Talisman Energy and its apologists continually speak of “constructive engagement” with the Khartoum regime. Sadly, this same disingenuous characterization substitutes in Ottawa for an effective policy toward Talisman Energy in Sudan and its funding of Khartoum’s genocidal war effort. For if we assess honestly the nature of “constructive engagement,” it’s all too clear that Talisman’s commercial “engagement” with Khartoum allows primarily for the “construction” of an ever more destructive war machine. What we see are all the signs of a massive increase in military spending, with official pronouncements in Khartoum making clear that even greater military ambitions are sustained by the prospect of growing oil revenues. Correspondingly, Khartoum’s interest in negotiating a just peace—Ottawa’s purported policy priority for Sudan—diminishes
Eric Reeves [May 21, 2001]
Northampton, MA 01063
As far back as April of 1999, Agence France-Presse reported Hassan el-Turabi (then the chief Islamic ideologue and party boss of the National Islamic Front) declaring that oil revenues would make it possible for the regime to build its own factories for tanks and missiles. Turabi was not exaggerating: for there are, in fact, now factories assembling tanks, and they will soon be assembling the very powerful Russian T-72 model (see below).
But many dismissed Turabi’s comments at the time as Khartoum propaganda. So what happens if we move forward a year? Agence France-Presse again reported in telling fashion (AFP, July 1, 2000): “Sudan will be capable of producing all the weapons and ammunition it needs by the end of the year thanks to its growing oil industry, the armed forces spokesman said in remarks published Saturday.” AFP continued:
“[Military spokesman General Mohamed Osman Yassin declared to Al-Share Al-Syasi newspaper] ‘we will this year reach self-sufficiency in light, medium and heavy weapons from its local production.’ Yassin told a gathering of student army conscripts that Sudan was now manufacturing ammunition, mortars, tanks and armoured personnel carriers. He added that Sudan embarked on the military industry project during its ‘unprecedented economic boom, particularly in the field of oil exploration and exportation.'”
Those goals have indeed now been met. Can the connection between Talisman-generated oil revenues and intensified war and human destruction become any more explicit?
Even more recent reporting reveals why Khartoum has been so successful in realizing its goals. A confidential IMF report of November 6, 2000 (“Second Review of the Second Annual Program [Sudan]”) records a doubling of acknowledged military spending in Khartoum’s budget during the time in which Talisman-generated oil revenues have come on line. And this is only what is acknowledged by Khartoum in its military budget; any number of very large expenditures never show up: military fuel costs (especially fuel from the El Obeid refinery); “in-kind” trading with China and other countries (oil/oil revenues for weapons); payments and supplies for the various southern militias that Khartoum uses to destabilize civilian life in the oil regions; construction of dual-use (military/commercial) manufacturing sites, e.g., the new GIAD military-industrial complex outside Khartoum.
The total military costs of the war certainly are well in excess of US$1 million per day. In this context it should be noted that the costs of international humanitarian relief aid in responding to the war sustained by these military expenditures are also in the range of $1 million per day.
This is what Talisman-generated revenues are supporting. So obvious is this fact that Khartoum has begun responding in its propaganda statements. Sayed al-Khateeb, director of the Center for Strategic Studies in Khartoum, very recently said: “‘People who are talking about the escalation in the war are saying this only to deprive Sudan of the revenues from the oil, the little revenues that we get’ [over US$500 million/year]. At the same time, he declared the country ‘would not and should not’ swear off using oil proceeds to fight the rebels, he said. ‘We are under constant attack.'”
Moreover, there have also been several recent press reports that Khartoum will soon begin assembling Russian T-72 tanks at its vast GIAD military-industrial complex (the new tank will be named after President/General Omar al-Bashir). The T-72 is a much more potent and heavily armoured tank than the T-55’s presently in Khartoum’s inventory, and will certainly intensify fighting in various theaters of the war. Africa Analysis (March 14, 2001) reports:
“Work on the assembly line for the TU-72 Al Bashir tanks has also apparently begun with the assistance of Russian technical experts. The plant is being constructed at GIAD Industrial City, 50km southeast of the capital on the Khartoum-Madani Highway. It is part of a long-standing ambition of President Omar el Bashir to make the country relatively self-sufficient in arms production.”
This particular project is funded largely by an oil concession deal with the Russians. But the larger financial realities of oil development in Sudan put responsibility for overall increased military spending squarely with Talisman Energy and its Greater Nile partners. With oil production exceeding expectations, Talisman and its partners have insured that over half a billion dollars (US) will flow annually into Khartoum’s war chest. They are financing an armaments industry when what Sudan desperately needs is investment in agriculture. They are providing the revenues that now constitute the greatest single disincentive for Khartoum to negotiate a just peace with the southern and northern opposition.
And beyond the direct funding of Khartoum’s war efforts, Talisman Energy offers a presence that is constantly cited by the Khartoum regime as evidence of “security” and “an appropriate investment environment,” this in an effort to attract other oil development investors. Here Khartoum is simply echoing Talisman CEO Jim Buckee’s viciously disingenuous comment that, “increasingly Sudan is becoming a source of relative regional stability.” For example:
[BBC Monitoring Service – United Kingdom, Mar 5, 2001:
Text of report in English by Sudanese News Agency (SUNA),
5 March, 2001]:
“Minister of Energy and Mining Dr Awad Ahmad al-Jaz described the decision of the Canadian Talisman Company [sic] to continue its oil investment in Sudan as evidence on prevalence of security and appropriate investment climate in the country.”
Talisman may speak of “constructive engagement,” but these are simply disingenuous words, the expedient lies that Talisman uses in attempting to put a veneer of respectability on their savagely rapacious investment. Touting their very local and exceedingly modest social service expenditures, Talisman maintains a soulless silence about the revenues that sustain a war engulfing so much of Sudan, destroying and displacing millions, and putting millions more at risk of famine.
This is the real meaning of “constructive engagement,” and that John Manley and the Canadian Foreign Ministry continue to use the same language in defining Canadian foreign policy toward Sudan leaves an indelible mark of shame on Canada’s international reputation.