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South Sudan Minister: The North did not work for unity

In an exclusive interview with Ahram Online, the South Sudan government’s minister of information blames the government of Khartoum for failing to apprehend its responsibilities

Ahram Online, Monday 3 Jan 2011
South Sudan
South Sudan's Minister of Information Barnaba Marial Benjamin.

"In all honesty, Egypt and a number of African neighbours provided the South with more than the North ever did," says Barnaba Benjamin, Minister of Information for the South Sudan government. Benjamin plainly accuses the government in the North of not meeting its commitments in the comprehensive peace deal that the two sides signed in 2005. "What we achieved in five years is more than what the government in Khartoum did in 50 years."

Benjamin denies claims that his government was corrupt. "How can they talk about corruption in the South when everyone can see the luxurious buildings and cars in Khartoum, which are signs of corruption?” asks Benjamin. “Here our homes are not luxurious and most cars are state-owned. If there was corruption here, it would be immediately apparent. It does not exist."

"Khartoum is incredibly corrupt and its foreign debt has risen to $40 billion over 50 years, during which time it did not implement any real development programmes, especially in the South,” says Benjamin. “Where did all this money go?"

The information minister revealed that at the time of the signing of the peace agreement in 2005, "we had 200,000 children in elementary schools; today we have two million students, along with infrastructure and roads, although we only received 26 per cent of oil revenues, which is half our quota."

The peace deal between the North and South ended the longest civil war in Africa, and stipulated that the revenues from oil in the South should be divided equally and that two referendums for self-determination should be held on 9 January, 2011, in the South and the region of Abyei. Voters will choose to stay as part of Sudan or separate and create the 54th country on the continent. Sudan fought a civil war that lasted five decades, with a hiatus from 1972 to 1983 as a result of the Addis Ababa agreement. More than two million people were killed during the war, and millions more displaced.

It is only one referendum the South will hold this month, however, because the two sides could not agree on who would be eligible to vote in Abyei. There are nine Dinka Ngok tribes from the South and the northern Misseri tribes. "Our partners in the North are responsible for the delay," asserts Benjamin. "They want the oil in Abyei and that's why they insisted that the Misseri tribes should vote alongside the Dinka Ngok in the Abyei referendum. Because of this obstinacy, there will not be a referendum in Abyei on 9 January."

Benjamin advises the Misseri tribes to be peaceful towards their Dinka neighbours so they can be welcome to herd in the South.

The Abyei protocol states that those who have the right to vote in the self-determination plebiscite are only "the nine Dinka Ngok tribes and Sudanese citizens who have lived in the area since 1956," and did not mention the Misseris by name as it did the Dinka Ngok.

"A referendum is not a novel notion," states Benjamin. "In 1972, President Jaafar Numeiri signed an agreement with the South in Addis Ababa to give Abyei the right to decide if they want to return to the South or not. But the then government did not implement the agreement."

Asked what the South's position would be if the Dinka Ngok in Abyei carried out their warning that they would announce their union with the South on 9 January, in response to being banned from voting, Benjamin says "This would be a problem for us and for the government of the National Congress Party. We will tell them this is what your actions have resulted in because you obstructed the agreement."

"We have a lot of interests in cooperating with the North," argues Benjamin. "Yes, we have oil but the infrastructure is in the North; 98 per cent of the South government's budget is from oil. While it represents 65 per cent of revenues for the North and more than 80 per cent of foreign currency, it is the main source of energy and plays a big role in reducing trade deficits in Sudan's budget. Renewing battles between the two sides would directly cut off both sides from these vital revenues.”

The Centre for Security Studies and the East African International Development Association, both based in the Kenyan capital, issued a report in November warning that a war between the North and South would cost Sudan, neighbouring states and the world more than $100 billion.

Sudan's foreign debt is a pending issue between the North and South, as are disputes over oil-rich Abyei, nationality, borders and oil revenue allocations.

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