John Burl Smith – 2004-09-03 14:00:40
The troubling events in Darfur prompted a desire to learn about events on the ground in Sudan. Surprisingly, neither the role of slavery nor oil appears in most news reports.
Historically, culturally and ethnically, Sudan has long been a divided country. Muslim since Mohammad swept across North Africa in the 7th century, religion is not the source of the current conflict. The reality is ethnicity and natural resources are pitting Arabs against Africans, their Islamic brothers.
Culturally, nomadic Arab slave-raiders and other thieves saw the regions of the Blue, White and Upper Nile Rivers as a source of wealth. Muslims in the South were prime targets for slavery. Their blackness and the absence of civil authority to defend against incursions made black Africans “free enterprise.” As such, slavery has been Arab traders’ road to riches.
Over the centuries, Arabs came to see slavery as a just fate of their black Muslim brothers. Their attitude is similar to white America’s prejudicial mind-set. At the United Nations World Conference Against Racism, Discrimination and other Intolerance (WCAR) in August 2001 regarding Palestine, Arabs preached religious unity and solidarity with people of color. However, today in Darfur and southern Sudan, religion takes a back seat to race, as though blacks pray to a different Allah.
Intensifying the country’s complex civil war, the discovery of oil in Sudan marked a turning point in its 20-year-old slaughter. Now the principal catalyst of ethnic mayhem, oil represents the greatest obstacle to peace. The government used oil revenues to finance “ethnic cleansing” and the brutal removal of southern agro-pastoral Nuer and Dinka people from their oil-rich land.
Large-scale exploration of oil by foreign companies in southern Sudan has exacerbated this long-running conflict which has been punctuated by gross human rights abuses, recurring famine, drought and health degradation.
The Sudanese government views the Nuer, Dinka and other southern ethnic groups as having no right to participate in governing the mostly foreign state-owned oil companies nor share oil revenues. “These black tribes pose a security threat to the oilfields because ownership and control of southern natural resources are part of rebels’ demands, which make them rebel sympathizers,” government officials claim.
In the main oil-producing area of Western Upper Nile/Unity State, brute force has driven government expulsions. The US Agency for International Development has tried to appear as “an honest broker” by hiding its oily hands in Sudan (à la the Middle East). It claims “the Sudanese government is sorely mistaken if it believes it will get a free pass in Darfur in exchange for brokering peace with rebels in the South.” Déjà vu North Korea! There is no limit to US lies and deception when oil is involved. Remember Iraq and WMD?
Foreign Oil Companies’ Complicity
Major oil operators in Sudan are partners of the government’s state-owned oil company, Sudapet. In 1992, Arakis Energy, a Canadian exploration company purchased State Oil Co. and its interest in Sudan. Arakis Energy brought in China National Petroleum Company (CNPC), Petronas Nasional Berhad of Malaysia (Petronas), Lundin Oil AB, a Swedish company, and the Sudan government (1996) to form the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC). Talisman Energy of Canada purchased Arakis in October 1998.
In 2002, Talisman Energy sold its interest to India’s ONGC Videsh Ltd. Lundin Oil sold its interest to Petronas in 2003. Other concession holders include OMV of Austria, which sold its interest to ONGC (2003), Al Hath (a private Sudanese company), and French oil multinational TotalFinaElf. US-based oil giant Chevron purchased and explored concessions in Sudan starting in 1974. After rebels killed three Chevron employees, the company pulled out (1984), selling its interest in Sudanese oil in 1992. The state-owned oil companies of China, Malaysia and India purchased the interests of Western-based corporations.
Past and present oil concession holders benefited from and were complicit in the government’s human rights abuses. Rather than use oil revenues for the economic development of the people, in particular in the oil areas that have been historically neglected, the Sudanese government used oil revenues to purchase military goods. Sudanese oil revenues rose from zero in 1998 to almost 42 percent of government revenue in 2001. Sixty percent of the 2001 oil revenue was used to purchase weapons and develop a domestic arms industry.
For 20 years, Sudan has been engaged in a civil war between the Islamist, northern-based Arab-speaking government and the impoverished African populations of southern Sudan. The discovery of oil exacerbated the conflict. The Sudanese government’s efforts to control oilfields in the war-torn south have resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians.
Foreign oil companies in Sudan are complicit in the death and destruction. Corporate responsibility has not included condemning the government’s human rights abuses. Instead, these companies allow the government to use roads and airstrips for military purposes, including bombing civilian targets.