Darfur: oil and hypocrisy

‘Human rights’ campaign masks US imperialism's quest to control the natural resources of Sudan

Since oil was discovered under Darfur some three years ago, there has arisen a very considerable human rights campaign, supposedly on behalf of the inhabitants of that region, which rivals the equally tendentious human rights campaigns levelled against such countries as Korea and Iran. Meetings of progressive people are targeted by ‘human rights activists’ wielding such slogans as ‘Out of Iraq – into Darfur’!

One should always beware of imperialists when they talk of ‘human rights’. As Sherene H Razack says in her book Dark Threats and White Knights, “It is useful to remember some of the worst atrocities have been undertaken in the name of human rights. King Leopold of Belgium, whose nineteenth century exploits in Congo contributed to the loss of ten million African lives, was known as a great humanitarian in his day.” (University of Toronto Press, 2004)

One glance at those active on the question of Darfur’s ‘human rights’, who are nowhere to be seen or heard when it comes to the human rights of the people oppressed by imperialism, will be enough to convince most people of the speciousness of their campaign. They include prominent US zionist organisations, as well as the National Association of Evangelicals, the World Evangelist Alliance and other such fundamentalist christian groups based in the United States.

President Bush (who claimed in his speech to the 2002 graduating class that “Targeting innocent civilians for murder is always and everywhere wrong”, but is nevertheless backing and arming Israel in its bombing of innocent civilians in Lebanon), is impatient to send ‘international peacekeepers’ to take control of Darfur – for the benefit of western imperialist oil companies, of course, although these ‘peacekeepers’ are told that “We are in a conflict between good and evil”, and that imperialism represents “good”.

Most ‘peacekeepers’ believe this outrageous propaganda, and find themselves committing endless atrocities – much as did King Leopold – in the name of the struggle of ‘good’ against ‘evil’, which is in reality nothing other than the struggle of imperialism (‘good’) to subdue movements for national independence and national liberation (‘evil’).

When we last wrote on the subject of Darfur, in August 2004, it was not generally known that it was a region rich in oil deposits. It was in fact the sudden interest that began to be taken at that time by the bourgeois media in the western imperialist countries in ‘human rights’ in this region that alerted us to the likelihood of there being oil or other valuable minerals at stake there.

Absolutely no interest is ever taken in human rights in the various countries that are US neo-colonies, where US-backed fascist dictatorships and murder squads slaughter innocent civilians by the hundred. Virtually no interest is being taken by the bourgeois media in the human rights of the people of Palestine and Lebanon, whose civil infrastructure has been bombed to smithereens by Israel, which will inevitably lead to the premature deaths of even more thousands.

Nobody is threatening forcibly to impose an international peacekeeping force on Israel! But where suddenly you find a US President taking an interest in the plight of poor people in Africa, one can be sure that the financial interests of US multinationals are at stake. What of the human rights of the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where over four million people have died since 1998 in an imperialist-inspired war for control of mineral resources?

When dealing with modern imperialism, the solution to the mystery is likely to be found on the principle of cherchez l’essence – look for the oil. And sure enough it turned out that Darfur was harbouring substantial oil deposits. It is also rich in natural gas and in uranium. It now turns out that the oil deposits in question are likely to rival in size and extent those of Saudi Arabia.

Having been caught with its greedy fingers round the cookie jar, US imperialism is now trying to claim that actually it is the members of the Sudanese government who are the greedy ones. However, the true picture is that the Sudanese government is working to suppress rebellions fomented in the region by US imperialism.

Because of internal conflicts between different tribes in Darfur, exacerbated by global warming and the desertification of the region, there is no shortage of discontent for foreign troublemakers to exploit. As Alan J Kuperman pointed out in the New York Times of 31 May 2006, “the region’s blacks [by which he means the muslim non-Arab population], painted as long-suffering victims, actually were the oppressors less than two decades ago – denying Arab nomads access to grazing areas essential to their survival”.

In other words, as we pointed out in our article of August 2004, the basic conflict was over essential resources, waged between settled farmers and nomadic tribes, and had nothing whatever to do with ethnicity in any way.

Imperialism has, however, worked hard to exacerbate the contradictions with a view to securing if possible the secession of the oil-rich regions of Darfur. This would be it considerably easier for imperialism to profit from the oil, free from any claims the Sudanese government or people might have that these profits should be used for the benefit of Sudanese people and to build the infrastructure that the country desperately needs.

