Global Policy Forum

Sudan is Still the Issue


By Khadija Sharife

December 10, 2009


For Jerry Fowler, president of the 'Save Darfur' Coalition, Sudan's government - perpetrators of war crimes - got away scot-free as US President Barack Obama engaged in diplomatic-speak 'tacking Sudan onto a laundry list of items behind closed doors' during his recent trip to China.

Indeed, Fowler is correct in his declaration that Sudan is still the issue. The real question is: In what context, and to what end?

Quite some time before Darfur's 'genocide' was identified, George 'Dubya' Bush, best known for justifying wars in distant oil-rich lands under the guise of 'terrorism', signed the Sudan Peace Act of 2002, declaring that, 'the acts of the government of Sudan...constitute genocide.'

Fowler has described the war in Darfur, Sudan's westernmost region bordering eastern Chad, as one of the continent's most pressing crises, with the Save Darfur coalition placing the number of genocide victims at 400,000. The Coalition's 'Darfur Primer' states, 'Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, even by the most conservative estimates. The United Nations puts the death toll at roughly 300,000, while the former UN undersecretary-general puts the number at no less than 400,000.'

The UN itself revealed that 'violence, disease and malnutrition' constituted the chief causes of these deaths.

According to the US's Government Accountability Office (GAO) however, 'most of the experts had the highest overall confidence in estimates by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED).'

CRED, a WHO-affiliate, arrived at the figure of 118,142 victims (September 2003 to January 2005); 35,000 were directly attributed to violence-related deaths, with the remainder catalysed by disease and malnutrition.

This of course, should come as no surprise in a region where droughts leading to wide scale famine, lopsided 'right of access' to resources, and the scarcity of ecosystem services such as water and grazing land, have long since reached critical tipping points. As Ibrahim Thiaw of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) noted, in Sudan, 'One of the root causes of the conflict is access to natural resources.'

But this does not imply that the government played no part in food deprivation, whether directly, through the lack of relief supplies (from food to medical care) as was the case during Ethiopia's great famine, or indirectly, by siphoning billions in oil revenue through for example, tax evasion, devouring one third of Sudan's revenue, or multinational mispricing - as much as 40 per cent or more of total oil revenue through cost oil.

Yet such blatant exploitation on the part of Khartoum is difficult to pin down as the actual revenues that Sudan receives, the volume of oil extracted and exported, the price for which it is sold, the conflict of interest between regulating authorities and those controlling corporate entities exploiting the oil, the lack of accountability - ranging from auditors to confidentiality clauses to name a few - are all but concealed.

This is chiefly due to the lack of mandatory information exchange, preventing countries (and citizens) experiencing flight of development finance from accessing data related to its destination, the lack of corporate country reporting, revealing economic activities in host countries, such as pre-tax profits, subsidies, financing costs, tangible and intangible assets etc, and Sudan's pariah status, rendering it ever more dependent on oil giants - external suppliers of 'rents' from oil than other similarly resource-rich regions.

Though the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005, officially halting one of Africa's longest civil wars, grants the South - where the bulk of oil is located - the right to 50 per cent of revenues remitted to Khartoum, as well as six years of autonomy followed by an independence referendum to be held in 2011, it is lacking in other crucial issues such as disclosure, ownership of resources, ecological and human rights, reparations, representation and re-pricing.

Overall, Africa loses almost US$150 billion each year in illicit capital flight, over 60 per cent caused by multinational mispricing, indicating that the source of the 'resource curse' is rooted in systemic forces, lending to behavioural corruption on the part of states. This is because states are accountable to and dependent on multinationals - legal citizens (manufacturing distorted tax bases) - as opposed to nations made up of flesh and blood citizens.

The policy of 'tax competition', granting multinationals huge subsidies and concessions, eroding development finance, is yet another trick that works especially well with states that are either isolated, and/or corrupt and more than willing to receive under-the-table payments. This includes everything from low royalty rates, control of ports, railways and other infrastructure, exemption from environmental laws, casualisation of labour, cheapened access to water (especially lethal in regions characterised by droughts) and various other freebies.

