Fighting is again raging in South Sudan’s oil fields. Jan-Philipp Scholz and Adrian Kriesch are in the country for the third time since the outbreak of conflict. They see little prospect of peace in the near future.
Bentiu in January 2014. Many parts of the town in the northern Unity state have been burned down. Nearly all survivors are housed in a UN refugee camp on the outskirts of town. In the streets lie countless rebel bodies. We sit on a South Sudanese Army (SPLA) pick-up. The soldiers are happy and want to demonstrate their victory over the rebels. Full of conviction, a young soldier says, "nothing can happen here again," as his drunken colleagues sing in the background. "The civilians can now return to the town safely," the soldier says.
Army more subdued
South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 after a decade-long civil war. In December 2013, the country plunged into another crisis after President Salva Kiir sacked his vice president Riek Machar, accusing him of planning a coup. The struggle for political power led to civil war. The country became divided between the two largest ethnic groups: President Kiir's Dinka and rebel leader Machar's Nuer.
Jan-Philipp Scholz and Adrian Kriesch are in South Sudan for the third time since the conflict started over a year ago
As May 2015 comes to an end, we are in the country for the third time since the outbreak of the conflict. Since our last visit, the capital city Juba has certainly developed. There is construction going on everywhere: new hotels have opened. Nevertheless, history seems to be repeating itself. In the northern states of Upper Nile and Unity, the rebels have been launching fresh attacks, but the government forces maintain the upper hand.
"It's hard to say that the rebels will never attack again", is the rather subdued comment of the spokesman for the government troops, Philipp Aguer.
"Greed, thirst for power and revenge"
As usual, the victims are the people of South Sudan. The population of Bentiu refugee camp has now expanded to over 60,000 people. No one talk about them returning home. The United Nations warns that by July at least 4.6 million South Sudanese, which is 40 percent of the population, will not have enough food. At the beginning of 2014 army spokesman Aguer stated that "the solution to this complex situation is in the hands of politicians." Using very similar words, we now hear this statement again. However, the peace talks between President Kiir and rebel leader Machar have since become a farce. The negotiations that took place in luxurious hotels in Ethiopia have not yielded any positive results. Despite repeated ceasefire agreements, fighting has often broken out. Former bishop Paride Taban, who personally knows both Kiir and Machar and also took part in the peace negotiations, summed it up like this: "God has blessed our land with milk and honey, but now our own people are destroying the country with their greed, thirst for power, revenge and unwillingness to forgive."
State budget eaten up by conflict
It's oil that can be said to be the milk and honey of South Sudan's economy. But the persistent conflict often strikes South Sudan's economic sector hard. During its peak time in 2011, South Sudan produced up to 350,000 barrels of oil per day. That figure has now gone down to 160,000 barrels. There have been persistent attempts by the rebels to capture the oil fields in order to cut down on Salva Kiir's ability to finance the conflict. But according to Nhial Bol, editor-in-chief of "The Citizen" newspaper, the rebels themselves are interested in the oil fields. He says the rebels "can sell the oil to Sudan and China." Bol is furious that the money spent on the conflict could be spent on education, health and building the infrastructure of the young state. He calls on the international community to declare South Sudan's oil to be "black" in order to prevent it being sold abroad. “Without the prospect of revenues from oil, no one would be interested in joining either the government forces or the rebels," Bol says.
In Juba several observers are already speculating that the government will soon run out of funds and will not be able to finance the fighting which is estimated to cost approximately three million US dollars (2.7 million dollars) per day. There have been repeated delays in the payment of salaries for civil servants and government employees. It is said that the presidential palace could seeon be without electricity, because the fuel reserves needed to generate power have almost run out.