Building a New Nation and New Energy in South Sudan

South Sudan depends largely on imports of goods, services, and capital from the north. Despite these disadvantages, South Sudan does have abundant natural resources. South Sudan produces nearly three-fourths of the former Sudan’s total oil output of nearly a half million barrels per day. The government of South Sudan derives nearly 98% of its budget revenues from oil. Oil is exported through two pipelines that run to refineries and shipping facilities at Port Sudan on the Red Sea, and the 2005 oil sharing agreement with Khartoum called for a 50-50 sharing of oil revenues between the two entities. That deal expired on 9 July 2011, however, when South Sudan became an independent country. The economy of South Sudan undoubtedly will remain linked to Sudan for some time, given the long lead time and great expense required to build another pipeline. South Sudan also holds one of the richest agricultural areas in Africa in the White Nile valley, which has very fertile soils and more-than-adequate water supplies. Currently the region supports 10–20 million head of cattle. The White Nile has sufficient flow to generate large quantities of hydroelectricity. South Sudan does not have large external debt or structural trade deficits. South Sudan has received more than $4 billion in foreign aid since 2005, largely from the UK, U.S., Norway, and Netherlands, but Khartoum has imposed blockades on goods and capital going to South Sudan.

South Sudan is a landlocked country in eastern Africa with plains in the north and center and highlands in the south, along the border with Uganda and Kenya. The White Nile, a tributary of the Nile, flows north through the country. It’s the major geographic feature of the country and supports agriculture and large wild animal populations. South Sudan is bordered by Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda.

The Egyptians conquered Sudan in 1874 and established the province of Equatoria. Islamic Mahdist revolutionaries entered the territory in 1885, but British troops defeated the invaders and took over Sudan in 1898. (Britain had occupied Egypt since 1882.) Britain and Egypt ruled the country in conjunction as Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. In the early 20th century, Christian missionaries converted a large segment of the population and introduced English to the region. The result was a clearly defined line between the Arab north and the black African animists and Christians in the south.

Egypt and Britain ruled Sudan until 1953, when Anglo-Egyptian Sudan was granted Sudan self-government. In 1955, army officers in the south mutinied, sparking a civil war between the north and south. Southerners accused the government, based in the north, of trying to force Islamic and Arab culture on the south. In addition, the south said the government reneged on promises to grant the south more autonomy through a federal system of government. Independence was proclaimed on Jan. 1, 1956, and the civil war dragged on until the 1972 signing of the Addis Ababa Agreement. About 500,000 people died in the war. Under the accord, the Southern Sudan Autonomous Region was formed.

War broke out again in 1983 when President Gaafar Mohamed Nimeiri abrogated the treaty and declared all of Sudan a Muslim state, ruled by shariah, or Islamic law. In response, southern rebels formed the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and fought the government for more than two decades. Government troops unleashed vicious massacres against civilians and entire villages. The government also provoked internecine violence between tribes and ethnic groups. A cease-fire was declared between the Sudanese government and the SPLA in July 2002. During peace talks, the government agreed to a power-sharing government for six years, to be followed by a referendum on self-determination for the south. Fighting on both sides continued throughout the peace negotiations.

The decades-long civil war with the north ended in 2005, and the World Bank has had an office there since just after that.

I spent several days there two weeks ago, pre-independence, but very much in a moment of great excitement about what the nation the size of the Iberian peninsula with a population of 8 to 9 million could accomplish.

South Sudan will begin life as both a tremendously poor and under-served nation in terms of the services for its people, and a fantastically rich one in terms of resources and potential. The country has less than 100 kilometers (62 miles) of paved road. At present, conflict with the north’s Khartoum-based government continues over the key oil, gas, and mining provinces of the border region, where much of the international press is focused, as well as great deal of investment interest.

My focus was in the other direction, south of the sprawling capital of Juba, along the dramatic White Nile. I traveled with fantastic logistical support from the World Bank Juba office, from the Wildlife Conservation Society’s South Sudan conservation team, and from the director of the Nimule National Park.

Nimule is a remarkable site, with the White Nile variously raging and idling through as it expands and contracts from a wide flood plain to a series of raging rapids. Nimule is also home to a large elephant population, largely spared during the conflict. Nimule was also the sole beachhead of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, when the north and south engaged in bitter trench warfare on the very edge of the park.

Traveling by small plane, land rover, and foot with the Wildlife Conservation society’s South Sudan team and its dynamic director Paul Elkan, we visited the series of White Nile rapids on the edge of the park. WCS is engaged in regional biodiversity conservation, eco-tourism development, and nation-building for South Sudan, and has been a partner in the region for a number of projects and programs. I have never seen such a roar of water (see the embedded video, above) where boils and cauldrons flow violently upstream due to huge volume and the narrow channel the Fula Rapids occupy. Photos of the rapids and park illustrate this blog.
The Fula Rapids in South Sudan seen from the air. Photograph courtesy of Daniel Kammen.

The Fula Rapids in South Sudan seen from the air. Photograph courtesy of Daniel Kammen.

The site raised a number of fundamental development opportunities and challenges for a nation that now has less than 200 megawatts of electric power generation. First, how can ecologically sustainable run-of-the-river hydro and eco-development be designed and implemented in such a removed and underdeveloped region? By some estimates, the Fula rapids could yield 60 megawatts of electric capacity. Meanwhile, there are several 700 to 800 megawatt projects large dam projects envisioned for the White Nile. Can efforts to build energy infrastructure and conservation dovetail with the needs to build regional power grids, and at a higher level, a regional power pool? How would smaller-scale run-of-the-river hydro compare to large dams, which will be always be on the agenda for a river and region as underdeveloped as the White Nile?

These sorts of sustainable energy developments hold great promise to support nation-building in a region that very much is ready for this push.

Daniel Kammen’s posts appear here and on the Development in a Changing Climate blog at the World Bank, where he is chief technical specialist for renewable energy and energy efficiency. He is an adviser to National Geographic’s Great Energy Challenge initiative.