The imperialist ideal as far as oil-producing countries are concerned is, basically, a glorified oil well with a flag and hardly any population to support (see Kuwait). However, the hypocritically distorted picture presented by US imperialism through the bourgeois media in western imperialist countries is that, precisely because of oil discoveries, the Sudanese government is massacring the local population of Darfur in order to empty to territory of people who might have a claim to the land in question.

The whole notion is absurd, because the Sudanese government has no need to massacre anybody in order to lay claim to mineral deposits that lie way below the surface of the land. If Sudanese law does not already give the Sudanese government a right to those minerals, then it would merely have to pass a law which vested all oil below the territory of Sudan as belonging to the state. This does not necessitate driving anybody off the land at all.

There is of course a grave humanitarian crisis in the region. This is not a crisis, however, which imperialism can solve – on the contrary, imperialism is largely responsible for it. Advancing desertification has made people’s lives precarious and has pitted settled farmers against nomads in a struggle over water resources that are vital to both.

Had the profits from the oil discovered in southern Sudan been available to the Sudanese government to use for the purpose, these problems might have been resolved, but instead the Sudanese government has been embroiled in an expensive civil war with a separatist movement in the south – which again might have long ago been resolved to everybody’s satisfaction were it not for imperialist interference.

And now that peace has been signed with the southern Sudanese, Sudanese government resources are being frittered away by the need to fight another imperialist-backed rebel movement in Darfur. To the miseries of water shortage and crop failure, this civil war has now added a toll of thousands of premature deaths and the displacement of millions from their homes.

This imperialist-inspired tragedy is referred to by George Bush and his cohorts with the emotive expressions ‘holocaust’ and ‘genocide’, words as fraudulently deployed as his use of ‘good’ and ‘evil’, implying that the Sudanese government is deliberately massacring the people of the region with the aim of wiping them all out.

It is, however, the imperialist interference in exacerbating contradictions between the people of the region, and in embroiling Sudan in endless civil war, that is to blame for the deaths that are occurring, rather than the Sudanese government, which is leaning over backwards to try to bring about peace.

What causes imperialism to interfere in Sudan in this way? The reason is precisely that Sudan wanted to use its oil revenue for the benefit of its own people to a far greater extent than the multinational oil companies are prepared to tolerate.

This has caused the imperialist powers to impose sanctions on Sudan, bomb its pharmaceuticals plant, and bring all kinds of economic pressures to bear to try to force the Sudanese government to capitulate.

Sudan, however, has been able to sideline western imperialism, by taking up the opportunity of dealing instead with China as far as both oil exploration and oil trade are concerned.

It is estimated that 6 percent of China’s oil imports are from Sudan (amounting to two thirds of Sudan’s current oil production), and China’s state-owned oil company owns a 40 percent share in the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company, which owns two of the most important Sudanese oil fields.

Chinese companies are also involved in the construction of a 1392km pipeline from Melut Basin, where the oil is, to Port Sudan, from where it is exported, and of a $215m oil export terminal at the port.

Other countries that deal with Sudan for their oil are India and Malaysia. At the same time, US oil companies are barred from operating in the country at all.

In order to try to bring Sudan to its knees, the US has been persecuting companies such as Talisman Energy (formerly BP Canada), which has been indicted via a Sudan-based Presbyterian Church organisation for “complicity in war crimes” simply because it did business with Sudan.

In 1998, Talisman had purchased Arakis Energy, one of the largest players in the Sudanese oil industry. At the time, the government of Sudan was almost totally reliant on oil revenues for its war effort against US-inspired and supported rebellions. This war effort was naturally repeatedly accused of war crimes, human rights abuses, and genocide. NGOs and churches moblised for institutional investors to pull out of Talisman shares and pushed the Canadian government to penalise the company.

Contrary to every legal precedent, an American judge allowed the lawsuit to proceed, and the case against Talisman is still ongoing. The divestment drive proved successful; major investors, such as the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, threatened to sell their shares if the company did not pull out of Sudan.

Despite large profits, Talisman’s shares plummeted until in 2003 Talisman was forced to pull out of Sudan, selling its holdings to an Indian company, ONGC Videsh.

Despite the power its money and military might undoubtedly wield, the intimidation of rival oil companies will not give the United States the control it wants over Sudanese oil resources. The only way that the US multinationals can get control over Darfur’s oil is by undermining Sudanese government control over Darfur – by driving it out, no matter what the cost in human lives as US imperialism arms and organises local elements prepared to betray their government and their people in return for cash.

