Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair took another step away from British politics and toward Africa when it was revealed on Sunday that he will become an adviser to the South Sudanese government and its president, Salva Kiir.
The objective of our work is to strengthen the capacity of the new institutions at the center of the government so they are better able to lead the country's development. We hope that our work can help to deliver improvements to the people of South Sudan, Blair stated through his Africa Governance Initiative, an African development organization.
The world's youngest nation has become a hot cause as of late. Since the end of the second Sudanese civil war, South Sudan has become a project for American presidential administrations -- first Bush and then Obama -- as well as celebrity activists like George Clooney, who has testified before Congress and used satellites to track war crimes against ethnic southerners in Sudan.
But the government in Juba has its own faults -- namely its alleged support of violent rebels in Sudan and its invasion of the Heglig oil fields earlier this year. Will Blair address these issues or be able to steer Juba away from these paths?
Before taking the job, Blair seemed more eager to work than to make a difference in impoverished Africa, telling UK papers that he wanted a big job. His aspirations included the presidency of the European Council and of the World Bank, as well as the directorship of the World Trade Organization, according to the United Arab Emirates' The National. Yet above all, Blair said he wanted to to make a difference.
Indeed, Blair runs a number of charities, including the Interfaith Foundation, the lessons of which could certainly help heal north and south Sudan, which are divided ethnically, but also religiously between Muslims and Christians. He is also a supporter of UNICEF, which works in both Sudans, and runs the Africa Governance Initiative, which advises the presidents of Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Liberia and Guinea, all of which, like the Sudans, have experienced bloody internal conflicts.
According to the Telegraph, the AGI will open an office in Juba as part of Blair's deal with Kiir. Without many details of Blair's new position yet revealed, there is some debate about who will actually sit in Juba: Will it be Blair, or David Miliband, a Labour MP involved with AGI? If it's Miliband, that would allow Blair to chase his other lofty pursuits.
Since leaving Downing Street, Blair has built himself a fortune, largely on the back of Tony Blair Associates, a financial consultant group that advises both multinational banks and foreign governments. Since 2007, Blair has raised his net worth from $6 million to $31 million, and he could rake in an additional $30 million this year, according to the Financial Times.
Blair's company also has offices in such far-flung places as Kazakhstan and Kuwait -- both rich in gas and oil -- and now the former prime minister's inroads in South Sudan could give him access to the nation's vast oil fields. His office in Astana is said to earn Tony Blair Associates as much as $13 million a year.
South Sudan recorded a GDP of $13.2 billion last year -- but oil production, which accounts for 70 percent of that figure and 98 percent of government revenue, was shut off following a contract dispute with Sudan. Presumably, Blair's presence in South Sudan may accelerate the resumption of oil production in the country.
Blair's many ventures -- whether in business, charity or diplomacy -- have opened up questions about conflicts of interests. Although he insists that he keeps his endeavors separate, critics have brought up the 11 separate trips he took to China over the past two years, as well as his meetings with the state-run China Investment Company that has made significant investments all across Africa, Sudan and South Sudan included.
There has been no official statement from Juba about Blair's new role -- nor one from London or Khartoum -- so it's unclear what the former prime minister will do in South Sudan, except, perhaps, to try to help pry it out of economic stagnation, as Miliband suggested in May. Time will tell if South Sudan is another investment in his portfolio, or a humanitarian and diplomatic effort.