South Sudan: Riek Machar's End-Game - What Is It?

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Understanding this point full well, Riek and his lieutenants have floated the idea of sequestering oil revenues so that they do not reach Juba; in turn, Khartoum would presumably enjoy the same revenues as before under such an arrangement, and would thus make the regime an ally of Riek and his forces, either de facto or by formal agreement. As Riek himself declared in an interview with Sudan Tribune (London, December 23, 2013):

South Sudan's former vice-president, Riek Machar, says forces under his command will divert oil revenues accrued from the country's oil wells, days after his troops seized control of much of the new nation's oilfields. In an exclusive interview with Sudan Tribune on Monday, Machar revealed a plan to halt oil revenue remittances to Juba. He said no money would go to the government in Juba, explaining that his group plans to divert oil revenues and deal directly with Sudan in implementing the September 2012 cooperation agreements, as they are in control of the concerned states.

In understanding why Khartoum might agree to such a dangerous arrangement we must remember just how desperate the economic situation is in (northern) Sudan, which now rightly fears for its very survival. With inflation poised to skyrocket even further (the real, as opposed to "official," rate is already well above 50 percent), high unemployment and under-employment, a national currency in free-fall, conspicuous and widespread corruption, and too many sons coming back in body bags, the angry demonstrations of September and October could reappear at any time, as economic hardships only grow. A "solution"--one that might well appeal to those elements in the regime that continue to think the CPA gave away too much to the South--would be a military intervention on Riek's behalf in Unity State. The point would be to seize the most productive oil regions in northern Unity, in a military alliance with Riek's forces, and subsequently make a deal on governance and revenue-sharing.

Riek will certainly feel free to make a better offer than Khartoum now receives from Juba. His forces are probably strongest in Unity, where his own Nuer people are the largest ethnic group. But Machar clearly includes Upper Nile (as well as Jonglei) in his plans. And what are the assurances that this revenue will not simply be appropriated by Riek in his return to the existence of a pampered, excessively remunerated warlord? "'We will establish an extra account to which the oil revenues will be remitted for the economic interest of the people of South Sudan'" (Sudan Tribune, December 23). This is simply preposterous.

In assessing what Khartoum makes of this overture--and it may be this deliberation that prevents Riek from committing to a ceasefire--it is important to realize that the most militaristic and "anti-South" elements predominate in the regime, especially on decisions about war and peace (it was this security cabal that demanded President Omar al-Bashir renege on the agreement of June 2011 to negotiate a peace in South Kordofan, an agreement signed by senior regime official Nafie Ali Nafie). Regard for international opinion among these brutal men is minimal.

So even as we may be sure that the international community will vehemently condemn the regime if it should make an arrangement with Riek in order to secure continued oil revenues (under cover of providing "regional protection"), this is not likely to make much difference. The regime has endured decades of opprobrium without appropriate consequences for its war-making and massive atrocity crimes. These génocidaires believe there is nothing to worry about so long as they retain a monopoly on national wealth and power, both of which are threatened by an economic collapse whose scale they seem not fully to comprehend.

Perhaps Riek's confidence that an agreement with Khartoum could somehow be fashioned is wholly factitious. But such a scheme does represent a way that Riek might survive long enough to watch as fighting continues in South Sudan, weakening the country sufficiently that his political and military equities become adequate to make him a "peace broker," thereby ensuring himself a central role in any new government replacing that of Salva Kiir.

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