Washington, Asharq Al-Awsat- In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat in Washington, Dr. Lual Achuil Deng, the new Sudanese Minister of Petroleum, and the first Southerner to be appointed in this position, after years of disputes between Northern and Southern Sudanese over the production of oil wells that are mostly in the South, said he has started “an era of transparency.”
He added: “We will put everything on the Internet, for the Southerners, the Northerners, and the rest of the world to verify. We will put up daily production figures and daily revenue figures.”
Describing himself as a “long-standing unionist,” he acknowledged that the amount of time left before the scheduled referendum in the South, in January 2011, might not be enough to convince Southerners not to vote for Southern secession. But, he stressed: “I am an optimistic person.”
Deng (61 years old), was born in Bor, in Jonglei State in Southern Sudan. He holds two degrees from American universities: an M.A. in Economics from the University of Iowa, and PhD in Economics from University of Wisconsin. In Iowa, his colleague and close friend was John Garang, who studied there and obtained a PhD in Economics. Later, Garang established and led Sudan’s People Liberation Movement (SPLM), Sudan’s Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA), and fought in the struggle that culminated in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended half a century of civil war between Southern rebels and the Sudanese army.
Deng, after completing his PhD, joined the World Bank, then the African Development Bank, and later rejoined his friend Garang as an economic consultant, and participated in the talks that culminated in the CPA. When the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS) was established, in accordance with the CPA, Deng became Minister of Finance in Juba. Later, he moved to Khartoum to join the Government of National Unity (GONU) as State Minister of Finance.
After the national elections in April 2010, and the reshuffling of the National Government, Deng was appointed Minister of Petroleum, the first Southerner to take the post.
Last week, he visited the US, for the first time in his new position.
Q: What is the purpose of your visit to the US and what were the results of your discussions with American officials?
A: I am visiting the US as a private person. I did not meet with any American officials.
Q: Do you believe that the US officials support the continuation of Sudan as a united country, or prefer that the Southerners vote for separation?
A: I haven’t participated in any discussion with American officials on this subject. Of course, the US has repeatedly declared its support for the full implementation of the CPA, including the scheduled referendum in January; and also its strong desire that the Southerners vote freely and fairly for either unity or separation. I understand this position and strongly support it. But during private talks, it seemed that the Americans would prefer the continuation of a united Sudan. I believe that is the case because, according to their interpretation of American national security and strategic interests, a separate South would not be a viable state. It would face many internal problems; and would endanger the unity and stability of neighboring countries; in the overall region of the Horn of Africa, to the east of Sudan, and the region of Equatorial Africa, to the south of Sudan.
Q: Do you think General Scott Grasion, President Obama’s special envoy to Sudan, supports Sudan’s unity or the secession of the South?
A: As I said, I didn’t have any official discussions with any American official on this subject, but my [previous] private talks with General Grasion led me to believe that he was in favour of unity.
Q: How about President Obama?
A: I have never met him. But, I believe he also prefers a united Sudan. If for no other reason, because instability in the South, the North, and in the wider region, would not serve US interests. Now, you work and live in Washington, and you know the complications surrounding US foreign policy. As for the US policy towards Sudan, you know there are different lobbying groups that, at least during the last few years, have played important roles. I don’t want to name names, but you know the organizations and the lobbying forces that prefer Southern Sudan’s separation. You and I know this is how US foreign and domestic policies are formulated. I would say: let us make use of the freedom of the American system and present our views as strongly as we can.
Q: You are a leader in the SPLM; do you support the separation of the South or a united Sudan?
A: I am indebted to John Garang, my colleague, friend, boss and teacher. I was initially in favour of separation, but he convinced me that it is in Southern, let alone Northern, interests to keep Sudan united. Garang used to say: “Look at the Americans. They fought each other and their country was almost divided into two or more [countries] during the 19th Century. But, they succeeded in ending the Civil War, and agreed to peacefully solve their problems and maintain a united country. Now, the Americans are a shining example for the whole world in terms of plurality, and racial and religious tolerance.”
I also support Sudan’s unity because I have been a strong believer in Pan-Africanism, as pioneered by Kwami Nkruma, Ghana’s first president, and in Negritude, as pioneered by Leopold Senghor, Senegal’s first president. Therefore, wouldn’t it be logical that I also support the unity of Sudan?
Q: What do you say to your fellow Southern Sudanese who support the separation of the South?
A: What I just told you. On one side for me, it is a matter of principle, that unity has more advantages than separation. In other words, one hand can’t clap, but two can.
On the other side, there are tangible advantages as far as the Southerners are concerned. Take my example. I used to be a member of the Southern government, and am now a member of the National government. Not many Northern Sudanese have this advantage. Right now, the Southerners rule themselves and share in ruling the North at the same time. What else do we, the Southerners, want?
Q: What do you say to the many Southern Sudanese in the US who clearly support the separation of the South?
A: First, I believe those who live in the US, this free, democratic and highly developed country should learn a lesson or two and try to apply some of the American achievements in Sudan.
