Geography Compass

South Sudan: A New Nation with Old Problems

By Paulette Cully

Flag of South Sudan by User:Achim1999 ( [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsThe world’s newest nation, South Sudan, celebrated its first birthday this year. However, the country remains one of the poorest in the world having few tarred roads and a poor water and electricity infrastructure. Statistically, a South Sudanese woman has more chance of dying during childbirth than completing her secondary school education.

Separated from its old adversary Sudan on July 9th 2011, old feelings of distrust between the two countries still remain and fighting erupted along their border earlier this year, when South Sudan’s army briefly occupied the Heglig oilfield, which is vital to Sudan’s economy. When South Sudan, which is landlocked, separated from Sudan, it took three-quarters of the region’s oil production, although the pipelines to export the oil are mainly in Sudan. The two countries came to an agreement last month to establish a demilitarised zone along their border and restart oil exports from South Sudan after the pipeline was shut down in a dispute with Sudan over transit fees. The shutdown put the economy of South Sudan under pressure as it depends on oil production for around 98% of its income. To resolve further conflict, South Sudan is considering building two alternative pipelines, one to a Kenyan port and another through Ethiopia and Djibouti. But where will the finance for the project come from? The answer is, China.

China, which has major oil interests in both South Sudan and Sudan, has offered South Sudan $8 billion for development projects over the next two years with the projects being conducted by Chinese companies. China is already the biggest investor in oilfields in South Sudan, through the state-owned Chinese oil companies China National Petroleum Corp and Sinopec.

To gain a greater understanding of the complexity of interactions between China and Africa it is recommended to read Emma Maudsley’s (2007) article in Geography Compass. She reviews Sino–African relations from 1949-2007 describing how China has over the last few years (fuelled by its astonishing economic growth) tirelessly pursued stronger economic and diplomatic relations with many Asian, African and Latin American countries. Emma also describes how “China’s rise will lead to changes in the present structures and loci of power in an uneven world”.

China offers South Sudan $8 bn in development funds over next two years, Firstpost, 29th April 2012

South Sudan marks first anniversary of  independenceThe Telegraph, 9th July 2012

Emma Mawdsley, China and Africa: Emerging Challenges to the Geographies of Power, Geography Compass 405-421

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