A Texan politician with oil interests and extensive links with both multinationals and Church groups in the US becomes president in Washington; Western Christian and human-rights groups suddenly launch a vicious campaign against oil companies operating in the Sudan, accusing them of complicity in the alleged massacre and displacement of thousands of non-Muslim southerners by an ‘Islamic government’. The campaign coincides with the announcement by Lundin Oil of Sweden — one of several companies (all non-American) operating in the country — of an “existing and significant” new discovery. Meanwhile, US secretary of state Colin Powell told a Congressional hearing in mid-March that Sudan may be the world’s greatest current tragedy, and president George W. Bush referred to Sudan’s “agony”.
The groups that are conducting the campaign (such as Christian Aid) have considerable presence in the south of the country, and contribute greatly to the war-machine of the guerrillas fighting for a breakaway republic. They have virtually become an industry sustained by “charitable” donations extracted in publicity campaigns luridly portraying Christian Africans as refugees displaced in a vicious war waged by Arab and Islamic northerners. They claim that their presence in the region is necessary because Khartoum is unwilling to carry out development projects there.
But now that Khartoum is benefiting from oil-money ($500 million per annum according to some estimates, and perhaps twice that because of the new discovery), the ‘Christian charities’ are irrelevant. The displaced people whom they have held captive for so long in underfunded refugee-camps (which double as evangelical centres) would prefer peace to a war that has ravaged their region and lives, and which is certain to deny them access to their country’s oil-bonanza. The prospects of peace and development clearly pose a threat to both the foreign Christian groups and the southern warlords, such as Colonel John Garang, leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), all of whom are supported by the “West” as part of their effort to destabilise Sudan.
Hence the alliance between the foreign groups and the SPLA, and the division of labour between them, with the rebels attacking oil-installations and the groups misrepresenting the legitimate defence actions taken by government forces as operations against innocent civilians.
Their combined line, as taken in the latest Christian Aid report, published last month, is to accuse the oil-companies of complicity in the massacre and displacement of thousand of civilians, on the grounds that the oil-money is financing the government’s war effort, and that if peace is to be achieved the oil operations must be stopped. According to the report, the companies are protected by government forces and allow their airstrips and roads to be used by the military, while the revenues from the oil are financing the extension of the war, the report says. And it calls on the companies concerned — which are from Canada, Sweden, China, France and Austria — to suspend their operations in the Sudan. It also calls on British Petroleum (BP) and Shell, which have no operations there, to withdraw shares from firms that have.
Both BP and Shell deny having any shares in firms directly involved in the Sudan, but admit having stakes in parent companies, saying that this is no reason for disinvesting their shares. Lundin Oil of Sweden says that it has witnessed no violations in its area of operations, and would not allow any to take place.
Suppliers which provide equipment to these firms have also come under attack, including the British company Rolls Royce and the Wier Group. Even individuals who serve as members are under attack. Human-rights groups have demanded that Carl Bildt, the UN special envoy to the Balkans and former prime minister of Sweden, resign from the board of Lundin Oil.
Christian groups in the US have joined forces with Christian Aid and others, putting strong pressure on Bush to intervene in the Sudanese war on the side of the SPLA. One of the most active US groups is Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical organisation which has a centre in southern Sudan. Its chairman, Franklin Graham, who gave the invocation at Bush’s inauguration, has appealed to the president for urgent US involvement.
Christian Aid and what it calls its partners in southern Sudan (such as Samaritan’s Purse) know very well that the SPLA has declared war on the oil installations and their operators — and indeed on Christian southerners working there simply as labourers. They also know that the SPLA forcibly recruits child soldiers from the villages and areas surrounding the oil installations and pipelines. And as it is on record that the SPLA has actually killed aid workers and expelled others from areas under its control, the Christian groups cannot feign ignorance. In late February of last year, for instance, the SPLA told aid groups to sign a memorandum of understanding with it, or leave. It wanted the groups to increase the help it was already receiving from them. Private planes belonging to the groups were, for example, made available to SPLA officers to supervise military operations. A few weeks later, the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva announced that the SPLA had executed four of its employees six weeks after arresting them. But the SPLA is pro-Western, so it is permitted such atrocities.
Instead, such groups are mainly concerned to generate publicity hostile to Khartoum and favourable to the rebels, and they know from experience that even secular groups and media in the west will give wide and favourable publicity to any reports they produce — no matter how wildly inaccurate — that vilify the ‘Islamic government’ in Khartoum. The publicity accorded the wild allegations of slavery in Sudan made by Christian Solidarity International could only have encouraged Christian Aid to publish its highly exaggerated report, and its expectations have not been misplaced: the western media have indeed used the report as a justification for urging western capitals to put pressure on the oil companies to suspend their operations in Sudan.
The Washington Post, for instance, has urged the Bush administration to go beyond its expression of interest in Sudan’s civil war and seek to impose peace between “the Islamic government and the Christian and animist south”. Unless it does so, “the Bush team may find itself presiding over the consolidation of a rogue state that is America’s sworn enemy”. The editorial, published on March 17, cited the oil revenues and Khartoum’s willingness to exploit them for war purposes as the basis for the “rogue state consolidation”. The editorial then argued that pressure on the companies will give Bush the means with which to blackmail Khartoum into toeing any line he choses to draw.
Omar Bashir’s hopes of international rehabilitation after his attack on Hasan al-Turabi look likely to go unfulfilled.