November 3, 2003
Almost entirely lost in present discussions and analyses of the peace process for Sudan, international oil development in Upper Nile Province of southern Sudan continues apace and is indeed accelerating as the region dries out from the past rainy season. This means many things, but one of the most disturbing consequences is the continuing displacement of indigenous populations. Such displacement in turn works to exacerbate the difficulties that would confront already displaced populations attempting to return in the aftermath of a possible peace agreement.
This offers yet more evidence of how short-sighted is the Bush administration attempt to preside over a Sudan peace agreement on the cheap. It simply cannot be done. The final $87 billion package for post-war Iraq and Afghanistan included no administration requests for Sudan. And the bill that the Congress is sending to the White House is still terribly short-changing Sudan, allocating only “$110 million for combating famine and other natural disasters in Liberia and Sudan” (Associated Press, October 31, 2003).
To be sure, the US Agency for International Development has been a stalwart source of support for Sudan. And there is an AID budget of $200 million for Sudan this fiscal year, an increase of $40 million from last year. But this amount reflects the assumption of a continuation of the status quo in Sudan, i.e., a need to continue desperately urgent humanitarian assistance. It does not meaningfully address the immense challenges of funding what will be an extraordinarily difficult transition from war to peace. The costs of both transitional reconstruction aid and peacekeeping efforts far exceed anything that is in the Bush administration budgetary picture (see previous analyses of funding requirements for transitional aid and peace support operations by this writer; available upon request).
These shortcomings in transitional aid should serve to highlight the significance of continuing population displacements associated with accelerating oil development in Upper Nile Province. For though the vast and ferociously destructive scorched-earth warfare Khartoum has orchestrated in the oil regions for a number of years is presently suspended, oil development continues to be a powerful instrument of human displacement.
In Block 4 of the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company, the building of roads and oil infrastructure west from Kaikang and Ruweng County has expanded relentlessly and now reaches Abyei. Reports from extremely reliable sources in Abyei indicate a furious pace of oil development activities, and that very large numbers of people have either been recently displaced or told to prepare for imminent displacement by Khartoum. An aerial survey of the Abyei area reveals numerous roads of a sophistication that can only be associated with oil development, as well as an abundance of oil infrastructure construction.
This should make clear why Abyei has emerged as a major sticking point in the Machakos/IGAD peace talks. Of all the three contested, or marginalized, areas that together constitute the major issue in ongoing negotiations, Abyei has the clearest claim on immediate conjoining with the south (Bahr el-Ghazal Province). A referendum on this issue was, after all, promised to Abyei as part of the 1972 Addis Ababa agreement; and the results of a vote by the indigenous population of Abyei would unquestionably be for such a union with the south. But Khartoum has worked aggressively to “Arabize” Abyei, mainly by way of incorporating Arab Misseriya militia into Khartoum’s Popular Defense Forces, and by allowing the Misseriya to appropriate the land and cattle of Abyei’s Ngok Dinka. Indeed, the Dinka population of Abyei has suffered some of the war’s most terrible depredations. If rapidly accelerating oil development is added to this volatile mix, then negotiations for peace are made considerably more difficult.
In the Block 5a area south of Bentiu, there has also been major activity, and a number of developments are distinctly ominous. Malaysia’s state-owned Petronas is moving aggressively down the heavily militarized road that is the major corridor for Block 5a. This road was to have seen the dismantling of the garrisons that Khartoum constructed after the October 15, 2002 “cessation of offensive hostilities” accord; this dismantling has never occurred, and suggests how difficult it will be to enforce Khartoum’s commitments on a comprehensive military stand-down and disengagement (Khartoum committed to the removal of these garrisons in the February 4, 2003 “Addendum” to the October 15 agreement). Significantly, Petronas has now declared that it will ship oil north, and this commits the company to a permanent relationship with the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company—Blocks 4, 1 and 2—and its pipeline to Port Sudan by way of Khartoum (GNPOC, with the exit of Canada’s Talisman Energy, now comprises the national oil companies of Malaysia, China, and India).
