Just two years after it gained independence from Sudan in 2011, oil-rich South Sudan plunged into a civil war that is still raging today—a civil war that is allegedly funded by oil revenues.
Impoverished South Sudan is rich in natural resources and oil revenue is the country’s main hard currency export income—it’s not a leap to suggest that oil revenues are funding its side of the war, but one NGO is claiming that it is this very oil money that South Sudan’s leaders are using to get rich and terrorize civilians, according to documents reviewed by The Sentry, an investigative initiative co-founded by George Clooney.
“Little has been known about the financial machinery that makes South Sudan’s continuing war possible, but these documents appear to shed new light on how the country’s main revenue source—oil—is used to fuel militias and ongoing atrocities, and how a small clique continues to get richer while the majority of South Sudanese suffer or flee their homeland,” The Sentry said in the Fueling Atrocities: Oil and War in South Sudan report published on Monday.
South Sudan officials dismissed the report, with presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny telling Reuters that “The oil money did not even ... buy a knife. It is being used for paying the salaries of the civil servants.” Related: U.S. Sets New Monthly Oil Production Record
South Sudan produces some 135,000 bpd of oil and hopes to double its oil production over the next 12 months, its Oil Minister Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth said in December last year.
Last month, Lol Gatkuoth told the BBC that “80 percent of the country is peaceful” and that “you can even party during the night” in Juba, the capital city of South Sudan.
But according to documents reviewed by The Sentry, the picture in South Sudan is quite different. Funds from South Sudan’s state oil company Nile Petroleum Corporation (Nilepet), The Sentry claim, “helped fund militias responsible for horrific acts of violence. They also indicate that millions of dollars were paid to several companies partially owned by family members of top officials responsible for funding government-aligned militia or military commanders.”
In addition, “the documents appear to describe how the petroleum ministry provided support to these militias in the form of fuel, equipment, funds, food and supplies, and airtime for satellite phones,” The Sentry’s report said.
Oil money is used by top officials to profit from the war, and the murky management of South Sudan’s oil raises further questions whether the payments fund militias, the investigation by The Sentry said.
“The petroleum sector is meant to be the source of South Sudan’s future. Instead, the documents reviewed by The Sentry suggest oil is intimately linked to violence,” the activist group said.
This week’s report is not the first time The Sentry has raised questions about the funding of the armed conflict in South Sudan. In September 2016, the group released the first findings of an investigation into the links between public corruption and armed conflict.
“Unfortunately, in the last five years, South Sudan’s leaders have engaged in much of the same behavior, including mass atrocities on its citizens, starvation, and rape. All while plundering the state’s resources and enriching themselves and their families,” Clooney said at a press conference back in September 2016, which revealed a two-year undercover investigation by The Sentry using forensic accountants and experts formerly of the FBI and the Treasury Department, among others. Related: Nigeria Can Produce Oil At $20 A Barrel
In recent months, the U.S. and the international community have tightened sanctions on South Sudan in response to the continued destabilization in the country. The U.S. sanctioned in September 2017 South Sudanese government officials for their role in undermining peace and stability. Last month, the U.S. imposed a weapons embargo, “appalled by the continuing violence in South Sudan that has created one of Africa’s worst humanitarian crises,” Heather Nauert, U.S. Department of State Spokesperson, said.
Since 2013, 2.4 million South Sudanese have fled the country and another 1.9 million people are internally displaced. A total of 1.5 million people are now on the brink of famine, despite enormous efforts by the United States and other donors, the Department of State said.
“I’ve never seen a political elite with so little interest in the wellbeing of its own people,” the Financial Times quoted United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres as saying at a meeting on South Sudan earlier this year.
By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com
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