Oil, water and virgin lands: South Sudan’s “cursed” treasure

South Sudan humanitarian crisis

Oil, water and virgin lands: South Sudan’s “cursed” treasure

By Francesco Peloso/ Vatican City

Comboni Father Daniele Moschetti explains the reasons of the conflict. “The embargo on the sale of weapons is not enforced, it suits nobody.” The war and the humanitarian tragedy in the country where Pope Francis would like to visit. The role of al Qaida and of global superpowers.

Pope Francis’ visit has been postponed; too many risks in a crisis that has begun to assume "stunning" proportions. South Sudan is undergoing a difficult and terrible season: a devastating civil war, millions of refugees, populations in dire straits. Everything started in 2011 with the declaration of independence, the separation of the Christian animist south with its non-radical Muslim minorities from the Arab northern with Omar al Bashir, autocrat leader of an aggressive Islamic hub that looked to Africa as a land of conquest. In 2011, power went to president Salva Kiir, of the Dinka ethnicity, and to Vice President Riek Machar, of the Nuer ethnicity. In 2013, however, a new conflict broke out between the two leaders and their respective ethnic groups; Vice President Machar was accused of organizing a coup. The power is today in the hands of Dinka President Kiir's armed groups, but the Nuer rebels are no less, albeit inferior to armaments and with smaller international sponsors (behind the ethnic war facade, however, the predatory intent of restricted power groups emerges). Ultimately, simplification does not explain everything: at least 7 to 8 armed groups are active in the country today, the interests of the surrounding countries and of the great powers of the world favor arms trafficking and war, while most of the population did not want the conflict. So why is there one? Oil, of course. But also, water and virgin lands that have never been cultivated (over 40 years of conflicts intertwined with periods of relative peace have kept this treasure almost intact).

Resources are Africa’s curse, or at least of some countries, as Father Daniele Moschetti explains to Vatican Insider. For 6 years and until last December, Father Daniele Moschetti was Superior of the Comboni missionaries in Sudan. But Sudan has not been his only experience in Africa: he spent 11 years in Kenya, one year in Palestine, and in a few months, he will begin to work at the United Nations with other missionaries to try and give some voice to the south of the world. According to Amnesty International, "South Sudan is undergoing one of the most serious humanitarian crises of recent times: nearly one million displaced people are in the Equatorial region, while civil killings and violence on women and girls continues unpunished". According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, "the total number of people fleeing from South Sudan to the surrounding regions is now 1.6 million. The new fleeing rate is alarming and represents an unmanageable burden for a region that is considerably poorer and whose resources are rapidly wearing out. None of the surrounding countries is immune to it. Refugees flee to Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic. Almost half of the people fleeing have reached Uganda, and in the northern regions of the country, the situation is now critical. "There are millions of internally displaced while most of the population goes hungry"

Father Moschetti, the picture of the Country is nothing short of alarming ...

"Today the situation is quite catastrophic. Six years after the independence and, in Juba (the capital, E.d.) there have been no official celebrations as it happened in the past; indeed, we are adrift: there is a serious financial crisis, the central bank has no more cash, inflation is up to 900%. To understand what it means we can compare South Sudan’s situation with Italy where inflation is 1%. The value of local money has no weight, everything comes from abroad, everything we eat, everything we use. Because of the war begun on December 15, 2013 and then again when new clashes broke out last year in Juba, in July, just a year ago. Everyone left, the embassies, the NGOs, the volunteers, everybody.”

But is there a presence of international organizations, of missionaries?

"Many organizations have left after last year’s clashes, although the biggest ones have come back. But they are struggling even harder because the government fails to guarantee the security for the humanitarian workers and missionaries. They say: we do not guarantee the safety of operators and missionaries, because they get attacked and killed, especially in areas where food and medicines are delivered. They are taking advantage of this situation to say that they cannot protect anyone. Another way of saying: we do not give the green light to bring food and water in these areas because they are unsafe. It is a subtle way to choke areas where there are rebels indeed, but also populations"

The war "resumed" in 2013 however its roots are much older...

"It is a very complex conflict. It starts with Sudan's independence in 1956. Before that, the country was an English colony. At that time, there was already a South Sudanese group that could have declared its independence from the north, but the British left everything in the hands of the Khartoum government which led to the process of Islamization. As a result, all missionaries, both Catholics and Protestants, were kicked out of the country in 1964. And this process has mobilized America. Both US Republicans and Democrats have always shared the common goal of an independent South Sudan. The US has invested billions of dollars from the 70s and 80s to date, all US administrations have supported Sudan’s People's Liberation Movement (Splm), the rebel army fighting international criminal Bashir, (in power since 1989 with a coup d'état, Ed.), but no one is really interested in capturing him. "

Has Islamic fundamentalism played a role in this story?

