The Khartoum regime, its partnering oil companies, and the ongoing destruction of Sudan: an overview of recent news wire reports, newspaper and news magazine articles, television and radio documentaries, and reports from the ground in southern Sudan.
Eric Reeves [April 16, 2001]
Northampton, MA 01063
Continuing scorched-earth warfare in huge areas within the southern oil concessions, directly tied to security for oil operations; famine facing millions in the south and west of Sudan (and Khartoum’s savagely callous denial of this impending catastrophe); new bombings by Khartoum of civilian and humanitarian targets in southern Sudan, including Bahr el-Ghazal and Western Upper Nile; the flogging of observant Christians in Khartoum, including children; the arrest of Khartoum’s most prominent and distinguished independent journalist; Khartoum’s continuing massive military build-up, funded by oil revenues; the regime’s concerted efforts to deny—for military purposes—emergency humanitarian access to huge areas of southern Sudan; rejection of the need for a UN Special Rapporteur for human rights, despite the continuing documentation of government-supported slave raids; the resumption of cross-amputation (the penal practice of amputating the right hand and left foot for certain crimes)—these are the highlights that have provided material for myriad news reports and analyses.
Because of this growing brutality and destructive ambition, the last two months have seen an extraordinary uptick in reporting on Sudan, especially in high-profile news venues. Given the key role of oil development in maintaining the Khartoum regime’s grip on power—and its continuing refusal to negotiate a just peace—it is not hard to understand why the ceaseless refrain in this news reporting and commentary has been the sustaining role of oil companies like Talisman Energy of Canada, Lundin Oil of Sweden, Petronas of Malaysia, China National Petroleum Corp., and OMV of Austria.
The recent, authoritative Christian Aid (UK) report on the terrible scorched-earth realities of oil development in southern Sudan (“The Scorched Earth: Oil and war in Sudan”) understandably received a great deal of attention in the British press. And Swedish news media have given a tremendous amount of coverage to Lundin Oil’s newly operational and brutally destructive development efforts in Block 5a south of Bentiu (Western Upper Nile).
But a further roster of news reporting sources gives an additional sense of the volume and prominence of accounts of this vicious corporate complicity. Major pieces on Sudan and oil development have appeared recently in The Economist, US News & World Report, Newsweek, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, The Globe & Mail, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), Radio France Internationale, and many, many more.
And a number of other very prominent news and commentary pieces will be shortly forthcoming. This is in addition to the tremendous number of stories on Sudan and oil development coming from Reuters, Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, and regional wire reports.
Clearly, a critical mass has been achieved both in the ongoing newsworthiness of Sudan’s agony—and in the American political response to that agony. As many news reports have indicated, left and right, Republican and Democrat, blacks and whites, faith-based and human rights-based advocacy organizations—all have come together in a coalition that has clearly impressed news reporters inside and outside the Beltway. The glib fascination in some quarters with the role of the “Christian right” in Sudan advocacy has obscured the fact that this is only part, albeit a critically important part, of a broad, powerful, and growing political coalition.
And the Bush administration has sent unmistakable signals that it understands the importance, politically and morally, of Sudan. Colin Powell’s remarkable and widely reported comment—“There is perhaps no greater tragedy on the face of the earth today” than Sudan—can be used as a measure of how fully the administration must commit its policy resources if it is not to appear hypocritical.
Notably, one of the increasingly prominent features of Sudan advocacy is the call for US capital market sanctions against oil companies operating in Sudan. Such sanctions would entail the de-listing of Talisman Energy, Lundin Oil, and PetroChina (capital surrogate for China National Petroleum Corp.) from all American stock exchanges. Barely on the news radar screen a few months ago, despite being a prominent and reiterated policy recommendation of the US Commission for International Religious Freedom, capital market sanctions have become a central policy demand of those working for peace in Sudan.
Congressman Donald Payne (ranking member of the House Africa Subcommittee) has introduced a resolution into the US House of Representatives calling for capital market sanctions; capital market sanctions were prominently and repeatedly mentioned in Sudan hearings before the House International Relations Committee hearings last month; and this potent sanctions regime is now noted in most reporting on oil development in Sudan. A number of African American leaders and political constituencies, including the Congressional Black Caucus and the NAACP, have called for such sanctions—as has the influential Rev. Al Sharpton, who is just back from Sudan. The House version of the Sudan Peace Act—which passed last year with an explicit call for capital market sanctions—is again likely to have such a sanctions provision.
For those interested in a historical comparison to the growth of divestment advocacy during apartheid-era South Africa, there is one signal difference: capital markets sanctions are being pushed a great deal more rapidly, with much more political support, than was the case early on in “capital market activism” against firms operating irresponsibly in South Africa. And Khartoum presides over an economy that is much more vulnerable than South Africa’s of the 1980s. Oil is the linchpin of economic survival for the National Islamic Front regime, even as oil development opportunities are the regime’s most important tool for enticing a greater European economic presence. Pressure on this one sector of the Khartoum-controlled economy will be much more effective in producing change in the regime than was any single point of economic pressure in South Africa.
In one sense surprising, in another sense inevitable: the reporting on Sudan’s oil-driven destruction was destined to emerge from its relative obscurity once the sheer scale and brutality of human destruction was tied so directly to Western and Asian corporate complicity. This vicious complicity has now been fully established; and having gained such prominence, Sudan’s agony—and the role of oil companies in prolonging and intensifying it—will not soon disappear.