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October 30, 2004

The Situation in Sudan

It's Sudan Day here at Indiana University. Sudan now has not one but two distinct collapses of civil society: in the South, and in Darfur. The South has been in turmoil ever since the 1950's, except for one period from 1972 to 1983 when the Khartoum government made peace and allowed autonomy. There is no reason for the Moslem North and the Christian/Pagan South to be one country, really, though a federal system could work. But in 1983, the discovery of oil in the South and Northern Islamism combined to make the North end autonomy and restart the war. It's unclear how many hundreds of thousands or millions have died in the South (some say 3 million). But what is clear is that the South has been in anarchy. The North has not seriously tried to conquer the South, but it has used such things as raids, funding of bandits and militias, and aerial bombing of civilians to prevent anybody else from governing the South. The aim seems to have been to keep the South utterly undeveloped, so it could not present any kind of threat to Northern plans. The situation would be like the traditional one, where the North, in a more advanced state of development, could go South for resources (slaves then, oil now) without needing to actually govern it....

...It took 20 years, but now the oil is flowing. A couple of good reports on it are the U.S. Dept. of Energy Sudan Brief and the 3MB Human Rights Watch 2003 oil report , especially the section, "Oil Revenues Soar", and the International Crisis Group's 250-page 2002"God, Oil and Country: Changing the Logic of War in Sudan". (See also the older report of my own organization, South Sudanese Friends International). Total government revenue from all sources rose from 800 million dollars in 1999 to 1,799 million dollars in 2002; revenue from oil rose from 61 to 805 million dollars (Table 1). By 2005 oil output will have doubled-- and oil prices are up too. So time are good for Khartoum.

But not everything has been good. There are two problems for oil production: the turmoil in the South, and international-- especially American-- disapproval. The calculus of costs and benefits for the North has changed. The Islamist leader Hassan Turabi is under house arrest, and his secular ally General Bashir is firmly in power. Foreign oil companies are producing the oil, but with the exception of the Swedish-Swiss private company Lundin, they are non-western oil companies. Talisman, the Canadian company, sold its stake after criticism of its support for Khartoum became too hot. And the war in the South is bad for oil production. Thus, peace now has the possibility of being a win-win situation. The North can escape foreign criticism and produce oil at less cost; the South can have peace and a share of the oil money.

In 2004, Khartoum and the SPLA, the biggest of the many Southern groups, signed a peace, under U.S. auspices. Whether Khartoum will keep to the details of the agreement seems to me doubtful-- a 50-50 oil split and possible independence of the South in a few years seems much too good to be true-- but what is much more likely is that peace will come. That is what the South chiefly needs-- peace, so that the villages and towns can operate normally, and begin the climb from poverty that occurs automatically if official and unofficial pillage does not prevent it. Even if the oil money all goes to the SPLA leadership and Khartoum, if that keeps them off the backs of the Southern people, it will be a blessing.

"What about Darfur?" you may ask. I don't understand what is going on there. It is an immense tragedy, similar to the Southern one in that it takes the form of rampaging militias tacitly supported by Khartoum and of a refusal to govern. Khartoum's motivation is harder to see. The people in Darfur who are being oppressed are among the most Moslem in Sudan, so perhaps this is Bashir firming up his power-- wreck the political structure in Darfur, and then go in to pick up the pieces later. Torabi is on the side of the people in Darfur, which supports this, and there has apparently been a purge of Darfurians in position of power in Khartoum. They have composed a disproportionately large share of the army in the past. Unlike the South, Darfur-- in alliance with Moslems in Khartoum-- actually has been a threat to the Bashir regime. That threat is now being suppressed.

Posted by erasmuse at October 30, 2004 05:18 PM

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