"When George W. Bush was in office, Sudan was listed among the "rogue" nations, also because it is from here that Osama Bin Laden has started. Bin Laden formed the first military, terrorist groups, right in Khartoum. Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda’s first attacks were not those against the twin towers of New York, but were those against the US embassies in Nairobi (Kenya) and Dar Es Salaam (Tanzania) on August 7, 1998 (224 victims and about 4,000 wounded). The very first attack was therefore in Africa. The answer was USA sending raids against Khartoum. Sudan has always been on the blacklist and embargoed. The southern part of the country, the one that falls into Black Africa (the north is Arab, Ed.), is 50% Christian, 7 to 8% is non-fundamentalist Muslim and the rest is animist."

South Sudan’s independence had then many interested spectators?

"Yes, Museveni, President of Uganda, who is a great ally of the USA, as well as Kenya, undoubtedly benefited from the process of independence. As well as all the countries bordering South Sudan have great interests. The country has great resources, there is not only oil – presently Sudan is Africa's third oilfield - there is also water, and virgin lands because the country has been through forty years of war (from 1956 to 2005, Between Khartoum and the South Independentists, Ed.), interrupted by ten years of relative peace. But in the '70s a sort of oil hunt took over: we were experiencing a season of austerity as circulation limits in order to save fuel. So when Opec, the Arab countries, said "there is no more oil for you", the hunt on new deposits begun, and obviously they found oil in South Sudan. That was when the Second War began, it was 1983. In general, we can say that, on the one hand, there were large European and American corporations who wanted to exploit Sudan’s new resources, on the other, the Khartoum government that did not want to give up what it considered theirs. At the same time, the government took the profit of the Southern resources to develop the North, leaving behind the Southern regions, without schools and in poverty. Hence came South Sudan’s struggle for independence led by the Splm which culminated with the agreements signed on January 9, 2005 in Nairobi, when a black man was elected vice president of the entire Sudan - and this was an important novelty - John Garang, founder of the Splm, who at the time did not want the separation of the South (which was nevertheless given some autonomy).

However, in 2011 the South separates...

"Today we celebrate an independence that South Sudan’ main leader, Garang, had never wanted; On the contrary, Salva Kiir and other US-backed military groups have always wanted the South to separate form the North. In any case, the unity of the country was the plug preventing the Islamization of Africa. There is therefore a bit of everything in this conflict: there is oil, there is water, there is agriculture to be developed. Then there are so many interests from the surrounding countries that have less resources. It is like Congo, which is the richest country in the world for resources and unfortunately is among the poorest. These riches become curses, they are not blessing for the people, but an enrichment of the elites. And in fact, all those who are in power today are military wearing suits with million dollars bank accounts in America, in England or elsewhere. Their families live outside the country."

Do you missionaries manage to still work in the country?

"We have been in South Sudan since Daniel Comboni, our founder, came here in 1858; We were born into a mission, and we consider ourselves an integral part of this story, of this people. We have never left, except when they have expelled us, but we have always come back and walked along with these peoples, from situations of slavery first, of for various wars, colonialism, Islamization, and the present new civil and oil conflicts. We have lost two missions in the last few years, from 2013 to 2017, because anyone can hit us: the government, the rebels. Two important missions for us where we did human and spiritual training, were destroyed because of the struggle between government and rebels. People have fled. There are one million displaced in Uganda, many in the most fertile area of the Equatorial province, where local ethnic groups by no means wanted to go to war. But the pressure of the government and of the Dinka ethnicity now holding military and economic power exasperated the situation. There are hundreds of thousands of refugees in Sudan, nearly a million in Ethiopia, about half a million in Kenya. In these months, I'm in Italy and I see about the big migrant emergency, it makes me angry and laugh at the same time. African countries are bringing millions of people on their own skin. "

Which foreign powers have more interests in South Sudan?

"British, French, Chinese, Russian, and big American corporation have interests in South Sudan. A request for an arms embargo was filed 4-5 times, but countries such as Russia and China have either directly or indirectly hindered this measure. Bear in mind that the South Sudan government in 2014 spent $ 1 billion in armaments and mortgaged oil wells that at this time are still closed. They are underselling the country to have weapons and crush the rebellion, they do not think of the future of their people at all. Pope Francis was scheduled to go to South Sudan in October together with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, Anglican Primate, but the visit was postponed for security reasons. It would, however, be a very important journey because the Churches are doing a great job and are the only credible institutions. The international community first gave credit to the government, then to the rebels, the only stronghold are the churches which among other things do a lot of lobbying advocacy and information, because the parties involved in the fight do not want anybody to know what Is happening in the country so they can go on with unthinkable atrocities never before seen, not even in the conflict with the Arabs (the conflict for independence with North Sudan also cost millions of deaths). A deeper awareness of the international community is needed. Not even refugee camps are safe, not even those internationally protected, soldiers have entered even there and slaughtered women, elderly, and children.

Wed, 07/12/2017 - 19:27
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