Recent news reports make clear that Kenya’s Energy Minister, Raila Odinga, is committed to importing Sudanese crude oil. Odinga’s comments in justifying this new commercial relationship with the Khartoum regime are odious and cynical: “If Sudan’s price is right, then there is no reason why Kenya should not buy Sudan’s oil.” Odinga, and apparently the government of Kenya, seem untroubled by the vast human destruction and displacement that have made this oil development possible. And he seems eager to overlook the massive new weapons purchases that oil revenues have enabled, and that now are intensifying war in the oil regions of southern Sudan. Such expediency calls into question Kenya’s commitment to negotiating peace under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD), whose Sudan peace secretariat Kenya chairs.
Eric Reeves [January 9, 2002]
Northampton, MA 01063
Minister Odinga’s comments on importing oil from Sudan reflect his cynicism, expediency, and ignorance in any number of ways. For example, Reuters (January 9, 2002) reports that Odinga declared: “The opposition [to Kenya’s importing of Sudanese crude oil] is misplaced. The conflict in Sudan is 50 years old while the oil was discovered only a
few years ago.” This is factually in error. Chevron made its most important discovery in southern Sudan in 1980—22 years ago. And the renewed outbreak of civil war in 1983 was in several ways related to ongoing oil discoveries in the Bentiu area.
Moreover, Odinga ignores the scorched-earth warfare that began in earnest in Western Upper Nile and adjacent regions in 1997—and is directly related to oil development. The brutal realities of this scorched-earth war in the oil regions have been documented by a succession of UN Special Rapporteurs for Sudan, as well as numerous human rights groups whose assessments have authoritatively chronicled the devastating consequences of oil development.
Not content with one facile and erroneous justification for importing Sudanese crude, Odinga is reported by The East Africa Standard (Nairobi) as saying that “critics of the oil deal [are] not genuine and fair. He said that Kenya and Sudan have been promoting bilateral trade and cited the ongoing importation of sugar from Sudan. ‘We import sugar from Sudan. Why don’t they call it blood sugar?'” (January 8, 2002).
Again, it’s hard to judge whether Odinga’s cynicism or ignorance is greater. Sugar production in Sudan has had none of the destructive consequences associated with oil development, nor do revenues from its production prolong the war, as oil revenues clearly do. To be sure, any commercial ties with the Khartoum regime that legitimate its tyrannical rule, any revenues that help insulate the National Islamic Front from international pressure to negotiate a just peace, are morally compromised. But the unwillingness or inability to distinguish oil production and exports from sugar production and exports reveals a bankrupt attitude toward Sudan’s catastrophic civil war, and the economic realities sustaining that war.
It is difficult not to see a conflict of interest if Kenya maintains the chairmanship of the IGAD secretariat that is attempting to negotiate peace for Sudan at the same time it is sustaining Khartoum through the importing of crude oil. Kenya’s largely self-inflicted economic woes seem to have overcome all scruples in dealing with an oil-flush Khartoum. If so, the usefulness of their role in leading the peace process has been seriously called into question.