Issue 3-2023-200dpi

20 December 2001 Edition

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Sudan, where oil means death


The government of Sudan, gets 5% of the oil revenues. Southern Sudan, the land where the oil is, gets nothing, while the international community enjoys the 95% share
Despite Sudanese co-operation with the US - providing intelligence on the whereabouts of the Al-Qaida network - this empoverished country has been singled out together with Somalia, Yemen and Iraq to figure as targets for the broadening of the "War Against Terrorism".

Northern Sudan was allegedly host to Osama Bin Laden, until 1996, where it is believed he lived as a guest of Hassan al-Turabi, an Islamic militant and former speaker of the country's parliament, whose niece is married to the Al-Qaida leader. It was Sudan where the US bombed a supposed chemical weapons plant that, after investigation, was confirmed to be a pharmaceutical factory.

Sudan is no stranger to war. Since 1955 two million people have been killed and more than four million displaced, with the country, for 46 years, being ravaged by a civil war. Some have characterised that war as a religious battle between the Islamic, Arab North and the Christian, Black-African South. But beneath the superficiality of this easy but untidy definition, a colonial legacy and oil have supplied the dynamic for unabated war.

Dr Mansour Y. Al Ajab, chairperson of the Sudan Human Rights Organisation, based in London, says that "these conflicts are deep rooted in the malformed socio, politico and economic structures of Sudan. Its root cause is the colonial legacy of uneven development and the outward orientation of the economy". In Sudan, the British colonisers concentrated their efforts on developing the north of the country, where universities, roads, sanitation and hospitals were built for the benefit of the Arab population. Meanwhile, in the South, these benefits meant little more than a growing sense of inequality.

And that sense remained and grew yet more when independence was declared and the national government adopted, without exception, the same geographically particular policies - discriminating against the Southern Sudanese population.

Northern Sudan is now in the hands of the Government of Sudan, its strings being pulled by the security forces. Most of the South is governed by the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLM/A). Both parties in conflict commit human right abuses, with the government being responsible for most of them. These abuses take many forms, from the displacement of population, to the harassment, intimidation and elimination of political opposition, human rights activists and religious leaders; from the imposition of female genital mutilation on the Christian refugees who may arrive to the capital, to slavery and the trafficking of women and children.

So, while the Sudanese people need healthcare, education, food security, and most of all, peace, to prosper, one might think that the discovery of oil in Southern Sudan could herald the solution to this myriad of problems. Guess again. As with other mineral replete countries in Africa, oil in Sudan has added to the suffering of the population - because oil revenues are being used to kill rather than protect. "The government are getting $1 million a day from the oil, but they are also spending $1 million on the war", says Elizabeth Ogwaro, a Sudanese Human Rights activist based in London.

Aid agency Trócaire adds that, since the discovery of oil, hundreds of thousands of villagers in the Upper Nile region of Southern Sudan have been terrorised into leaving their homes. "Government forces and militias have killed civilians, destroyed harvests, looted livestock and burned houses", it reports.

Since construction of the pipeline between the oil fields in Upper Nile and the Red Sea began in 1998, the government has increased its use of helicopter gunships and indiscriminate high altitude bombardment. Despite a damning body of evidence from independent human rights investigators, the UN has not made any public comment about the scorched-earth war waged by the government to exploit the oil of the South.

Trócaire accuses the Sudanese government of using relief as a weapon of war and as a strategy to clear the oil-producing areas of population. "The government ban on aid flights amounts to a denial of relief which is exacerbating a looming food crisis". The crisis was the consequence of a year of drought, the destruction of crops and the displacement of population.

And all along, the oil multinational companies carry on regardless, ignoring not only the human right violations in the area, but facilitating the army in its terror operations against the people of Southern Sudan. A Christian Aid report revealed an airstrip, upgraded by the oil companies, that was also being used by Sudanese government aircraft for bombing missions against civilian populations. "The revenue from the oil operations is being used by government forces to pursue their war efforts. The only way for oil companies to prevent being implicated in further human rights abuses in Southern Sudan is to suspend oil operations until a just and lasting peace settlement has been reached", explains Dan Silvey, Christian Aid's senior policy officer.

"Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed and displaced by a systematic policy of depopulating the oil-rich areas. Each time an oil concession is developed, it is accompanied by massive human rights violations. "

To the denunciations of Christian Aid, Trócaire and other agencies, the International Community has responded with silence. For Elizabeth Ogwaro, it is very clear that they are trying to defend their own economic interests. "The government of Sudan, gets 5% of the oil revenues. Southern Sudan, the land where the oil is, gets nothing, while the international community enjoys the 95%. But today, everyone, including the Irish, is quiet about what is happening in Sudan. They just want to talk about oil, how the oil is of benefit for Sudan."

All the multi-national companies involved in extracting oil from Sudan say that their presence has improved the standing of the country, bringing a new wealth to Sudan. Elizabeth Ogwaro strongly disagrees:

"When Christian Aid visited Sudan last year they were looking for first hand information, because they want to know if it was truth if the oil companies were of benefit for the areas where they were staying, whether they were bringing peace to the area. How can you bring peace to an area where you are killing people so you can build an oil pipe? How can you bring peace to an area while encouraging the country's government to bomb the people?"

Human Rights activists, Churches representatives and Aid Agencies in Sudan have called for the stoppage of oil extraction in Sudan until the human rights situation has been thoroughly investigated, but the corporations have ignored this call. For Elizabeth Ogwaro, and the Southern Sudanese population, oil is not a guarantee of wealth, but of death:

"When we look to that oil, we are looking at death, we are looking to our children going starving. We look at malnutrition increasing... We even hear the bombs coming... Now, they want to extend the oil extraction up to the border with Uganda, because the Sudanese government want to get rid of the Southern Sudanese."

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