This is unlike 'developed countries' where significant portions of the state budget is derived not from finite resources but from everyday people, rendering states responsive and accountable to citizens through democratic or representative processes.

But Africa's propped up political leaders, directly causing the continent to lose US$18 billion each year in conflict alone (or some US$280 billion since the 1990s), have no need for citizens as unearned, undisclosed revenue allows them to capture political power indefinitely.

And while 'wabenzis' or Africa's elites, rely on multinationals for revenue - funds that should be invested in citizens through state services such as education (the source of 80 per cent of 'wealth' generated in developed countries), African citizens are forced to survive and earn an income mainly from direct ecosystem services such as water, fisheries, farm and cropland.

This is where Sudan is placed at the edge of precipice, more so than most other nations: In stark contrast to Nigeria and other such ecologically 'rich' regions, much of Sudan is ecologically 'poor', compounded by structurally unjust systems of land tenure, the inherited legacy of British colonialism, endorsed by Africa's 'internal' colonialists.

But Sudan is rich in oil and it is this reality that has resulted in the country becoming one of Africa's fastest growing economies in Africa, despite US sanctions imposed on the country from 1997, the year the US's National Security Council declared Sudan 'the greatest threat to US security on the African continent'. Unsurprisingly, this stance coincided with China's entrance as Sudan's primary investor, holding 40 per cent of the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC).

These days, China, importing 60 per cent of Sudan's oil, is the country's largest trading partner, and Sudan, one of China's three main footholds on the African continent. Unfortunately for the US - consuming one quarter of global energy with just five per cent of global population, and hosting 910 military bases in 46 countries - a policy largely determined by the presence of oil and gas (and the US's need to geostrategically secure supplies), homegrown oil giants have been unable to access Sudan's resources under the rule of lifetime dictator Omar al Bashir.

Luckily for Bashir, who came to power in a 1989 military coup (resulting in the speedy 'exit' of Chevron), one freshly wrapped up coup in neighbouring oil-rich Chad, forever more to be ruled by French-backed dictator Idriss Deby, facilitated easy access of AK-47s flowing through the westernmost part of Sudan - Darfur. It was in fact this proximity to Chad's ongoing civil wars, incorporated into the arena of the Cold War (waged by the US and France on one side, and the Soviet Union on the other) that permanently altered Sudan's political landscape.

Whereas prior to this war, access to 'gifts of nature' like water, were more or less equitably managed through traditional 'tribal' mechanisms, the flow of arms militarising the region, accompanied by foreign agendas globally positioned Sudan as just another 'resource colony' for the taking. Specifically recruited were young males from socio-economically marginalised regions. Young males for example, from the Zaghawa 'tribe', composed part of the 'Janjaweed' alleged by the International Criminal Court to have engaged in genocide through targeting ethnic groups such as the Fur, Massalit and Zaghawa in Western Sudan.

According to the WHO, of the 20-30 per cent 'excess deaths' caused by the genocide, the bulk were composed of young males - not unlike the gang subculture so prevalent in the US, where young men born into shattered lives (often searching for identity and purpose) are easily co-opted in the wars of others.

Beneath the skin of the simplistically packaged civil war, portrayed as being rooted in age-old tribal, religious (Muslim versus Christian), and ethnic (Arab versus African) differences - all of which constitute the vehicle internationalising the 'genocide' - lies a far more complex reality.

Darfuris are predominantly Muslim. Though the 'Arab' government has centralised power in Khartoum, in Darfur, it is the 'Arab' that remains on the periphery of power. Similarly, all Sudanese are in reality of African ethnicity though geographic proximity to the 'Maghreb', historical trade routes and other factors lead to the 'Arabisation' of specific regions.

The use of 'Islam' - or Bashir's conveniently militarised, politicised version of it - as a weapon against the oil-rich Christian and theistic South may certainly have occurred and with great brutality, but it is not the root cause of the war, merely the dressing.