Secondly, we all might complain about the conditions in Sudan, but we know that once we leave Sudan and live in foreign countries, we tend to miss our native country, and tend to appreciate it despite all its problems.
Thirdly, as I said, I was in favour of separation, but became older and wiser and changed my mind. I hope this young generation of Southerners in the US will grow up and become wise. In the meantime, I would say to them: “Don’t sit here and make judgments about the far away Sudan. Don’t talk about the possibility of the renewal of war if you are not ready to go there and fight. Don’t enjoy the air-conditioning here and think you can express the feelings of your brothers and sisters in the forests.”
Q: Some Southerners severely criticize, and complain about, the policies of the National Congress Party (NCP, led by President al-Bashir and the ruling party of Sudan); and say that its Islamic Civilization Project (ICP) is the reason they support separation?
A: I don’t want to defend al-Bashir and the ICP because they are able to defend themselves. But I want to defend the Sudan, its unity, heritage, hopes and aspirations. The Sudan, throughout centuries, has seen rulers come and go, and projects appearing and disappearing.
Q: Some of your Southern colleagues say you have abandoned “Sudan Jadeed” (New Sudan) slogan that was pioneered by John Garang?
A: John Garang raised the “Sudan Jadeed” slogan. Also, he raised “Sudan Wahid” (One Sudan) slogan.
Also, how can the Southerners establish a new Sudan, if they want to leave Sudan itself?
Furthermore, I strongly believe that the new Sudan is simply the old Sudan. I believe that Kush civilization (before Islam and Arabism) was a pure African civilization. I will tell you a story: recently, my daughter, who was born in the US and is a US citizen, visited Merowe in northern Sudan and saw the pyramids that were built by early Sudanese civilizations. She came back and told me that I was right in opposing Southern separation, and in saying the new Sudan is indeed the old Sudan.
So, if the North is indeed the South [i.e. a united Sudan], why would the Southerners want to leave it to the Northerners [laughs]?
Q: There is a leader in the SPLM who is clearly against Southern separation, Pagan Amum, SPLM Secretary General. Yet in an interview with “Asharq Alawsat’ two months ago, he said the SPLM shouldn’t declare whether it supported unity or separation, and should let the Southerners decide for themselves?
A: First of all, Amum, sometimes, says things that reflect only his personal views. Secondly, why are we leaders if we do not want to lead? Thirdly, Silva Kiir, Vice President of Sudan, President of the GOSS and of SPLM, has said many times that he supports a united Sudan.
Q: Some Southerners accuse President al-Bashir’s government of cheating the South out of oil revenues, since most of the oil wells are in the South.
A: On my first day as Minister of Petroleum, I declared my policy of transparency in Sudan’s oil sector, and promised that I would start publishing figures regarding the daily oil output on the Minsitry’s website, on the Internet.
I strongly believe that it is this lack of transparency, or the perceived lack of transparency, that has fuelled mistrust between partners. We want to enhance trust between the North and South.
Q: Some Southerners say it is not enough that you declare transparency. You should compensate the South for the al-Bashir government’s deception since the CPA in 2005.
A: Like I said, I will publish daily production figures. Also, I will conduct a full independent audit regarding the oil industry since 2005, to prevent future conflict over oil.
I hope to comfort all the Sudanese by stating that there will now be transparency, even if it did not exist in the past.
The audit will basically look at oil production since 2005 – it will be conducted by an independent firm. Our preference is to accelerate the process so that the results are made available before the referendum.
Q: The international non-governmental organization Global Witness said last year that there were inconsistencies on the part of the Sudan government, regarding the exact figures of oil production and revenues. Furthermore it claimed that roughly six billion dollars, supposed to go the South since the CPA in 2005, were missing?
A: I don’t think this is true. And you can ask Global Witness. Recently, Global Witness participated in a landmark transparency seminar in Khartoum, which we organised. Global Witness said it was impressed by the openness with which all sides participated in the event. They emphasised that the discrepancies uncovered did not mean that six billion dollars were missing, but only about 10 percent (about 600 million dollars). Anyway, I assured them of my new policy of transparency.
Q: What are the prospects of oil production in Sudan?
A: We expect to increase oil production by up to one-third by next year, reaching as high as 600,000 barrels per day. Current average output is between 450,000 and 470,000 from the two blends – Nile and Dar.
Recently, we and the Finnish firm, Fenno Caledonian, signed an oil and gas exploration agreement for the north-eastern part of Sudan, in the states of Gadaref, Kasala, River Nile, and Gezira. The company also works in Dongola.
As you can see, this indicates the influx of European investment in Sudan. French oil giant Total, which has a huge untapped reserve in south Sudan, asked us about guarantees to keep its concessions after the referendum. I assured them of this, whatever the result of the referendum. As you know, Western firms mostly pulled out during the North-South civil war and the sector is currently dominated by Asian companies. But, I want to open the door for every company, from every country.