South Sudan: Yet another oil war?

U.S. imperialism, which exacerbated the conflict that split the African nation of Sudan in two with the objective of controlling the energy resources of that vast area, is now increasing its direct military intervention as instability grows.

A split within the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) has grown into an armed conflict in the world’s most recently recognized nation, South Sudan. Since Dec. 15, fighting has erupted in South Sudan’s capital of Juba and in the states of Jonglei, Warrap, Central Equatoria, Eastern Equatoria and Unity between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and ousted Vice President Riek Machar.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said that “peacekeeping” forces would be doubled inside the vast country to nearly 14,000, even as a delegation of representatives from several East African states seeking to mediate the conflict reportedly reached an agreement with the two contending forces to hold peace talks.

In a much anticipated announcement, President Kiir announced a unilateral ceasefire and an agreement reached on Dec. 27 to end the fighting that has killed over 1,000 people and dislocated tens of thousands of others. Conflicting reports over who is controlling the oil-producing areas of Unity state have caused great concern on the part of the U.S. and other Western imperialist governments.

Conflict follows breakup of Sudan

The Republic of South Sudan came into being in July 2011 after Africa’s largest geographic nation-state, the Republic of Sudan, was broken up under the aegis of the U.S. government, which backed Juba in its two-decade armed and political struggle against Khartoum in the North. Since the breakup of the country, there have been ongoing conflicts between the governments in the two capitals over border demarcations, allegations of support for rebel groups within the respective states, and over the exploitation, export and distribution of oil, the main foreign exchange generator for both countries.

Within South Sudan itself, problems have escalated since 2011 between various ethnic groups over allocations of governmental portfolios as well as allegations of widespread corruption and abuse of power. President Kiir accused the former vice president, who was sacked in July 2013, of attempting a coup against his government and proceeded to arrest some of the leading politicians in the country.

Machar has said he will contest the upcoming 2015 national presidential elections. He is demanding that all the politicians arrested in the recent crackdown be released prior to beginning serious peace talks.

The power struggle within the ruling SPLM/A has spilled over into the military. Gen. Peter Yaak, based in Jonglei state, has pledged his allegiance to Machar, as did others who seized control of the lucrative oil fields in Unity state. But during the week of Dec. 24, there were conflicting reports over whose forces held control of the oil fields, the rebels or those still loyal to President Kiir. Meanwhile, civilians have fled in the tens of thousands, seeking refuge from the intense fighting between the two factions within the military.

U.S. deploys additional troops

The administration of President Barack Obama has already sent dozens of Pentagon troops into South Sudan, allegedly to evacuate U.S. citizens and assist U.N. peacekeeping and humanitarian operations. An additional 150 U.S. troops have reportedly been sent to Djibouti, where the U.S. maintains a military base. They await deployment to South Sudan.

A meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, on Dec. 27 among representatives of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development told the opposition forces loyal to Machar that they would not tolerate the overthrow of the South Sudan Kiir-led regime. IGAD, as an affiliate organization of the continental African Union, an organization composed of 53 states, is mandated to suspend and isolate any government that seizes power by force.

Representatives at the Nairobi meeting on Dec. 27 included heads of state from Uganda, Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti, in addition to the host, Kenya.

During the IGAD meeting, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said: “Let it be known that we in IGAD will not accept the unconstitutional overthrow of a duly and democratically elected government in South Sudan. Violence has never provided optimum solutions — violence begets more violence.” (BBC World Service, Dec. 27) The Kenyan leader also said that the factional fighting must cease immediately.

Oil interests prompt U.S. intervention

For more than a decade prior to the partition of Sudan, U.S. oil companies were largely excluded from the production and distribution of oil in this African state, and the U.S. government was hostile to Khartoum. The bulk of the oil concessions in the Republic of Sudan was held by the People’s Republic of China and other countries in the Middle East and Asia.

Sudan at that time was producing approximately 500,000 barrels of oil per day. But since the partition and the resulting disruptions in production due to disagreements and conflicts between Juba and Khartoum, oil production has dropped drastically in both states.

In the North, a precipitous decline in oil export revenues has forced the government to impose austerity measures, including the elimination of fuel subsidies, prompting inflation. The sharp rise in prices for oil and other basic commodities has sparked protests and rebellions that have been utilized by opposition forces seeking the overthrow of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s National Congress Party government.

Since the breakup of Sudan, U.S. imperialism has been eager to re-enter the oil production process in South Sudan. Japanese imperialism has also expressed interest in building a pipeline to allow South Sudanese oil to flow through neighboring Kenya, in an effort to bypass the Khartoum government.

The Platts energy website reported in July that South Sudan was looking for additional “support” from the U.S. energy sector. Susan Page, U.S. ambassador to South Sudan, said Washington had a growing interest in South Sudan’s oil. This is a recipe for more suffering and conflict in the region.