Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1233, (12 - 18 February 2015)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1233, (12 - 18 February 2015)

Ahram Weekly

The price of war

If left to fester, the war in South Sudan will destroy the country’s economy as well as that of its neighbours, Haytham Nuri writes

Al-Ahram Weekly

Hardly had the South Sudanese warring factions of the Sudan’s People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) returned to the country, having signed a peace deal in Tanzania in late January, than signs of renewed tensions surfaced, suggesting that Africa’s newest nation may be unable to stop the violence that brought it close to famine.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), certain parts of South Sudan are likely to run out of food in March, due to disruption of the agriculture season. FAO experts say that nearly 2.5 million South Sudanese may face food “emergencies”, while four million may experience food “pressures.”

Unless the civil war in South Sudan, which erupted in December 2014, ends this year the entire region is set to suffer, according to a group of research centres following the situation. Many now doubt that the agreement reached in Tanzania between President Salva Kiir and his former vice president, Riek Machar, will hold.

The Tanzanian, Kenyan and Ugandan presidents, as well as the South African vice president, were all present during the signing of the political deal in the Tanzanian town of Arusha on 21 January 2015.

The cost of the war will be more than $128 billion, if the conflict is allowed to go on for another 20 years, with devastating consequences for South Sudan and its neighbours, according to a report by the Australian firm Frontier Economics, Centre for Peace and Development Studies at the University of Juba and Centre for Conflict Resolution in Uganda.

South Sudan, which seceded from Sudan four years ago, is no stranger to conflict. It was embroiled in an intermittent civil war that lasted from 1955 to 2005, ending with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, signed in Kenya in January 2005.

African leaders suggested, as a way of soothing transitional pains, that Kiir appoint Machar as his first vice president, a move that the former resisted, citing “constitutional” reasons. Commenting on the proposal by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Kiir said, “Our constitution doesn’t allow it.”

The South Sudanese president, speaking during the inauguration of a new facility in Juba, said that he could not reward “rebels” with government posts. “The culture of people staging rebellion as a way to get appointment into senior government position will not continue,” he declared.

Kiir maintains that the South Sudanese constitution has a place for only one vice president and the post is filled by James Wani Igga, who is backed by several regional leaders, especially in the Bahr Al-Ghazal area.

The report by the three research centres says that if the South Sudanese conflict ends this year the county’s economy could grow at a steady 3.3 per cent annually for years. The estimate is based on IMF figures and is much less than that proposed by African experts. Analysts at the African Development Bank forecast a growth rate for South Sudan of seven per cent or more if the Tanzania deal holds.

IMF experts say that South Sudan has other problems than war, including a weak government structure and ethnic and regional tensions. South Sudan’s five neighbours (Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania) may save up to $53 billion a year if the war comes to an end. This is the cost of caring for refugees and the extra policing of the borders due to the current conflict, said the report.

According to the same report, the international community would save $30 billion over five years, which can be used instead for humanitarian relief and peacekeeping. The UN and the International Crisis Group warn of imminent famine if the fighting, which has claimed close to 50,000 lives already, is allowed to go on.

Nearly two million people, or one out of five of South Sudan’s 10 million inhabitants, have been forced to leave their homes. Currently, 500,000 of those live in neighbouring Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda and Kenya.

South Sudan will incur losses of $25 billion or so if the war continues for five more years, said the report. If the war lasts for 20 years, South Sudan will lose upwards of $120 billion, and the damage to neighbouring states will be extensive. Countries around South Sudan have a host of domestic problems to contend with, which often erupt into bloody clashes.

Sudan, to the north, is embroiled in several wars in the Blue Nile, Nuba Mountains and Darfur. Kenya went through a period of ethnic conflict after the elections of 2008, which left thousands of casualties. Uganda, too, is grappling with a civil war in the south.

Helmi Shaarawi, director of the Cairo-based Arab and African Studies Centre, said that South Sudan is located in a turbulent region, as various countries in the vicinity are experiencing intermittent conflict because of ethnic and regional rivalries.

Shaarawi is not optimistic about the prospects of the Tanzania deal, as South Sudan had profound problems even before it seceded from Sudan four years ago. Due to weak government and rampant corruption the country is having trouble starting a development process that could defuse current tensions.

According to the abovementioned report, South Sudan will need two years before it can resume the production of oil at previous levels of 220,000 barrels per day.

Jean-Marie Guehenno, director of the International Crisis Group, says that South Sudan is one of 10 countries experiencing conflicts that will neither abate nor escalate this year. Guehenno’s prediction, published by Foreign Policy on 2 January 2015, is based on the fact that multiple tribal tensions may be too difficult to contain, and contribute to continued unrest.

According to the report, four million people in South Sudan may face a near famine situation due to the disruption of agriculture and cattle breeding. Farag Abdel-Fattah, professor of African economy at Cairo University, notes that thousands of farmers and herdsmen have been forced out of their villages, leaving their crops and cattle unattended.

“The refugees are another problem, for they move to the safest and nearest areas, where they are met with suspicion by already impoverished inhabitants,” he said.

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