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Friday, July 30, 2004

Oil and "Turm-Oil" (Darfur, Sudan)

JUSTUJU / The Quest

Sudan: Where there is Oil, there is “TurmOil”--What are the causes of a sudden Western inflection of interest in Sudan !

By: Hashim Syed Mohammad Bin Qasim, Riyadh

SUDAN is an Islamic country that is proud of its religion and its mainstream language, Arabic. Being an African country with population segments living far and wide, it has another 50 variants of languages spoken within its borders.

A poor country of about 35 million people, its 70% population is Sunni Muslim. Apart from the mainstream Muslim segment, there are at least 3 major ethnic power and pressure groups, Dinka (12%), Beja (5%), and Nuera (5%) which have been waging an effort since 1955 to obtain a nationwide recognition and favours.

Sudan obtained its independence from Egypt and Britain on January 1, 1956. Due to some reasons, which appear to be more relating to logistics and ease of access to the region, British paid more attention to the Northern areas for development, leaving other regions mostly deprived. This set the stage for an internal strife, that continues since the independence of Sudan. It is estimated that about 2 million persons have been displaced and forced to migrate either internally or to many neighboring African countries for safety due to this civil strife.

Sudan lacks a national infrastructure of roads, railways telecommunication, power generation, water and health facilities. In a very large area comprising of 2.5 million square kilometers, its population density is only 11 per square kilometers. Remoteness of many small population centers means that local lords rule them, with a little respect for a central government. 70 % of its population lives in villages and suburbs, near known water sources.

Sudan severely lacks a national infrastructure and means to control its remote areas. Thus current UN sanctions are bound to fail without providing urgent support to the Sudanese GovernmentIts armed forces are said to be 60,000 strong. This number is illusionary though, as they are very poorly equipped and trained. Its air force has 3,000 members, and its Navy has only 500 officers and sailors to protect its 850 kms of the Red sea coast. As the armed forces are certainly very weak, they get reinforced through trigger happy in-disciplined ethnic militias riding horses and camels, the only transport that easily works in those areas.

Since the 1989 military coup, western countries have stopped all military supplies, and some very obsolete and non-operational pieces are in the Sudanese military assets. Egypt, Russia, China, Iran and Libya had supplied some of these assets, which have broken down for a long time, mainly due to a lack of foreign reserves and lack of maintenance. Those transport vehicles that are still in an operational state are said to be often stalled due to lack of fuel.

In such a background, poor Sudanese in the South, East, and West, they all fight for power and a share in the meager and poorly distributed resources of the land.

In spite of Sudan being a Muslim country, its roots are still those of a medieval Africa. Tribalism, ethnic prejudices, and slavery are widely practiced. Compared to Pakistan, its literacy rate is good, at 43% for men. Literate Sudanese speak well, both Arabic and English. It permits some of the lucky Sudanese to find educational and job opportunities in many places around the world. Surprisingly for many, drinking beer by a large number of the Sudanese in the western region of Dafur is considered a normal practice and not taken as a violation of Islamic teachings.

Sudan, however, is endowed with many natural resources, that are not yet fully harnessed. It is set to become a full OPEC member soon, and export as much as 500,000+ bpd oil by 2005. As once reported by Canadian Oil Company, Talisman Energy, its oil reserves are estimated near 1 billion barrels, and its natural gas reserves are close to 3 trillion cubic feet.

Many Pakistanis would find this news very interesting that one of the Pakistani Oil Exploration and Development Company, Zafer, has a concession in Sudan, and is helping the Sudanese in this important economic sector. Apart from being a brother Muslim country, this is one of the reasons that the Pakistani President found it appropriate to recently call the Sudanese President, and exchange views about the recent insurgency and terrorism emanating from Darfur in the western Sudan.

Now, with this perspective in view, it is easier for us to analyze as to why there is a sudden inflection in the western interest in “forcing” a peace in Sudan, threatening UN sanctions. Sudanese government has been given only 30 days to show a progress in a matter that has been simmering since 1955. With its meager resources, and almost no national infrastructure, the poor Sudanese government is bound to fail, in foreseeable future, in achieving the objectives set by UN.

Sudan is becoming a hot point in the ongoing Broader Middle East Initiative, and it is possible that due to its many economic and military weaknesses, it can start to roll towards a political turmoil and an ultimate disintegration like the Indonesian territory of Timor. A lack of infrastructure and nearby bases means that the powers behind such plans do not wish to jump in themselves, and therefore seek a regional role in spearheading a larger scale war designed by them. Canada was forced to move out of the Oil sector under pressure from USA in the post military coup period. Its share, however was purchased by an Indian Company ONGC Videsh for US $ 770 millions. Apart from that, now Austrian and Swiss companies carry out major oil exploration and extraction works. Britain and France do have some pumping and electrical work contracts.

Western Sudanese region of Darfur started an insurgency in early 2003, that should actually be termed as acts of Terror against the Sudanese government. The large scale of human tragedy, which is still un-folding and said to be displacing about 1 million non-Arab Sudanese and sending their waves into neighboring equally poor African countries, is presenting the issue in a whole new light of Human Rights.

UN, led by USA and Britain, seem to be on a certain collision course with the current Sudanese leaders, and the UN may dubiously set its eyes on a “regime change” and re-draw its political mapAlthough the Sudanese terrorist insurgents from south demand a 80 % share in oil revenues (Central Government claims 90%), if a peace can be enforced through African Union and other foras like Organization of Islamic Conference, Sudan can soon find itself on a path of a speedy progress utilizing its under development natural resources, mainly oil and gas. UN, led by USA and Britain, however, seem to be on a certain collision course with the current Sudanese leaders, and the UN may dubiously set its eyes on a “regime change” and re-draw its political map using tactics similar to what have been used in Afghanistan and Iraq. A control of Sudanese oil and gas is certainly at the center of all this attention. Other suspicions like Sudan having provided an operational center to Mr. Osama Bin Laden (Al-Qaedah) in the past, also seem to be a factor motivating a punishing action against the current Sudanese government.

In addition to the July 2004 UN Security Council Resolution, US Congress has also passed a US law, called “Sudan Peace Act” in October 2002. This law provides for strict sanctions, ranging from a downgrading of diplomatic relations to a UN arms embargo, that could be imposed on the Sudanese government if it negotiates in a “bad faith” with the country's southern terrorists, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA).

US law makers’ intent is thus very clear that they want the Southern Sudanese non-Muslims to be empowered to an extraordinary extent, beyond their real segmented population weight, due share and rights as a common Sudanese subject, thus weakening a Muslim government in line with the Broader Middle East and North African Initiative.

In spite of a similar situation (political freedom struggle) prevailing in Kashmir, Chechnya, and Palestine, the UN is turning its eyes away from them. It is thus obvious that the UN (USA+EU) machinery needs oil to run, and may keep away from dry areas.

[end of the Article]

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