Global Policy Forum

Sudanese Squabble Over Oil Revenues

Africa Analysis
July 2000

JUBA, southern Sudan. In an all-out bid to stop oil revenues greasing the wheels of the Sudanese government's war machine, rival rebel factions here are uniting to shut down the oilfields in southern Sudan. Pivotal to the plan is commander Peter Gatdet whose forces have been deployed near the Heglig and Unity oilfields in the Upper Nile.

Gatdet supports Riak Machar, who resigned from the Khartoum government before defecting to the bush in January. Riak, with Gordon Kong and Lam Akol, split from the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) in 1991 before signing a peace accord with Khartoum and being accepted into President Omar Hassan al Bashir's inner circle.

It is now estimated that oil will generate an income of $1.2bn a year -representing about 21% of government revenues. Southern rebels insist that this money will not be used for development but for fighting them.

Since the first shipment last September from Port Sudan, the country's main outlet to the international market, the 1,600km oil pipeline has been attacked by rebel forces at least four times. The pipeline has a 250,000bíšd capacity.

Riak, without whose military support, between 1994 and 1999, Khartoum would not have been able to explore and export the oil, has written to J. W. Buckee, president and chief executive officer of Talisman, warning him to stop the oil operations 'to save lives'. He says Heglig is increasingly becoming a military air base from which gunships and bombers take off to attack southern rebels. He claims the region's population is already hostile to the Talisman operations.

This is a clear warning to Talisman and its Chinese, Malaysian, Sudanese and British partners. In 1985, Anyanya Two forces, enraged by the Khartoum government's decision to transfer to Kosti and finally Port Sudan, in the north, a refinery project originally planned for Bentiu, in southern Sudan, attacked and overran Robkona, the Chevron headquarters in the oilfields. This forced the US company to close down its operations in southern Sudan. Chevron had invested more than $1.2bn in the oilfields in the Upper Nile.

To protect the oilfields, the Sudanese government, which, before 1999, spent $360m a year on oil imports, has formed an oil-brigade -the 'al Himat al Bitrol' - backed by several of its southern militia allies. Ambitious militia commanders such as Paulino Matip, Kong, Gabriel Tanginyan and Simon Gatwich will provide formidable oppposition to both the SPLA and Riak's forces.

Talisman, which has come under fierce criticisms from southerners, is also trying to smooth feathers. Two weeks ago, it held its first conference for southerners in Calgary, Canada. A number of leaders, including former Sudanese vice-president Abel Alier and Yohanes Yor, a former legislator now working in London, were present.

Talisman is also expected to meet Duany Wal, leader of the new Upper Nile rebel group, the South Sudan Liberation Movement. Wal, who was a lecturer at a university in Indiana in the US, is seeking an independent state for south Sudan.

More Articles on Minerals and Conflict


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.