Oil investment and conflict in Upper Nile State

Release date: 2013-05

This brief aims to contribute to the study of the relationship between government, oil corporations, and local communities in South Sudan. Its area of study are the oil fields of Blocks 3 and 7 in Melut and Maban Counties, Upper Nile State, the largest oil producing area in the country, which has been less well studied than the older oil areas in neighboring Unity State. The brief focuses on the impact of oil investment on local livelihoods and its potential for provoking conflict. 

Based on field research in Juba and Melut County in late 2011 and the outcomes of a stakeholder workshop conducted in late 2012, this brief analyzes the local conflict around oil production. It reveals the development of different social orders and their ways of accessing resources, providing security, and internal relations of power as a war legacy. It distinguishes between the order of the communities, which maintain a status of self-rule led by chiefs, and the order of the state with its different components at the national, state, and county level. The oil company with its links to the national office and headquarters abroad, and the international humanitarian, development and security community of the United Nations, bilateral and multilateral agencies are further social orders with different ways of internal rule. Non-state armed groups form yet another order, and are guided by violence and command structures. The brief shows that the links between these orders are the entry point to improving relations between the communities, the oil company, and the state in Upper Nile State and elsewhere in South Sudan.

The brief ends with recommendations to political decision-makers, investors, and community representatives on how to tackle structural causes of exclusion and their inherent potentials for conflict. The main proposition is to expand and diversify the local livelihood options which rely mainly on oil revenues towards agricultural development and vocational training in technical, mechanic and construction skills required in sectors linked to the requirements of oil production.