Africa 3.0: State of Dis-Unity

But in our travels across thirteen African countries, we have not encountered a region as hampered by under-development. Water is a commodity so scarce that showers are an absurd luxury, generators provide power for a maximum of a few hours a day, and petrol (ironically more expensive here than almost anywhere on the continent) must be shipped in by barge on the river networks.  

Will South Sudan become Norway? Or will it become Nigeria? The answer lies almost entirely in the hands and deeds of those who run Unity State. The Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company, which counts a leading Chinese oil parastatal as a major shareholder, is currently flushing the pipeline, dormant since Juba turned off the taps in a royalty dispute with Sudan. Soon, the oil will flow again.

We’ve all seen the gruesome results of petroleum exploitation, but the “crude curse” is never a foregone conclusion. It is always a result of bad decisions and lousy governance and can just as easily become the “crude blessing”, as Canada, the United States and others have definitively proved.

But Bentiu, the frontier town that functions as Unity State’s capital, can seem full of Daniel Plainviews – the driven oil man played with chilling precision by Daniel Day-Lewis in the masterpiece There Will Be Blood. And if there is one Plainview to rule them all, it must be the state’s oft-errant governor, ex-military hack Taban Deng Gai.

He has just returned to Unity after a three-month ad hoc sabbatical (no one knows where he was or why he was away), and while we were in Bentiu, he fled to a heavily guarded retreat deep in the bush. It is the reign of men like Deng, contrasted against the more benign and constructive administration of Warap State’s Nyandeng Malek Dielic, that is keeping South Sudan from moving forward.

“Is Deng the most corrupt politician in South Sudan?” we asked a prominent member of civil society, over warm Heinekens.

“Oh!” came the nonplussed answer. “He is the most corrupt politician in Africa.”

There's oil yonder. (Richard Poplak)

A pipeline runs through it. (Richard Poplak)

This post is part of Africa 3.0, a weekly series by Richard Poplak and Kevin Bloom in which they highlight aspects of their travels and investigations on the continent. Visit http://africa3point0.tumblr.com for more, and engage with them on Facebook or Twitter.


These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Kevin Bloom
Guest Author
Advertising

ConCourt settles the law on the public protector and interim...

The Constitutional Court said it welcomed robust debate but criticised the populist rhetoric in the battle between Busisiwe Mkhwebane and Minister Pravin Gordhan

Where is the deputy president?

David Mabuza is hard at work — it’s just not taking place in the public eye. The rumblings and discussion in the ANC are about factions in the ruling party, succession and ousting him
Advertising

Press Releases

Covid-19 and Back to School Webinar

If our educators can take care of themselves, they can take care of the children they teach

5G technology is the future

Besides a healthcare problem Covid-19 is also a data issue and 5G technology, with its lightning speed, can help to curb its spread

JTI off to court for tobacco ban: Government not listening to industry or consumers

The tobacco ban places 109 000 jobs and 179 000 wholesalers and retailers at risk — including the livelihood of emerging farmers

Holistic Financial Planning for Professionals Webinar

Our lives are constantly in flux, so it makes sense that your financial planning must be reviewed frequently — preferably on an annual basis

Undeterred by Covid-19 pandemic, China and Africa hold hands, building a community of a shared future for mankind

It is clear that building a community with a shared future for all mankind has become a more pressing task than ever before

Wills, Estate Administration and Succession Planning Webinar

Capital Legacy has had no slowdown in lockdown regarding turnaround with clients, in storing or retrieving wills and in answering their questions

Call for Expression of Interest: Training supply and needs assessment to support the energy transition in South Africa

GIZ invites eligible and professional companies with local presence in South Africa to participate in this tender to support the energy transition

Obituary: Mohammed Tikly

His legacy will live on in the vision he shared for a brighter more socially just future, in which racism and discrimination are things of the past

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday