South Sudan between George Clooney, Pope Francis, and the curse of oil – Corriere.it

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Of Federico Rampini

Crude fuels corruption and the civil war that has been raging since 2013 discourages foreign investment needed to develop the extraction and processing of black gold. What will be the fate of the country?

Pope francesco
And George Clooney
have at least one thing in common: attention to the tragic fate of South Sudan, the youngest nation in the world, a country whose birth 12 years was surrounded by great hopes, but which today sinks into oil corruption and civil war between the two largest ethnic groups. A country with a Christian majority, albeit surrounded by Islamic nations, which explains the importance that the stop in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, had on the pontiff’s last trip.

Before the news of this papal visit to Africa fades away I take advantage of the spotlight that has turned on, to take stock of the fate of South Sudan. Where the role of the United States, of Hollywood celebrities, and that of Vatican diplomacy intertwine, including the activism of the Community of Sant’Egidio (very close to Pope Bergoglio) which seeks to keep alive the dialogue between the warring factions .

George Clooney deserves to be remembered because its humanitarian mobilization played a role first in raising American public awareness of the tragedy of the
Darfur, the genocide perpetrated in western Sudan since 2003, with 400,000 dead. The actor later became a champion for the (quite distinct) cause of secession of southern Sudan – majority black and Christian – from the northern part of the country with capital in Khartoum, where the Arabs and the Islamic religion dominate. Hollywood’s attention helped to increase that of the White House as well. In 2005 under the Administration of George W. Bush he was the first African American Secretary of State, Colin Powell, to sign peace accords between southern rebels and Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir as guarantor. He later (2009) became the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the International Criminal Court for his role in the Darfur massacres.

Breaking away from the North in 2011 following a referendum with 99% of the votes for the separation, South Sudan brought into the new nation a population of 11 million inhabitants (of which six million are officially Catholics), and a theoretically immense oil wealth: while the territory that separated represents a quarter of the entire former Sudan three quarters of pre-secession Sudan’s crude oil fields are located in the southern part. But this richness is more theoretical than real. First of all because South Sudan remains dependent on its northern neighbor through whose territory transit the pipelines that serve to distribute and export the crude oil once it has been extracted; and the two governments of Juba and Khartoum often argue over tariffs for the use of oil pipelines (a bit like what happened for a long time between Russia and Ukraine). Furthermore, because the civil war that has raged since 2013 (it broke out just two years after independence) discourages those foreign investments necessary to develop the extraction and processing of oil: so much so that today the production of South Sudan is just a tenth of that of Nigeria, first producer of energy in Africa.

Oil is also one of the fuels that fuels the rivalry between the country’s two largest ethnic groups: the Dinka who represent 36% of the population, led by President Salva Kiir, and the Nuer who are 16% and whose leader is Riek Machar. All Christians but fiercely opposed to each other, and determined to grab the oil revenues. The crude fuels a frightening corruption and Juba a city of strident contrasts, where the envoys following the pope have found five-star hotels, very expensive prices, casinos overlooking the Nile where wealthy Chinese customers flock. The NGO Transparency International last year ranked South Sudan as first overall in the list of the most corrupt countries on the planet; this year it slipped to second place only because Somalia overtook it. Some South Sudanese with oil get very rich; the vast majority cut off from the loot of the robbery.

Western disaffection for noble causes has struck again. Disappointed by the appalling thefts by the rulers of Juba, the Biden administration continues to pour a billion dollars in aid to South Sudan and remains its main donor, but has blocked non-essential aid for humanitarian purposes provided by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. George Clooney went from a supporter of independence to a scourge of the corruption of local politicians. The pope himself who supports Sant’Egidio’s efforts for peace, during his stop in Juba had very harsh words against thieving politicians. But Western attention is ephemeral and subtle also because it is difficult to apply the usual theorem according to which it is all our fault to this tragedy. In reality, if the rival ethnic groups in South Sudan stopped fighting to get their hands on the oil revenue, a peace could attract multinational companies, increase the productivity of the energy industry, and create that new wealth which today is cruelly lacking in the 12-year budget. of independence.

February 6, 2023 (change February 6, 2023 | 18:36)

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