United States anti-corruption watchdog, The Sentry, is warning that the next source of conflict in South Sudan could emerge from the unregulated mining sector that has been captured by politically connected locals and foreigners.
In its latest report, Untapped and Unprepared; Dirty Deals Threatens South Sudan’s Mining Sector, the watchdog says that while the mining industry could become an engine for major economic growth, it remains highly susceptible to the violent competition, corruption, and mismanagement.
“These are the same factors that have marred South Sudan’s oil sector and rendered peace elusive. Illicit mining activities are inflaming tensions in Eastern Equatoria, the army holds interests in exploration licences, and opposition groups informally control artisanal mining sites,” says the report. These factors have fuelled violent competition over the country’s resource wealth.
South Sudan is rich in gold, copper, cobalt, zinc, iron, marble, limestone and dolomite but the eruption of the war in 2013 has made it difficult to streamline the sector, leaving it vulnerable to politically-connected and militia group.
The Sentry report warns that weak transparency and accountability frameworks have left South Sudan’s mining sector vulnerable to exploitation, raising significant concerns about the government’s willingness to oversee responsible development.
In some cases, children have been identified as shareholders in two firms actively exploring for gold, a possible contravention of the 2012 Mining Act’s provision against titles held by minors.
But political connections are more threatening. The report says that in August 2016, a mining company owned by South Sudan President Salva Kiir’s then 20-year-old daughter Winnie received its first two licences to explore in mineral-rich areas of Central and Eastern Equatoria,
Documents reviewed by The Sentry indicate that Winnie Salva Kiir was listed as an 11 per cent shareholder in Fortune Minerals, a Chinese-owned, but without indicating how much she paid to the government.