Home | Comment & Analysis    Tuesday 22 January 2013

Funny Guest


By Steven Wöndu

January 22, 2013 - This is in response to Dr Spencer Kenyi’s long critique of the proposition by an American Senator that our crude oil could be transported by trucks to Djibouti. I am inclined to think that the Honorable Texan was joking. In our current gloomy mood, we need some comedy. Unfortunately our guest did not choose his joke well. You do not jokingly tell a starving man that the stones are about to turn into bread. It is not amusing to report to a sick person the ‘good news’ that the prices of coffins have dropped.

Brother, let not your heart be troubled. Even if our good guest was not joking, do not be dismayed by such an impossible proposition. When I was a child, I cried and threw myself down when my sister told me that the tamarind seed I had swallowed was going to germinate in my stomach and grow on my head. If I had known that it was a scientific impossibility, I would have laughed at my sister. The Senator is suggesting that we drive one thousand heavily laden tanker trucks from Bentiu daily though the swamps to the Ethiopian highlands. This requires a fleet of at least 30,000 trucks to sustain a monthly cycle. Can’t you see this must be a joke? What happened to your sense of humour? You know very well that even if our good American and Japanese donors built for us another road and another bridge, there are numerous other impossibilities. Let me rephrase what you have correctly pointed out:

• Malakal is 1,291 feet above sea level. Addis Ababa is 7,761 feet above sea level. Our trucks or pipeline would be facing an uphill task, literally.
• Average temperature in Malakal is between 20 and 40 degrees Centigrade. That of Addis Ababa is between 10 and 20 degrees Centigrade. Our minimum is their maximum. We would have to contend with frozen crude on transit.
• There is no border crossing into Ethiopia, or Djibouti, or Uganda or Kenya with the capacity to process one thousand trucks daily even if there was no other business for the customs and immigration officials to do.
• No country in this region, no matter how friendly, can allow another to feed 1,000 heavy trucks into their road daily. We have not been able to build a road in our own country and are forbidden from doing so in someone else’s territory.
• We do not own any sea port under the sun. The port is the main asset Djibouti has. They cannot surrender it to us? There we cannot use the weapon “we liberated you”.

Dr Kenyi, you think the Senator was serious but that his proposition is impossible. Some people, who also took the Senator seriously, are warming to the idea so they think the proposition is possible. Invite the proponent and supporters of this idea to conduct an experiment; load crude onto a truck in Bentiu and drive it to Djibouti tomorrow. The outcome would settle the arguments about time, topology, gradient, temperature and viscosity. That would leave them with the ‘smaller’ matters of procuring tens of thousands of trucks, border processes, sovereignty and port ownership.

Many people share your observation that we have been mesmerized and inebriated by the glut of oil dollars and political victory. Consequently we have illusions and delusions about what we are and what we can do. To us nothing is beyond our means and capacity anymore. We think that we deserve preferential treatment by the world. We award ourselves rights to almost everything even in other peoples’ lands, cities and homes. The common talk is that graft or ‘rent seeking’ as you call it, has superseded patriotism and the national interest. Nevertheless, do not drive yourself crazy over this proposition. We need you and your brain. Impossible plans cannot be forced to become possible by mere passion for the proposition. They may be attempted at a terrible cost to society but in the end reality will always prevail.

The ‘Dutch Disease’ of our oil boom will not be similar to what happened in Holland and this is why. Holland had a real economy; agriculture and manufacturing, before the oil. The rise in the exchange rate of the local currency (guilder) made Dutch products uncompetitive in the world market. Industry collapsed, unemployment ensured and the population had to survive on State welfare transfer payments. The redundant youth took to substance abuse and other vices. In South Sudan the real economy does not exist in the context of international trade. The oil revenue is ‘eaten’ by a few. In a best case scenario, the privileged elite will partner with foreign investors to create enterprises in the primary, processing and service sectors. A few individuals related to the investors will be employed. The rest will have to create an informal real economy as the only means of subsistence. They will continue cracking granite with their bare hands, catching fish, cutting bamboos, tilling the land, burning charcoal, hewing water etc. Hopefully this can eventually develop into a parallel sector. It is this dualism of the formal and informal sectors that eventually converged and caused the emergence of a competitive manufacturing sector in Kenya.

