in the pride of their hard-won political freedom, they are starting to ask when they will enjoy the material benefits of independence.

Prices have been soaring, forcing many people to tighten their belts while corruption has gone largely unchecked.

Dancing to the last beats of a united Sudan

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Half way through the evening you felt this is what a united Sudan could have been like.

It was an engagement party thrown by a beaming, white-robed Khartoum patriarch with pulsing music provided by Orupaap, a group of mostly southern musicians and dancers.

Multi-tasking Sudan’s conflicts

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sudanunWhen I first began to cover Darfur in 2003 – nobody was interested. The story was all about the north-south peace talks in Naivasha. “Where’s Darfur again – is that in the south?” I would often hear.

But once Darfur’s conflict stalled the Naivasha talks to end Africa’s longest civil war, and reports of appalling atrocities in Sudan’s west began to seep into the public domain, Darfur became the only story. It overshadowed even the historic 2005 north-south peace deal named “comprehensive” because the negotiators said it would resolve all of Sudan’s problems.

Driving Sudan towards paradise

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Back in1978, Sudanese statesman Abel Alier decided he had had enough of negotiating with troublesome locals over a controversial development project. Exasperated at the endless obstacles, he vowed to force it through without an agreement.

“If we have to drive our people to paradise with sticks we will do so for their own good and the good of those who come after us,” he infamously said.

from Global News Journal:

George Clooney, UN Security Council descend on Sudan

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George Clooney has been roughing it recently, on the latest of his trips to Sudan to highlight the problems there. 

The Hollywood superstar and U.N. Goodwill Ambassador was touring semi-autonomous south Sudan ahead of a planned January 2011 referendum on whether southerners in Africa's biggest country should secede from the Khartoum-led north. Tensions are high because of fears the plebiscite could be delayed, sparking a new war between the predominantly Muslim north and the heavily animist and Christian south.

Sudan rearranges furniture as independence vote looms

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The shiny new headquarters of Sudan’s referendum commission was buzzing with activity on Monday, less than four months ahead of the scheduled start of a seismic vote on whether the country’s oil-producing south should declare independence.

Unfortunately, officials were not all busy putting the final touches to voting registration lists or preparing publicity materials for the region’s inexperienced electorate.

Can’t do or won’t do? Ending Darfur’s kidnap business

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American Flavia Wagner who works for U.S. charity Samaritan's Purse on her release after 105 days alone in captivity in Darfur Kidnappings targeting foreign workers in Sudan for ransoms have become a dangerous phenomenon in Darfur in the past year with 10 separate cases and at least 22 expatriate victims. These are not the al Qaeda kidnaps of West Africa. The Darfuri criminals so far have demanded money and have not killed any of their victims. Some have threatened to sell their captives onto al Qaeda-linked groups if they do not get paid. The abductions have severely restricted the operations of those aid and U.N. agencies still working in Darfur, with foreigners mostly relocated to the main towns and rarely travelling into the rural areas where people are arguably most in need of help. The question always debated by Sudan watchers is: “Is it that Khartoum can’t protect foreign workers in Darfur or that they won’t?” Many point to the timing as an indication — these politicised abductions became a regular crime after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in March 2009. Others speculate that the government, which has long had a hostile attitude to the international humanitarian agencies in the world’s largest aid operation in Darfur, does not want them to travel and report on the worsening situation in the rural or more remote areas. This is one way to prevent that. But the problem now negatively affects the government too, making them look weak and unable to control even the region’s main towns. Russia voiced rare criticism of its African ally after three members of a Russian aircrew were taken from the middle of Darfur’s largest town Nyala, just days after another Russian pilot was detained by Arab militia loyal to the government. The Russian envoy said it was clear Khartoum was unable to control the security situation, striking a blow to Khartoum’s argument that the conflict in Darfur and the “isolated” cases of banditry are under control. Nyala, Darfur’s largest town and economic hub, was largely insulated from the brutal revolt and counter-insurgency campaign which has for seven years terrorised Darfur’s inhabitants. Now it is the epicentre of the abductions, with criminals taking foreigners from inside their guesthouses or in the town centre  in broad daylight. Fuelling the kidnaps are constant reports of Khartoum paying money for many of the hostages, another expensive reason why the government would want to end the crimes. Kidnappers told me hundreds of thousands of dollars had been paid out to abductors. The government says they know who these kidnappers are – their tribes and their families. They threaten to arrest them. But the threats appeared empty as after the release of the longest-held hostage ICRC staffer Gauthier Lefevre when there was a two month kidnap-free window, no action was taken to prosecute or bring the kidnappers to justice. Cue the abduction of Samaritan’s Purse Flavia Wagner two months after Lefevre’s release. She then endured a 105-day ordeal alone in captivity with her kidnappers threatening to rape or kill her on numerous occasions. And new spate of shorter kidnaps also began. Those who support the theory that the government is sanctioning the kidnaps ask why they have not apprehended any of the criminals. But Khartoum is not in an easy position. The kidnappers are usually young men from mostly Arab tribes – the same powerful tribes who Khartoum mobilised to help quash the Darfur rebels. One government official told me they feared any attack on the young Arabs would provoke the entire tribe — already disillusioned by the government who they feel has not delivered on promised development and services — to defend their own. The local government in Darfur is often run by those from the same tribes as the kidnappers, creating a reluctance to act against them and risk losing their support base. In remote regions far from Khartoum, the tribe provides and therefore rules. Central policy set in Khartoum is not always in the interests of the Darfur state authorities run by the governor and vice versa. But it seems that Khartoum’s interests are now clearly in line with the international community’s – to stop the kidnaps. Some officials in Khartoum are convinced action must be taken to stop the crimes. And in the last kidnap, the army acted quickly — closing down on the kidnappers before they could whisk their victims away to a desert hideaway. Again now Khartoum has a brief moment of kidnap-free time to apprehend the abductors as threatened. The world will be watching closely to see what they do.

