Rich in oil, poor in infrastructure: South Sudan’s unending tale

By Ruot George

The land cruiser truck nosedives into the muddy along the stretch from Mayom to Bentiu, the capital of South Sudan’s Unity State, rearing up its gears to the limit to pass through the stretch.

The 96-kilometer road is just one of the many poor infrastructures across the oil rich country, which gets millions of dollars from its crude oil proceeds and yet cannot reflect it on development.

Most oil producing areas are entitled to 3 percent of proceeds for community development and 2 percent for state governments’ development.

“It’s a tale that has been rife in South Sudan where community resources are exploited to enrich a few,” a government official who preferred anonymity told Juba Echo by phone in Juba.

“Infrastructure development will continue to remain a farfetched idea so long as leaders in Juba continue to use the oil money to buy their seats in power,” the official said.

South Sudan currently produces 156,000 barrels of crude daily and Unity State may provide as much as one-third of overall output. Proceeds would mean the area would get a fair percentage of the proceeds to develop roads, schools, hospitals and provide clean water.

The communities have however remained impoverished while the resource continues to be exploited.

Vehicles traveling on the road leading from Mayom to Bentiu in Unity State

Corruption among the elites, which have gone on without reproach have been blamed for the complete lack of development.

Service delivery is much wanting with most provisions undertaken by Nongovernmental organizations while the government claims it has no funds and is focused on ending a crisis in the country.

The crisis, which began in late December 2013 left 400,000 people dead, displaced four million others and reduced crude oil production, leading to economic chaos.

Unity State was one of the epicenters of the crisis which ended in 2018.

Its oil was a target, leading to closure of production.

Now as production returns, communities are also demanding development in the area.

According to a civil society group, the Unity State Activists Network, use of the 5 percent share has been shrouded in corruption with total lack of transparency and a high degree of impunity.

“People of Unity State are deprived of their wealth, exploited, abused and subjected to slavery,” Thor Youanes, the Secretary General of the group, said in a statement on August 27.

USAN is demanding the authorities in Unity State to ensure the proceeds reach the intended people.

“Ten years down the line after independence, mismanagement of oil shares retarded development and affected the common population” and left the oil producing areas very poor and unhealthy.

Roads in the oil producing areas are some of the worst globally.

It has only 195 kilometers of paved roads leading from the capital Juba to Nimule on the border of Uganda to the South.

In 2018, South Sudan President, Salva Kiir Mayardit developed a barter system on the crude oil to ensure more roads are constructed, offering 30,000 barrels daily to go towards the roadworks

Currently a 400 kilometer stretch from Juba to Rumbek, the capital of Lakes State is under construction.

Other roads in the plan include that linking the capital to Nadapal on the Kenyan border and from Juba to the Bahr el Ghazal region.

But in the current poor state of the infrastructures, South Sudan is prone to flooding and when the peaks of the rains are on, vehicles simply swim on the roads.

Currently Bentiu is cut off from other regions including Guit, Koch, Mayendit and Leer.

 “This road is just not a road,” a driver who also preferred to remain anonymous said of the Mayom to Bentiu stretch.

“Just driving on it is very risky to the vehicles and costly to everyone,” he told Juba Echo.

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