Sudan has thus experienced with the discovery of oil - and unearned resource rents - the speeding up of conflicts already ecologically fated for the nation, a fate that could well be averted if revenues derived from finite resources were sustainably invested.

In Sudan, oil represents at one and the same time the problem and the solution, a reality innately recognised by the CPA interrogating both revenue and power sharing. The presence of oil is, after all, the primary reason that foreign powers have taken an interest in Sudan. Through oil, Sudan's conflicts were geopolitically shifted from the local to the global level, intensified on a scale allegedly never experienced before the 1990s.

At around the same time, for example, that Chevron was strenuously 'encouraged' to leave in the early 1990s, the SPLA doubled its manpower to 60,000 troops. In 1996, one year prior to US sanctions (and the Sino-Sudanese marriage), the US sent special troops and US$20 million in military equipment to US-backed allies such as Uganda and Ethiopia, 'backing rebel forces' ie: the SPLA. Said leader John Garang trained at the US special academy of Fort Benning (USA) - described by investigative journalist John Pilger as the 'world's leading university of terrorism' - and this, in tandem with the discovery of oil in the 1970s.

Unlike the US, China does not favour active conflict aka 'gunboat democracy' as an enabling environment. Rather, it appears to support dictatorships as stable business climates in which forced peace can be achieved. Nor is direct access to resources obtained through the pretext of odious debt justifying the implementation of 'structural adjustment'; rather, the barter system, swapping geostrategic control for 'development' and 'returned' policy spaces. This enables dictators to move from the position of dogs-on-leashes to those guarding their own backyards with some measure of 'security'. China's military muscle is therefore rather underdeveloped.

Meanwhile, according to recent statements by the Pentagon, the US government is exploring the possibility of arming the SPLA ensuring the, 'transition from a guerilla force to one that can provide adequate defence capabilities for its people and territory. Professional military education and training for officers and enlisted personnel is one key aspect; an air defence capability might be relevant.'

As John Jok, a Director on the board of South Sudan's Nilepet, and the head of the ministry of energy and mining, stated, 'The fact that the movement has firmly established itself in these areas is evidence of its military gains.'

The semi-autonomous government of South Sudan, on the receiving end of more than US$7 billion in oil revenue from 2005, has no auditor, is over 95 per cent dependent on oil revenues, and rules over a population where 90 per cent live on less than a dollar a day (with no ecosystem services to act as a substitute).

If the South splits, as SPLM head, and president of South Sudan Silva Kiir recently called for - irrespective of whether majority votes are received, China stands to lose billions in investment perceived as a secure source of oil required to sustain a country housing 20 per cent of the planet's total population. The upside is that the US would then access South Sudan's oil, building alternate pipelines through the territory of one or the other of the US's allies.

But the US cannot directly confront China as the latter holds US$800 billion in treasury bonds, and over US$2 trillion in reserve currency. Thus, the instrument of choice was the UN Security Council, referring the case to the ICC (International Criminal Court). Given that the UN Security Council, made up of the world's leading arms-dealers and war-makers possesses the power to defer and refer cases (effectively immunising powerful countries from accountability), the actual legitimacy of the ICC as a vehicle of justice lacks authenticity. Though the ICC panel found Bashir guilty of crimes against humanity, genocide (neatly painting one victim and one aggressor) was dismissed.

Ironically, despite Fowler's statement indicating that Obama has not done enough to drive forward the 'peace process' it is through Obama's special envoy - General Scott Gration, an astute and at the same time 'khaki-minded' diplomat cognisant of the complexities informing Sudan's realities - that the door to political justice for all Sudan has finally been wedged open.

This stands in contrast to the policy of exclusive and selective criminal justice, which can only be achieved at the expense of real justice, characterised by peace - not the dictates of oil-driven foreign policy.

After all is said and done, chucking a sitting head of state for war crimes into The Hague is akin to regime change. If we're going down that route, we might as well start with Switzerland, the secrecy jurisdiction that is home to one third of the world's illicit flight - and the secrets of many a corrupt criminal, high level politician and corporate executive.

It would open up a world of possibilities.


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