A former Khartoum backed militia leader, General Gabriel Tanginye, has joined the advisory board of a US-based investment group less than 10 days after joining the SPLA the former rebels who control southern Sudan.
Gabriel Tanginye shakes hands with leading members of the Nuer tribal community in Unity state, Bentiu on October 19, 2010 (AP) Jarch Management Group Limited, issued a statement, October 21, saying that Tanginye, who has been accused of instigating violence in south Sudan resulting in hundred of deaths, “strengthens” the company’s knowledge of the region.
In 2009 the investment group leased a huge area of Tanginye’s native Jonglei state, in what was Africa’s largest land deal.
Tanginye announced his reconciliation with the SPLA earlier this month in Juba, the capital of southern Sudan, following an amnesty by the region’s President, Salva Kiir Mayardit, to armed groups operating in the south.
Kiir is hoping to unify the region ahead of a self determination referendum in January.
In a press conference on 14 October, Tanginye, announced that his forces, which had previously been incorporated into the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) controlled by the Khartoum government, would integrate with the SPLA.
The SPLA’s 22 year war against successive Khartoum governments ended with a peace deal in 2005.
Under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement the SPLA and SAF became the only legal armed groups in the south.
All other armed groups were given the choice of joining one of the two legal armies or putting down their weapons.
At the time Tinganye chose not to do either and in incidents in 2006 and 2008 was accused of causing violence in Malakal town, capital of Upper Nile state, resulting in the deaths of over 300 people.
Last week upon joining the SPLA, Tinganye said his group was ready to leave behind all past differences and focus on the referendum, which may see the south become and independent country.
In a statement on Thursday Jarch congratulated Tinganye and his forces for joining the SPLA as it would not only strengthen the southern army and make it more cohesive but also strengthen the company.
“For the Company, General Gabriel [Tinganye] further strengthens us. He expands the Company’s knowledge base as he hails from Jonglei state and will give the Company much needed expertise in Jonglei and expand its expertise in Greater Upper Nile,” said Jarch’s 21 October press release.
Jarch shot into the limelight in January 2009, when it acquired a 70% interest in Leac, a company controlled by Gabriel Matip, the eldest the son of SPLA deputy commander-in-chief, Paulino Matip.
Through the deal Jarch leased approximately 400,000 hectares (4,000 square km), an area the size of Dubai, of prime farmland that Matip controls with options to acquire more.
In November 2007 Paulino Matip joined the advisory board of Jarch Management as vice chairman followed by his son in December 2009.
Matip and his militia the South Sudan Defense Forces (SSDF) - ‘an umbrella for a wide range of armed groups generally allied with the SAF’ according to the Small Arms Survey – announced they would integrate into the SPLA in January 2006 as a consequence of the north-south Comprehensive Peace Agreement the year before.
The 2009 deal follows previous land deals with the SSDF.
In September 2006 a SSDF press release ‘reaffirmed the oil contract Agreement with Jarch Management Group, Ltd. For all areas of south Sudan, that SSDF exercises control.’
It further said that:”With the production and sharing agreements that we have signed with Jarch Management Group over the past few years, this company is set to become the largest producer of oil and gas in South Sudan.”
U.S. companies are banned from doing business in Sudan, as the U.S. considers the country a state sponsor of terrorism.
However, agriculture in Southern Sudan is exempt from sanctions provided the Khartoum-based national government does not have any stake in the business and provided that no imports or exports pass through non-exempt areas.
Jarch is chaired by Philippe Heilberg, who during the 1990s worked as a Wall Street banker in the commodities division of American International Group, a giant American financial company that nearly collapsed in 2008.
On 14 January 2009, just after the deal with Matip was announced, the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 broadcast an interview with Heilborg.
He said that Jarch’s special advisors in the SPLA had guaranteed his and the company’s safety to operate in the land he had leased.
“We have a very close relationship with a number of generals including the deputy commander in chief (Paulino Matip) and also the general that actually led the fighting for the south in Abyei, […] General Peter Gadet so I think we are well represented”, he said.
Philippe Heilberg, the chairman of Jarch Management Group, poses with Gen. Peter Gatdet Yaka (photo from Jarch website) Gadet, an SSDF General like Matip before integrating into the SPLA, fought both with the SPLA against Khartoum and against the SPLA backed by Khartoum at different stages of the north-south civil war.
On the same BBC program, Steve Wiggins, a Research Fellow at the think-tank the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) said the deal raised concerns over land rights.
“The concerns are very clearly first and foremost alienation of the land rights of people who are already there. And particularly some of the marginal and poor people who may not have legal title to their land and these people are obviously vulnerable to losing the means of their livelihoods.”
However, Wiggins said, the foreign takeover of farm land did not necessarily mean poor countries like Sudan would get hungrier. Crop production was often limited by the size of the markets farmers had acces to, he said.
Heilberg, told the 2009 BBC program that he does not see himself as a colonialist.
“I think most of the world has misjudged much of the risk and also much of the reward” of operating in unstable parts of the world like Sudan, Heilberg said.
As well as being able to grow cereals, oil seeds, vegetables and flowers, Jarch, which is registered in the British Virgin Islands has the sole oil and uranium exploratory and exploitation rights to the area.
“We’re going to go to the grass roots […] to the tribal leader. We’re going to go to the people that actually live on the land and strike deals with them.”
In 2006 an SSDF statement said that the deal with Jarch was needed as: ‘The current arrangement in South Sudan predominated by one-party and one-ethnic group could to produce a civil war.’
The area, which Jarch have leased for a 30-40 year period is predominantly of the Nuer tribe - the second largest ethnic group in southern Sudan after the Dinka.
As well as Paulino Matip and Peter Gadet, Tinganye follows other senior southern politicians onto Jarch’s pay role:
Riek Machar, South Sudan’s Vice President has also been on the Jarch advisory board.
In 1991, Machar led the split of the SPLA by attempting to wrestle power from the movement’s leader John Garang.
The coup failed with the SPLA splitting mainly along ethnic lines and in 2002 Machar rejoined the SPLA.
In 2005 he was made the south’s Vice President, by Salva Kiir, who assumed the positions of First Vice President of Sudan, President of Southern Sudan and leader of the SPLA after Garang’s death in a helicopter crash.
Gulwak Deng, formerly the Upper Nile Governor, has also served on Jarch’s advisory board.
It is widely expected that the south will vote to separate from the north in January’s referendum: a view it appears Jarch share.
In December 2009, while welcoming Paulino Matip’s son Gabriel onto it’s board of advisors a Jarch statement said:
"Gabriel has extensive knowledge of the Southern Sudanese system and will help the Company work in South Sudan both prior to its independence and after South Sudan achieves its independence."