Kidnapping foreign workers in Sudan for ransom has become a dangerous business in Darfur in the past year with 10 separate cases and at least 22 expatriate victims.

These are not the al Qaeda kidnaps of West Africa. The Darfuri criminals have so far demanded only money and have not killed any of their victims. Some have threatened to sell their captives to al Qaeda-linked groups if they do not get paid.

Breaking down the walls – Sudan’s oil transparency push

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It was a just another seminar on transparency in the oil sector. Seemingly banal. But this was being held in Khartoum, involving live debates between northern and southern Sudanese officials, a minerals watchdog and the international media, who were allowed free access to publicly grill those who administer what has for years been an absolutely opaque oil industry. What emerged was surprisingly positive and all walked away feeling that — at least until the Jan. 9, 2011 referendum on southern independence — this was the first step towards finally unpicking all the stitches that have sewn the sector tightly shut to outsiders. We are “PR stupid” said the newly appointed Minister for Energy from the former southern rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement Lual Deng who instigated the forum. He said this to explain the discrepancies in oil production and oil prices uncovered by the Global Witness NGO whose report “Fuelling Mistrust — the need for transparency in Sudan’s oil sector” provoked the discussion. These include figures published by the ministry of finance web site of oil revenues with little clarification of how they had been calculated, even citing barrels of Sudanese black gold selling for as little as 15 cents a barrel. It also found discrepancies between China’s CNPC who dominates Sudan’s oil sector dogged by U.S. sanctions, and Sudan’s energy ministry output figures. Those figures were easily explained as the difference between gross production and net of water, gas and solids on Wednesday. But the fact an international giant like CNPC is publishing undefined production figures in an annual report provoked concern even from Sudanese officials. And why did it require such an elaborate showcase to provide such a simple response? Minister Deng’s answer was the “PR stupid” line. After months of chasing and waiting in vain for a reply from The government or CNPC to the discrepancies in oil output, including having the phone hung up on them by the Chinese, Global Witness went ahead and published their work. “Next time you should just call us to verify the figures,” was CNPC’s ironic response, with the presenter who had flown in from Beijing for the forum, flashing on a PowerPoint screen the email and mobile number of CNPC’s country manager in Sudan. Just five minutes earlier that same manager had declined my request for a meeting or to share his contacts “in the interests of transparency.” One of dozens of attempts I have made over the years to extract any information from the state-owned firm. I wonder how long he will keep that mobile number. But if you sifted through the barbed comments by Sudanese officials directed at the Global Witness reps and the attempts by CNPC to ridicule the figures, important progress was made. Sudan said it would commit to the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative, to which CNPC gave its support. It also agreed to a full audit back to 2005 and the ministry said it would publish daily production figures. It also gave French oil giant Total a public guarantee that whether or not the south votes to secede in just five months, its oil concession contract would be honoured. If all this happens, it will be a massive step towards opening up Sudan’s taboo oil sector which could convince those elusive big European companies who left during Sudan during the north-south civil war to come back and invest. Do you see European companies investing in Sudanese oil and gas? If Europeans come back in should U.S. sanctions be lifted to allow American firms to compete for the spoils? Is Sudan – likely to split into two countries in five months –worth the risk for investors?

oilIt was a just another seminar on transparency in the oil sector. Seemingly banal.