When oil wealth is not invested in the domestic economy and the none-oil sector fails to support livelihoods, in the long run the depraved masses lose their temper and vent it on those they perceive have stolen their wealth. It is therefore in the personal interest of the political elite to invest sufficiently in the real economy to avert a disaster. In this scenario, everyone loses, including those who ‘saved’ their loot in foreign banks. Call it the Mobutu phenomenon.

As for graft my friends, do worry but do not kill yourselves. South Sudan will not be swallowed by the greedy humans. On the contrary, South Sudan is the animal that swallows people.

The author is South Sudan’s General Auditor.

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  • 22 January 2013 15:15, by Mapuor

    Dear Dr Stephen Wundu
    Hhahahahah alternatives are there,using trucks may not be practical on a large scale but can still work when transporting hundreds of drums daily.Building three refineries along the river Nile is a good alternative,one in Adok another in Shambe and the last one in Kondokoro near Juba.

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    • 22 January 2013 20:27, by zulu

      I agree with you. Sudan had started using trucks when it had no pipeline in place. Many countries have done that as well. But, we have wasted one full year hoping for resuming oil through an enemy that has unless negotiations with outcomes so certain for our failure.

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    • 23 January 2013 08:44, by Nyachebe

      Steve Wondu didn’t get it right this time
      You are always correct to analyze events, but somewhere in this article you are wrong not only in bullet points mentioned but miserably failed to solution to how the crude be evacuated or what else alternative people of South Sudan can use to ensure their crude reach the market. In other words, if the color is white prove it rather than intuitive.

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      • 23 January 2013 08:45, by Nyachebe

        Let me disapprove your points:
        • Even though temperature vary from South Sudan to Ethiopia the gap is not a big deal here since both countries’ temperatures are above freezing point (0 Celsius), in which viscosity is not affected much….
        • Uphill is something manageable since trucks are not pull by pulleys, but driving engines with capacity driving uphill, so let not be discouraged

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        • 23 January 2013 08:46, by Nyachebe

          • For your information we are not going to use Djibouti port, there is a portion in that Djibouti coastal region Ethiopia bought 4 years ago, and this is the dock we going to use per MOU
          • Having 1,000 trucks on Ethiopia roads is not a big deal here; this is why you are there to negotiate with good brain. In other words, human disagree to agree
          What our government should utilize during the

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          • 23 January 2013 08:47, by Nyachebe

            visiting of the USA delegate was how USA could assist in providing trucks if they really concern with this project to happen. Also, we should ask USA for some cash to speed up the training of drivers to haul these trucks to market. Otherwise you are smart and respect your opinions but not this one.
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  • 22 January 2013 16:58, by Positive Thinker

    Steve your analysis is correct, however, please propose alternative to our prediccament. I think building refineries can do, but still other means could be explored.

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    • 22 January 2013 19:21, by Deng Ateny Lueth

      Steven Wondu is heavely and heavenly right in this regard. let not believe in something mockory in nature. the senator was testing your minds to see how best he can easily carry you away with liars. He saw desparation in your leaders to suggest trucking oil on road. it wouldn’t be a topic in schedule for debate, whatsoever, only declaring war of change and strike oil deal with North is posible.

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  • 22 January 2013 18:55, by Tribe

    Mr.Wondu,don’t just throw way any idea S-Sudanese and thier friends are exploring to somehow brings its oil to the market.If this idea doesn’t turn out to be feasible as you describe it than we will be happy that we’ve nother tarmaced road that can boost our national economy as Juba-Nimule road did.This gov’ has not sense of urgency of anything and whatever it takes to bring that is much welcome.

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    forget about what american said and start right now your pipe to your twelve state i means kenya
    being locked land country very hard and means to depend on other and has no political well ( khomoo wa soroo )

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