By Pascal Fletcher -
SOUTH Sudan’s President Salva Kiir (pictured), who spent much of his life as a commander fighting in one of Africa’s longest and deadliest civil wars, says it will take another lifetime to make his newborn country prosperous, secure and self-sufficient.
For now it is locked in fighting with Sudan, the worst violence since South Sudan became independent under a 2005 peace agreement with Khartoum.
“Building a nation will take our lifetimes,” the fighter turned president told leaders of his ruling Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM) last month, listing huge challenges in infrastructure, education and healthcare.
While other members of the southern elite boast academic credentials obtained in the West, Kiir is seen as a no-nonsense army man, most comfortable in the field. He joined the south’s first battle (1955-1972) at 17 and later became a major in the Sudanese intelligence services.
In a tough speech to parliament interrupted by clapping, Kiir asked his people in April to prepare for war after his troops made a surprise grab of the disputed Heglig oilfield.
He admonished UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon for asking him to leave Heglig, which is key to Sudan’s economy. “I told him you don’t need to order me because I am not under your command,” Kiir said.
Bowing to demands from the UN Security Council, South Sudan said on Sunday it had withdrawn its troops from the contested Heglig oil region, raising hopes the neighbours had pulled back from the brink of all-out war.
While promising to work for national unity and reconciliation, Kiir warned South Sudanese in his March 26 speech that “the biggest challenge to achieving this vision is our relationship with the government of Sudan”.
Following South Sudan’s birth as Africa’s newest state in July 2011 after a landslide southern referendum endorsing this move, Kiir’s SPLM government has quickly become embroiled this year in disputes with Khartoum over ill-defined border lines, and especially over the economic lifeblood of both states — oil.
Independence gave South Sudan three-quarters of the oil output held by Sudan. But Juba has rejected Khartoum’s insistence, reinforced by confiscation of southern cargoes, that it pay a certain level of transit fees to send its oil through Sudan’s northern pipelines and Red Sea port.