Promise of prosperity through oil exports lends hope to Sunday's peace deal
A rebuilt economy gives South Sudan peace the strongest chance
The scenes of South Sudanese celebrating in the streets of Juba, matched by jubilation across the border in Khartoum, were both uplifting and inspiring as two men whose rivalry ignited a civil war promised to uphold the peace, this time for good. It is hard to exaggerate the significance of the pact for the world’s youngest country, where daily atrocities have seen tens of thousands killed and four million displaced in just five years.
Although a similar pact collapsed in 2015, there are reasons for optimism this time. Small rebel factions that stormed out of previous negotiations committed their support this time round. Multiple regional governments, including Sudan, Uganda and Ethiopia, got involved.
On signing the deal with Riek Machar, his former deputy-turned-nemesis, South Sudan's President Salva Kiir said peace would hold because it was not “forced on us”.
There is certainly much to be said for African solutions to intrinsically African problems.
But perhaps a greater cause for optimism relates to South Sudanese oil. When the country broke away from Sudan in 2011, its lands produced 350,000 barrels daily of crude oil.
Yet as war raged on, the economy shrivelled and inflation rose to 160 per cent. In turn, oil production stalled. However, Sunday’s peace deal included an agreement between Sudan and South Sudan to rehabilitate and patrol the latter’s oilfields. And Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir said on Sunday that his nation would import its neighbours oil from September.
With the participation of the China National Petroleum Company, South Sudan is well placed to become a regional exporter in East Africa.
Peace and prosperity are interwoven. Growing Juba’s economy by rehabilitating oil production will increase the likelihood of a durable peace. With economic growth comes domestic stability and international investment. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy – one that is essential for post-conflict societies looking to the future.
Peace is far from guaranteed, in spite of the desperation of the people of South Sudan, who have endured five years of bloodshed, displacement and economic ruin at the hands of two men at war. Their plight is symbolised by the great African proverb: “when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers”.
But South Sudan’s fragile peace is more likely to hold if its economy can be salvaged. That is why, with clauses to revamp the country’s oil production, this peace agreement stands the strongest chance of lasting.