Khartoum-backed militia activities in Block 5a are also ominous. For example, Khartoum and the oil companies have encouraged particular militia groups to bring in Jikany Nuer tribal groups to open markets, build tukuls, and run many features of the local economy. Since this region was previously home to Jagei and Leek Nuer, there is a serious question about what will happen should these displaced people return and find that Jikany Nuer have moved in because of oil development. This is precisely the kind of flash point that must be anticipated, both in transitional aid and in any peace support operation. That the problem is being made more severe by present oil development argues strongly for a moratorium on all further development, both for the duration of the negotiations and in the initial phases of the interim period.
In Eastern Upper Nile Province oil development belongs almost exclusively to the Chinese-dominated “Petrodar” (little more than a nominal fig-leaf for China National Petroleum Corp.). The US-led Civilian Protection Monitoring Team (CPMT), which did such conspicuously poor work in reporting on previous assaults on civilians in the Longochok and Liang areas, still clearly has no handle on the situation in Eastern Upper Nile or the role of oil development in fighting. The situation in Malwal is especially worrisome, since the oil wells capped there by Chevron in the early 1980s remain a clear prize for the Chinese, but this will entail the capture of Mading (between Malwal and Longochok).
Reports of sporadic, though at times intense, fighting in the region have been continuous, but no recent investigations have been undertaken, either by the CPMT or the Verification and Monitoring Team (VMT) created by the February 4, 2003 “Addendum” to the cease-fire agreement. Indeed, the VMT still has not been meaningfully deployed, nine months after it was negotiated. This augurs extremely poorly for the quality of an international peace support operation in the wake of any peace agreement between Khartoum and the SPLM/A.
The Longochok area is the most likely flash point for serious renewed fighting in Eastern Upper Nile, and the close relationship between the Chinese oil operators and the notoriously brutal militia commander from Longochok known as Chaiyut is of particular concern. Chaiyut is presently in Adar Yel, which serves as headquarters both for Chinese oil operations and for Khartoum’s most potent military presence in Eastern Upper Nile. Though much less reported on than oil development in Western Upper Nile, the roads, garrisons, and oil compounds in Eastern Upper Nile are just as expansive and just as threatening to civilian populations. The dry season that is beginning may very well see intense fighting and displacement directly related to oil development. This again argues powerfully for a moratorium on all further oil development activities until a peace agreement has been secured and the first phase of the transition to peace has been completed.
Ruweng County is also part of the concession area of the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC). As a result of previous, devastating scorched-earth clearances, most of Ruweng County has now been depopulated. Oil development has heretofore been confined to the western side of Ruweng County, but that now appears likely to change in the coming dry season. This will put additional pressure on any post-war Sudan, as it is already very difficult to imagine the indigenous populations of Ruweng County returning to the site of some of the most brutal fighting of the war (the Harker Report [January 2000], commissioned by the Canadian foreign ministry, gives a chilling account of Khartoum’s devastating Ruweng County offensive of May – July 1999).
Individually and in aggregate, these developments argue urgently for a moratorium on all further oil development activities, including new road-building, new drilling, new pipeline construction, and all other oil-related construction operations. Moreover, these developments serve to highlight the weakness of past agreements to which the Khartoum regime has committed itself. Most conspicuously, the garrisons on the oil road south of Bentiu have still not dismantled, despite the explicit commitment by Khartoum in the February 4, 2003 “Addendum” to the October 15, 2002 cessation of offensive hostilities agreement (both agreements were signed by Idris Mohammed Abdel Gadir on behalf of “The Government of the Sudan,” and were witnessed by Lazaro Sumbeiywo, chief IGAD mediator, on behalf of IGAD).
The failure to deploy in any effective fashion the Verification and Monitoring Team stipulated in the February 4, 2003 “Addendum” should also be cause for very considerable concern. Here it is important to note not only US shortcomings but those of its “troika” partners (Great Britain and Norway), IGAD diplomats and governments, and all those who wish for the success and viability of any peace agreement that may be signed in the coming weeks or months.
The US failure to commit to adequate funding for transitional aid and peace support operations is of grave concern; but that failure is mirrored in the lack of adequate planning and commitments by many other countries as well. No just and lasting peace for Sudan can be had on the cheap. We may be witnesses to this blunt and inescapable truth in the not so distant future.
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