Sudan, Part II
"There is perhaps no greater tragedy on the face of the Earth"
--Secretary of State Colin Powell
As we pick up our story on Sudan, it''s now 1985 and Col. Gaafar
al-Nimeiri, once a supporter of the West, was forced to impose
Shari''a (Islamic law) as a way to save his political skin. The
Christians who dominated the south of Sudan knew that the
adoption of Shari''a was directed at them. [Just as an aside, a
similar problem has cropped up in Nigeria over the past year.]
Giving into the Fundamentalists was not enough, however, to
keep Nimeiri in power. The National Islamic Front overthrew
him in another military coup and established an Islamic state
under Nimeiri''s former chief-of-staff. But chaos reigned until
1989 when General Omar Hassan al-Bashir established control.
The new government did what all new administrations seem to
do in Africa, arrest its opponents. The ongoing conflict in the
south of the country then escalated.
You''ll recall that the conflict between north and south in Sudan
can be traced all the way back to the 6th century. Broadly
speaking it''s the Islamic north versus the Christian south. But
over the past ten years, the government in Khartoum has also
encouraged fighting among ethnic groups in the south, resulting
in even more misery for the impoverished people.
Unlike Nimeiri, Bashir, who is still in control today, has never
been a fan of the West. During the Gulf War, Sudan supported
Iraq and the country has been labeled a major supporter of
terrorism. It was the Clinton Administration that bombed a
suspected nerve gas plant in Khartoum. [The plant was later
found to be nothing more than a vitamin manufacturing
facility...but, hey, Clinton had to distract us all from the Monica
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once said the problems in
Sudan were "not marketable to the American people." In fact,
the Clinton folks rarely mentioned the civil war that had claimed
some 2 million lives while creating over 4 million refugees.
Finally, about three months before the president left office, the
U.S. applied some diplomatic pressure in the UN for the purposes
of blocking Sudan''s elevation to the UN Security Council.
[Africa''s seat on the council rotates and it was Sudan''s turn.
But the U.S. led a move to place Mauritius instead.]
What has changed with the new Bush Administration is the fact
that an unlikely coalition of concerned Americans has banded
together, including African American churches and white
Christian evangelicals. For example, the Reverend Franklin
Graham (Billy''s son) built a hospital in southern Sudan to care
for the refugees, which has now been bombed at least 9 times by
government forces. And what is particularly galling is the extent
of the slave trade between the Islamic north and the Christian
south. U.S. and other international groups have repatriated some
42,000 captives at $35 a head. It''s amazing, and sick, to think
that this practice still goes on anywhere in the world.
But aside from issuing formal protests against the Khartoum
government, what can the U.S. do? Armed intervention, for
instance, is highly unlikely. But President Bush can at least
assign a special envoy to show Bashir that Sudan carries as much
weight in our foreign policy thinking as any other issue today.
[Admittedly, with the current episode in China and a renewed
escalation of violence in the Middle East, it''s a stretch.]
There is one other angle, however, that can be explored and that
has to do with oil. Sudan has tons of it. And while it was always
thought that significant reserves existed, particularly in the
southern regions, it''s only been in the last few years that the
fields have been developed to any great extent. And who is
leading the development effort? Try Canada, France, Austria,
Sweden, China, and Malaysia. The exploration companies of
these nations are financing the war. And since the prime
properties are in the south, over the past few years the
government has embarked on a scorched-earth policy of
depopulating the region for miles around the fields in order to
protect the assets. The U.S. needs to convince at least some of
the outfits involved that they should suspend their operations
until a peace settlement has been brokered between the north and
south. In other words, we can attempt to shame them into ceasing
One of the oil companies, Sweden''s Lundin, recently announced
a "significant and exciting" new discovery in Sudan. The fact
that a former prime minister of Sweden is on the board didn''t
seem to matter. And then there is the case of Talisman Energy of
Canada, which has received a ton of heat for its ongoing
operations in the country, including a 25% share in a $1.2 billion
pipeline project. Whether it''s Talisman, Lundin, or any of the
others, all claim that their operations only benefit the people of
the south, that if they weren''t there, roads and schools wouldn''t
be built and needed infrastructure projects would go begging. Of
course this is largely a bunch of bull.
Sudan''s government is currently receiving oil revenues of up to
$580 million, and this total will only continue to rise, perhaps
significantly, as the fields are developed. Sudan takes in the oil
revenue and turns around and purchases weapons from the likes
of China, Iran, Iraq, and Russia. In exchange, the arms exporters
agree to be repaid in future oil exports.
It''s a nasty situation with a cast of characters resembling the
board game "Clue." But it also represents one of the worst cases
of genocide in human history. We never seem to learn. If we
can''t draw the line in Sudan, when will we?
*A plane crash on 4/4 killed 14 of Sudan''s senior military staff.
Next week, China.
"A History of the Arab Peoples," Albert Hourani
"The Oxford History of Islam," edited by John Esposito
"Africana," Kwame Appiah and Henry Gates, Jr.
Michael Satchell / U.S. News and World Report
Peter Foster and Carol Howes / National Post
Harry Koza / Thomson Financial
Irving Greenberg / Washington Post