Oil-rich South Su­dan faces fuel short­age as ‘peo­ple suf­fer’

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - BUSINESS -

“In Septem­ber there was no fuel any­where,” Sam­son Ka­muya says. The ex­hausted 45-year-old hangs his head. He’s been wait­ing four days at a gas sta­tion in South Su­dan’s cap­i­tal, Juba, to no avail.

Wedged among hun­dreds of cars, trucks and des­per­ate civil­ians car­ry­ing empty jerry cans, he says the fuel sit­u­a­tion is un­like any­thing he’s seen in his eight years as a driver.

It is a cruel irony in the world’s youngest na­tion: 98 per­cent of South Su­dan’s econ­omy comes from oil, but the coun­try faces one of its worst fuel crises since civil war be­gan in 2013.

South Su­dan has Africa’s third­largest oil re­serves, with 3.5 bil­lion bar­rels. Based on gov­ern­ment fig­ures, cur­rent pro­duc­tion should bring in hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars a year. But with­out re­finer­ies, the coun­try ex­ports crude oil and must im­port fuel.

Some ob­servers blame the gov­ern­ment and Nile Petroleum, the sole state-owned oil com­pany, for na­tion­wide fuel short­ages.

The sit­u­a­tion de­te­ri­o­rated when the gov­ern­ment “started mo­nop­o­liz­ing the fuel trade” by kick­ing out pri­vate oil com­pa­nies to con­trol ac­cess to U.S. dol­lars, says Ed­mund Yakani, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the non­profit Com­mu­nity Em­pow­er­ment for Progress Or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Nile Petroleum says it can af­ford to bring in only enough fuel to serve one-third of South Su­dan’s pop­u­la­tion. It de­nies ex­pelling pri­vate com­pa­nies, say­ing the eco­nomic cri­sis forced them to leave.

“NilePet be­came re­spon­si­ble for the whole coun­try,” says Yiey Puoch Lur, its pub­lic re­la­tions di­rec­tor.

How­ever, some say the num­bers don’t add up, ac­cus­ing gov­ern­ment cor­rup­tion of wors­en­ing the coun­try’s over­all cri­sis. South Su­dan soon will en­ter its fifth year of fight­ing amid star­va­tion, mass dis­place­ment and al­le­ga­tions of war crimes.

“In­stead of us­ing oil rev­enue to pro­vide pub­lic ser­vices and im­prove the liveli­hoods of South Su­dan’s pop­u­la­tion, the rul­ing clique has used these funds to pro­cure weapons, fi­nance a hor­rific civil war and en­rich them­selves,” says J.R. Mai­ley, di­rec­tor of the in­ves­tiga­tive team at The Sen­try, a Wash­ing­ton-based group that has re­ported on links be­tween cor­rup­tion and mass atroc­i­ties.

“The money’s be­ing kept abroad,” a mem­ber of South Su­dan’s Par­lia­ment, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity out of fear for his safety, told the As­so­ci­ated Press. The money the gov­ern­ment should be re­ceiv­ing for oil ex­ports is enough to fuel the en­tire coun­try, the law­maker says.

Nile Petroleum de­nies wrong­do­ing, blam­ing the lack of funds on a re­duc­tion in South Su­dan’s oil pro­duc­tion from al­most 300,000 bar­rels a day be­fore the civil war to roughly 130,000. It says de­clin­ing global oil prices and the civil war’s dam­age to oil fa­cil­i­ties have hurt.

As South Su­dan held its first oil and power con­fer­ence Wed­nes­day, Min­is­ter of Petroleum Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth said the gov­ern­ment is mov­ing “ag­gres­sively” to pro­duce more oil, with tar­get pro­duc­tion of 280,000 bar­rels per day in the com­ing year. The min­is­ter said four re­finer­ies would be built in the coun­try, with one in Ben­tiu un­der­way.

Gatkuoth wel­comed for­eign in­vestors, say­ing they would team up with NilePet, then quipped that he wasn’t “en­cour­ag­ing them to leave – im­me­di­ately.”

Civil­ians feel the brunt of the cri­sis. Driv­ers like Ka­muya often hire peo­ple to sleep in their parked cars at the pumps while they bor­row other trans­port to keep work­ing.

Ka­muya says he has been forced to buy fuel on the black mar­ket for al­most 10 times the usual price. In­stead of pay­ing 1,200 South Su­danese pounds ($6.50) for 60 liters at the pump, he has paid up to 10,800 South Su­danese pounds ($58) for just 20 liters.

In ad­di­tion, gov­ern­ment sol­diers have been ac­cused of threat­en­ing civil­ians at gas sta­tions and cut­ting in line in or­der to stock up on fuel to sell il­le­gally.

“If some­one tells you to move with a gun you can’t ar­gue,” says Si­mon Kin­uthia, a driver in Juba.

The army de­nies the al­le­ga­tions. Other than a few iso­lated in­ci­dents sol­diers “don’t break the rules,” says spokesman Lul Ruai Koang.

Last month the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion took ini­tial steps to tar­get those re­spon­si­ble for un­der­min­ing sta­bil­ity in South Su­dan, by im­pos­ing sanc­tions on two se­nior mem­bers of gov­ern­ment, the for­mer mil­i­tary chief of staff and three lo­cal com­pa­nies.

“Cor­rupt of­fi­cials and their fa­cil­i­ta­tors that par­tic­i­pate in the oil sec­tor should be sub­jected to tar­geted net­work sanc­tions,” says Brad Brooks-Ru­bin, pol­icy di­rec­tor for The Sen­try.

Brooks-Ru­bin added an em­bargo should not be placed on South Su­dan’s oil in­dus­try as a whole.

“Fuel is con­nected to ev­ery­thing,” Kin­uthia says. “And right now, it’s mak­ing peo­ple suf­fer.”

Peo­ple can wait for days for gas sta­tions to open and sell them fuel.

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