But this was being held in Khartoum, involving live debates between northern and southern Sudanese officials, a minerals watchdog and the international media, who were allowed free access to publicly grill those who administer what has for years been an incredibly opaque oil industry.

Damned if they do, damned if they don’t

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UNAMIDincampDarfur’s joint U.N.-African Union peacekeepers face a dilemma in Darfur which could shape the future of the world’s largest U.N.-funded force.

After violence left five people dead in the highly volatile Kalma Camp, six refugees sought sanctuary in the UNAMID force’s police base there. They are thought to be rebel sympathisers and the government accuses them of instigating the camp clashes, demanding that UNAMID hand them over.

Darfur – when peace talks cause conflict

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It’s a well-established fact that peace talks can spark fighting. I remember before every round of doomed peace talks on Darfur since 2003, either the govenment or the rebels would start a tactical military campaign to gain ground ahead of any potential settlement determining what areas their forces controlled. But the violence in the past week in Darfur’s camps for 2 million Darfuris displaced by conflict is different. It would be easy to blame the mediation who convinced more than 400 members of civil society to join a Qatari-based peace process which the two main rebel groups are not present at. Some Darfuris after seven years festering in miserable camps decided the rebel leaders were unable to represent the interests of their people and went to make sure their voices were heard. It was their return to the rebel-dominated Kalma Camp in South Darfur housing 100,000 people and the camps surrounding Zalingei in West Darfur sparking the fighting which claimed at least eight lives, injured dozens and drove thousands to flee the camps they had sought refuge in years ago. But to only blame the mediation would ignore the problems they inherited which almost amount to a mission impossible. Rebel commanders have been splitting to form dozens of factions for years disillusioned with their leaders, most of whom were young and inexperienced before being propelled into the international limelight as Darfur’s conflict went global. Those factions are drowning in a sea of personal conflicts and individuals’ desire for power while the people they went to war to protect are arguably worse off than before the revolt and Darfur has descended into a chaotic, anarchic, violent mess neither Khartoum nor the rebel leaders are able to clean up. International intervention has also worsened divisions. Diplomats say U.S. envoy Scott Gration wanted to find a way to break Darfur rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) leader Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur’s hold over the IDP camps. He began to help smaller factions hoping to cut of the head of Nur’s support, the diplomats said. The camp violence is just one manifestation of that policy. Nur’s stronghold Jabel Marra descending into intra-rebel fighting killing dozens and forcing tens of thousands more to flee this year was another. Talks in Qatar are now solely focused on a new rebel coalition of tiny factions with few forces on the ground albeit with an impressive ex-U.N. Economic Commission for Africa staffer Al-Tijani Sese brought in to lead them this year. Sese, from a leading Fur tribe family, has garnered some positive reaction in the camps, sowing the seeds of dissent against Nur which manifested itself into the violent confrontations in Kalma and Zalingei in July. While the mediation’s idea that Sese would help bring the camps on side was based on good faith, the reality alienated the two main Darfur rebel groups and divided the camps. Further impacting the mediation’s efforts is the government’s continued military action which prompted JEM rebels to walk out of the talks and Khartoum’s clear disregard for the only rebel leader who did sign a 2006 peace deal in Abuja, Minni Arcua Minnawi, who has yet to be reappointed to his post as presidential assistant since elections in April. Darfur’s peace process has disintegrated into a bewildering mess of conflicting personalities and interests which appears to have sight of the goal of achieving a sustainable peace so those in the camps can go home. Sudanese have a trait often confusing to outsiders. They can be sworn enemies, fighting to the death one minute. But the next day they will breakfast together, cracking jokes over foul (beans). It’s all about interaction. But right now Khartoum, the rebels and the Darfuri victims could not be further apart. After seven years of negotiation yielded little progress, maybe the mediation should forget protocol and pomp and allow the Sudanese to approach the talks as only Sudanese can.

darfuridpIt’s well-known that peace talks can cause fighting. I remember before every round of doomed negotiations on Darfur since 2003, either the govenment or the rebels would start a military campaign to gain ground ahead of any potential settlement.

But the violence in the past week in the camps that are home for two million Darfuris displaced by conflict is different.

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