The Sudanese government needs to put an end to the rebellion, and has been prepared to make substantial concessions to the rebels in order to secure peace. In May this year, it signed an agreement with the strongest rebel faction (led by Minni Minawi and representing the minority Zaghawa tribe), promising a larger slice of Sudan’s oil revenues to Darfur, with Khartoum providing the area with £180m straight away and £120m a year thereafter.

Nevertheless, other rebels (in particular Abdul Wahid al-Nur, who is able to influence the numerically larger Fur tribe) refuse to accept any compromise – and who can doubt that they expect better terms from America once the ‘international peacekeepers’ advocated by imperialism arrive on the scene. As Kuperman ( op cit) put it: “Put simply, the rebels were willing to let genocide [!] continue against their own people rather than compromise their demand for power.”

It is, however, undoubtedly US imperialism itself that is responsible for the fact that two of the ‘African’ tribes of the region will not sign up to the peace agreement that the militant Zaghawas have signed up to. People who previously had lived relatively harmoniously together for centuries are now being turned against each other, as US imperialism turns to the Fur tribe to destabilise the region now that the Zaghawas have had the good sense to accept the deal that the Sudanese government was offering with a view to restoring peace within its frontiers.

The result is that. among thousands of displaced villagers herded together in refugee camps, there is now considerable hostility between villagers of different tribes living side by side in the camps – all left homeless and destitute by the war but refusing to share a water tap with members of the other tribe.

The Daily Telegraph of 16 June says: “Today … most of the fighting is taking place within the SLA [the Sudanese Liberation Army – the rebel army]. Clashes between rival factions account for the great majority of the 50 incidents recorded by the United Nations … since 1 May. The delivery of aid is being sabotaged. Rebel commanders have closed the Binasa area to aid workers, denying essential help to 60,000 people in a region once considered relatively safe.” (‘Darfur rebels turn against each other’)

Although the bourgeois media claim that the United States ‘brokered’ the peace agreement and was most disappointed by the fact that two rebel groups refused to sign up, this is just more hypocrisy. The US is very happy for the bloodletting to continue, as can be gauged from the fact that it is making every effort to undermine the peace agreement. All of a sudden, the rebels that did sign the peace with the Sudanese government are being castigated in the imperialist media for their “abusive, undisciplined behaviour”. (See ‘A peace plan not worth the paper its written on’, The Independent, 26 May 2006)

The most vicious aspect is failure to finance the World Food Programme to provide adequate sustenance for those driven from their homes by war.

Some 3 million people are dependent on WFP aid in southern and eastern Sudan. Yet according to The Guardian of 22 May 2006, “Donor countries have given only £167m of the £397m it needs for its budget. In what the WFP executive director, James Morris, called ‘one of the hardest decisions’ of his life, he ordered that rations be halved from May … People who have lost their homes and often family members too will now receive just 1,050 kilocalories in food a day, half the minimum recommended daily allowance.”

By cutting back essential aid to people whose lives have been torn apart by the civil war that US imperialism has encouraged, it is clear that the imperialist powers are trying to inflame the situation still further. The Sudanese government, on the other hand, is trying to increase rations to the refugees and has pledged 20,000 tonnes of grain – not quite the act of a government bent on ‘genocide’.

Furthermore, according to The Guardian of 7 June, imperialism has also been working to undermine the African Union peacekeeping force that has been working in the area, a force of men familiar with the problems of Africa and sympathetic to some extent to the suffering of African people and therefore most ‘unreliable’ from the imperialist point of view.

Instead, western imperialism is anxious to substitute forces controlled by imperialist countries. The western nations have been withholding funding, as a result of which some soldiers have not been paid for three months. This is forcing the African Union to pull out, and suggestions are rife that UN troops will be stepping in to replace them – except that UN troops are, understandably, not acceptable to the Sudanese government. UN peacekeepers are under the control of imperialist powers and the ‘peace’ that they bring can only be an exploiters’ peace.

The Sudanese people are perfectly capable of solving their own problems if imperialism will leave them alone to get on with it. Any interference of western powers can only make matters worse. The attempts to panic well-meaning people into supporting imperialist intervention must be thwarted.

> Darfur – The scramble for the oil in Africa – August 2004