As South Sudan begins to rebuild from scratch following a peace deal signed in September 2018 between the main rival factions, the region’s countries with economic interests in the world’s youngest nation remain edgy, even as Khartoum is confident that the permanent ceasefire will hold this time round.
The agreement signed in Khartoum between long time rivals president Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar — was brokered by an unlikely mediator in Sudan President Omar al-Bashir — after the two previous peace deals had broken down, plunging the country back into conflict.
But South Sudanese officials highlight as key the fact that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni also agreed to come on board to support the peace deal that al-Bashir had on the table.
“I will tell you two reasons why this peace deal will hold,” Petroleum Minister Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth said in an interview with The EastAfrican in Juba recently.
“First, this peace belongs to the people of South Sudan who are tired of war,” he said.
“But also, when two countries decided to help us — Uganda and Sudan — both of which have leverage over us, this changed everything. Our oil goes through Sudan, and Uganda is a close ally of President Salva Kiir Mayardit.”
Mr Gatkuoth says that other regional governments like Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania tried to broker peace between the rival groups in Juba, but without much leverage over either side, they couldn’t make substantial progress
Although South Sudan’s economy had collapsed as a result of war since 2013, Khartoum says the new peace deal is a win-win for both Sudans, which are desperate to revive their economies.
But there was an added incentive for Sudan, which needed to regain its international profile among the community of nations.
“Our intention [to broker the peace deal] was that Sudan can be removed from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism, with the help of the South, we can be taken off that list,” Sudan Petroleum Minister Azhari Abdallah told journalists in Juba, South Sudan recently.
Mr Abdallah also told The EastAfrican that five years of the South Sudan war that had seen oil production shut down had an economic impact on Khartoum, as this meant that Juba could not pay the full amount of the $3.5 billion that was negotiated as part of the compensation to Sudan for losing revenue when the south gained Independence in 2011.
“The impact of the shutdown would be that production stopped, and of course then revenue also stopped,” he said.
But the government in Juba later said it could not pay that lump sum, based on the calculation that for every barrel of oil produced, South Sudan should pay Khartoum $15.
Other sources raise even more pointed issues about the two neighbours, each accused of supporting rebels in the others’ territory.
“I can speak for Sudan; we are fully confident that this time there is genuine commitment to peace and stability. Ezekiel [Lol Gatkuoth] also says people in South Sudan are tired of war and want peace to bring prosperity,” he said.