Global Policy Forum

Love Thy Neighbor


By Charles Wachira

Inter Press Service
November 18, 2008

Fears the North-South peace could break down over sharing oil revenues have led both sides to re-arm. Credit: Timothy Mckulka/UNMIS Khartoum has long maintained a studious silence over its suspicions that the Kenyan government was assisting the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), which governs the semi-autonomous south of Sudan to replenish its armament.

But when pirates hijacked a Ukrainian cargo vessel loaded with arms off the coast of Somalia at the end of September, the National Congress Party (NCP) seized the opportunity to apply the screws. A memorandum of understanding guaranteeing Kenya a monthly minimum of 500,000 barrels of cheap crude oil, signed between the two governments in late September 2008, became the first casualty, despite official claims by the Kenyan government that the controversial cargo belonged to "the Kenyan people." Myriad reports from independent sources -- most notably the East African Seafarers Association and the U.S. Government -- suggest President Kibaki's Government of National Unity (GNU) has been economical with the truth. If the final destination of the arms in the hijacked Ukrainian cargo vessel is hard to determine, military experts say there is evidence of at least two other recent deliveries of tanks and other hardware to South Sudan. In January 2008, the privately-owned Kenya Television Network and the Daily Nation newspaper reported a train-load of tanks heading from Mombasa, Kenya's main port, to Sudan. "It is absolutely clear that both sides are recruiting and re-arming. This is undisputed," said Robert Muggah, Research Director from the Geneva-based, Small Arms Survey, an international organization that monitors proliferation of small arms, reported The Juba Post, South Sudan's independent newspaper late this September. "South Sudan is not really interested in fighting the Khartoum Government but it's rearming to safe-guard itself from possible attack by the Khartoum Government."

While there are no global embargoes to prevent either North or South Sudan from re-equipping their armies, the U.N. imposed an arms embargo on Sudan's western Darfur region in 2005 in response to the genocide taking place there. "Khartoum has been building up its arms quite a lot recently. It has been buying its equipment from Ukraine. It has been buying lots of Russian-originated arms," says Gill Lusk, from the London-based Africa Confidential newsletter. "It has been buying planes in the last couple of years." She also points to two military cooperation deals that Khartoum has signed with Iran.

Aided by the boom in revenue since oil exports began in August 1999, Khartoum has invested heavily in new hardware, helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. Sudan has also expanded its domestic arms manufacturing; the Military Industry Corporation (MIC) located in Khartoum, which produces tanks, armored vehicles, including heavy and light guns. On its part, the Parliament of South Sudan has approved an additional 950 million dollars to beef up the initial $1.7 billion budget earlier okayed for the 2008 calendar year, mainly to cover over-spending by the army, explained Finance Minister Kuol Athian.

South Sudan is permitted to buy arms under the terms of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement which brought a 21-year civil war to a close, but only with the approval of a North-South Joint Defence Board. Kenya, as part of the regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, chaperoned the two sides of Sudan's North-South conflict into signing the CPA. According to the CPA, South Sudan was granted semi-autonomous status, awaiting a referendum on full independence in 2011. The agreement also specified that oil revenue be shared equally between North and South and established a national unity government, but disputes over oil revenue led to the Sudan People's Liberation Movement withdrew its ministers from government.

Sudan's two largest oil fields are located in the land-locked South, but the refineries and pipelines are all located in the north. It is widely feared that Khartoum could attack the South should it choose to break away in 2011, a view given some credence by the clashes over the oil-rich enclave of Abyei earlier this year. The demarcation of boundaries in this area is a sensitive and economically important issue. In this context, the issue of arms is a delicate point.

When cabinet ministers make innocuous statements they often reveal the official line of Government policy. That is why mandarins from the Kenya government must have been excited when in July 2006 the South Sudan's Minister of Information, Samson Kwame, speaking at the signing of a cooperation agreement between the two neighbours, said his mineral-rich country would treat Kenya as first amongst equals in matters cultural, technical and economic. Kenya, said Kwame, "should be in the forefront in reaping the benefits that come with change..." Taking cue, the country's largest bank, Kenya Commercial Bank has to date opened two branches, one in Juba -- the seat of Government of South Sudan -- and another at the administrative capital, Rumbek.

Kenyan companies are heavily involved in putting up infrastructure, particularly roads and power plants. Land-locked South Sudan depends on Kenya's seaports and airports for imports and Kenyan firms are key to supplying everything from from basic household commodities to providing professionals. But the relationship between Kenya and South Sudan has witnessed a few mis-steps: last year for example, South Sudan revoked contracts it had signed with Kenyan firms to supply cement and medical supplies. The Government Of South Sudan (GOSS) also backpedaled on an agreement that would have seen the Kenya Government provide nearly 2,000 teachers, citing corruption in the local Ministry of Trade and Industry. But despite the occasional tiff, relationship between the two governments remains cordial.

Dr. Mustapha Mohammed, of the Diplomatic School, University of Nairobi argues that Khartoum's intermittent relations with radical Islamic groups including known individual terrorists are another reason Kenya tends to box in South Sudan's corner. "In the early 1990s, Khartoum gave sanctuary to Osama Bin Laden, leader of the notorious Al-Qaeda terrorist group... And In 1998, al-Qaeda operatives thought to be based in Sudan were allegedly involved in the bombings of the U.S embassy in Nairobi. And members of the hard-line Abu Nidal faction that had split with the then Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), including, Iranian Revolutionary Guards have in the past been housed by the Khartoum theocracy. "These happenings have certainly estranged the government of Kenya with Khartoum, which could explain why the government here would surreptitiously go ahead to replenish the South with armaments despite the caveat under the CPS accords," says Mohammed.

Dr. Henry Nyaguti of the Institute of Policy Analysis and Economic Affairs (IPAEA), an independent Nairobi-based think tank,says Kenya will benefit by placing its bets with Juba instead of Khartoum. "If South Sudan decides to secede from the greater Sudan, Kenya as the biggest economy in the region stands to gain since the local manufacturing companies will find a mostly unexploited country. In return, South Sudan could reciprocate by providing crude oil under a subsidised price arrangement. And even if the status quo is retained after the referendum, Kenya still stands to reap a whirlwind of advantages."

More Information on the UN Security Council
More Information on Sudan/Darfur


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