South Sudan’s Jonglei: A crucial state

Eva Dadrian , Wednesday 26 Jan 2011

With oil reserves and fertile lands, Jonglei state has the potential to become South Sudan’s breadbasket – but to take advantage of all the state has to offer, the South’s government must tread carefully and act wisely

With an area of over 120,000 square km and a population estimated at more than 1.1 million, Jonglei is the largest state in South Sudan. It was from Bor, Jonglei’s capital, that in 1983 the late John Garang led the mutiny that was to start the Second Sudanese Civil War.


During the 1990s, when the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) experienced internal splits, the region was under the full control of Riek Machar, who believed that ‘self-determination’ for the people of southern Sudan was a “legitimate right to fight and die for.” His views were in stark opposition to John Garang’s call for a “united Sudan”. Together with Lam Akol, Riek Machar broke away from SPLM/A’s mainstream, forming the SPLA-Nasir faction.


Though devastated by years of civil war between North and South, and by in-fighting between the local armed factions, the state of Jonglei is a region rich in land, water and oil. From time immemorial, these natural resources have unleashed national, regional and international covetousness.

With independence an almost certain outcome of the South’s 9 January secession referendum, millions of southern Sudanese went out vote. The final results are scheduled to be announced in mid-February, but in the meantime, the people of Jonglei are eager to know whether the news of a new oil find by Total, the French oil major, will materialize, bringing with it economic prosperity and stability.

Since the early 1980s, Total has held the rights to Bloc B, a concession in Jonglei state. However, in 1984, following the outbreak of the civil war and SPLA’s decision target oil companies by bombing their rigs and shooting at their plains, Total suspended its exploration.

With one-fourth of its shares held by US investors, Total, fearing disinvestment, was forced to comply with the economic sanctions imposed by Washington on Sudan in 1997.

For the record, it should be mentioned that the Asian oil companies operating in Sudan, and whose shares were not being traded on the US Stock Market – particularly China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) – have continued pumping oil.

As an independent state, South Sudan – which provides 80 per cent of Sudan’s current 490,000 barrels per day (bpd) output – will be free of the US sanctions.

Recently, Garang Diing, South Sudan’s energy minister, confirmed that exploration will soon start in two major blocs. Total will begin exploration in its dormant Block B, and Star Petroleum of Spain, a relatively newcomer in the Sudanese oil business, will start exploration in Bloc E. It is estimated that these two blocs have huge oil reserves, and would potentially add “three times the current production, to reach maybe two million bpd around 2014-2015,” the minister said.

However, many outstanding problems need to be settled and both Total and the soon-to-be independent South Sudan will have to carefully thread a very sticky oil path. The region is prone to violent skirmishes between the various local tribes, and guarantying security to personnel and equipment in and around the works is of prime importance. In the interests of all parties, and especially Total’s, the implementation of strict international standards to environmental matters, ethical behaviour and transparency should be part and parcel of Total’s oil policy in the country.

In addition, following US-based Marathon Oil Corporation's voluntary withdrawal from the consortium in 2008 – Total bought Marathon’s stake in Bloc B – the consortium needs to be reorganised.


With Total holding 32.5 per cent of the operating rights in Bloc B, the company is now its main shareholder. The other members of the consortium are the Kuwaiti Kufpec Sudan Ltd with 27.5 per cent, Sudan’s state-owned Sudapet with 10 per cent, and South Sudan’s government-owned Nilepet with 10 per cent. The remaining 20 per cent should be offered in a public bid.


Southern Sudan has also to clarify its controversial contract with the UK-based White Nile Ltd.

In addition tothe threat of a possible new civil war, – the result of unresolved issues between North and South – South Sudan also faces external challenged due to disputes over the distribution and the use of the Nile waters among countries in the region.


Sudan has been blessed with water; the White Nile, the Sobat River, the Bahr Al Ghazal and Bahr al Zaraf are all found in the South. In addition, the South is also home to most of Sudan’s wetlands and receives a greater amount of rainfall than the North.


Since the beginning of the last century, the idea of digging a canal to drain the Sudd marshes of the White Nile at Jonglei has been on the table, discussed by successive Sudanese and Egyptian governments. The 360km man-made Jonglei Canal was meant to increase the amount of water going downstream and also uncover a vast expansion of fertile land, thus benefiting both Sudan and Egypt.


The construction of the canal began in 1980 as a joint Sudanese-Egyptian project with the collaboration of the French Compagnie de Constructions Internationales (CCI). But in 1984, following a series of attacks on the construction site by the newly formed SPLA, work was forcibly put on hold with only 260km completed.


Today, the outline of the canal can hardly be noticed: the unfinished stretching ditch is disappearing under overgrown grass, shrubs and trees, and birds are nesting in the famous Bucketwheel machine, a unique earth-moving device brought from Pakistan especially for the project.


In the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed between the Government of Sudan and the SPLM/A in Naivasha, water resources and the controversial Jonglei Canal have been overlooked by all parties concerned.


Their omission may have been on purpose, either to avoid provoking Cairo, or to maintain a bargaining chip for future negotiations.


Whatever the reason behind this omission, it should be said that Cairo knows full well that when back on track the Jonglei Canal will save 4bn cubic meters of water from the Nile water, to be shared equally in the development of the South and launching agricultural and energy projects.


For Mahmoud Abu Zeid, the former Egyptian minister of water resources and irrigation, the Jonglei project was a model for joint initiatives to promote water security in the region.


Considered one of the most important integration projects between Egypt and Sudan, the Jonglei Canal may soon be back on the map, as plansto resume work were discussed in 2009, during the visit of South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir.


In addition to its water-saving objective, the 360km-long canal will also help the establishment of an irrigation project to produce crops in an area of 200,000 acres.


Ideally, this reclaimed area would be an Eldorado for mechanised farming, but providing small-scale farmers with a place to grow more food for the people should be the ultimate goal of any future food security initiative.

Decades of civil war and clashes between rival ethnic groups have brought many of the region’s population to a perpetual state of hunger, with 20-50 per cent of its eight million people requiring food aid. If and when the Jonglei Canal is put back on track, it would provide not only extra water but also extra agriculture land. Today, only fourper cent of South Sudan's fertile arable land is farmed and most food found in local markets is imported. Yet South Sudan could become a country capable of producing a good amount of food for its population.


For the leaders of the soon-to-be independent South Sudan, nation building will not be an easy task. It will have to involve not only a peaceful transition but also the creation of strong and transparent institutions of governance, which in turn will transform the natural resources of the country – water, land and oil reserves – into effective tools in a comprehensive, just and economically sustainable country.



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