Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
East Africa at the Brink:
Hidden Hands behind Sudan's Oil War
By Ramzy Baroud
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, Monday, May 7, 2012
Once again Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir waved his walking
stick in the air. Once again he spoke of splendid victories over his enemies
as thousands of jubilant supporters danced and cheered. But this time around
the stakes are too high.
An all out war against newly independent
South Sudan might not be in Sudan’s best interest. South Sudan’s
saber-rattling is not an entirely independent initiative; its most recent
territorial transgressions - which saw the occupation of Sudan’s largest oil
field in Heglig on April 10, followed by a hasty retreat ten days later –
might have been a calculated move aimed at drawing Sudan into a larger
Stunted by the capture of Heglig, which, according to
some estimates, provides nearly half of the country’s oil production, Bashir
promised victory over Juba. Speaking to large crowd in the capital of North
Kordofan, El-Obeid, Bashir affectively declared war. “Heglig isn't the end,
it is the beginning,” he said, as quoted in the Wall Street Journal. Bashir
also declared a desire to ‘liberate’ the people of South Sudan from a
government composed of ‘insects.’ Even when Heglig was declared a liberated
region by Sudan’s defence minister, the humiliation of defeat was simply
replaced by the fervor of victory. “They started the fighting and we will
announce when it will end, and our advance will never stop,” Bashir
announced on April 20.
Statements issued by the government of South
Sudan are clearly more measured, with an international target audience in
mind. Salva Kiir, President of South Sudan, simply said that his forces
departed the region following appeals made by the international community.
This includes a statement by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, which
described the attack on Heglig as “an infringement on the sovereignty of
Sudan and a clearly illegal act” (Reuters, April 19). A day before the hasty
withdrawal, South Sudan government spokesman Barnaba Marial Benjamin claimed
there had been no conflict in the first place. His statement was both
bewildering and patronizing. He considered Sudan, which was then rallying
for war to recapture its oil-rich area, a neighbor and “friendly nation”,
and claimed that “up to now we have not crossed even an inch into Sudan”
(Associated Press, April 19).
The fact remains, however, that
wherever there is oil political narratives cannot possibly be so simple.
Sudan is caught in a multidimensional conflict involving weapons trade,
internal instabilities, multiple civil wars and the reality of outside
players with their own interests. None of this is enough to excuse the
readiness for war on behalf of Khartoum and Juba, but it certainly presents
serious obstacles to any attempt aimed at rectifying the situation.
With a single act of aggression, a whole set of conflicts are prone to
flaring up. It is the nature of proxy politics, as many armed groups seek
opportunities for territorial advances and financial gains. News reports
already speak of a possible involvement of Uganda should the fledging war
between Khartoum and Juba cross conventional boundaries. “As the possibility
of a full-fledged war became unnervingly higher, General Aronda Nyakairima,
chief of Uganda’s defense forces, said that his army might be compelled to
intervene if Bashir did overthrow South Sudan’s regime,” reported Alexis
Okeowo in the New Yorker website (April 20). Both Sudans are fighting their
own war against various rebel groups. Despite the lack of basic food in
parts of the region, plenty of weapons effortlessly find inroads to wherever
there is potential strife.
In a statement published last July,
Amnesty International called on UN member states to control arm shipments to
both Sudan and South Sudan. It accused the US, Russia and China of fueling
violations in the Sudan conflict through the arms trade.
of South Sudan is already well known. “The US reportedly provided $100
million-a-year in military assistance to the SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation
Army),” according to Russia Today on April 19, citing a December 2009
diplomatic cable revealed by WikiLeaks.
According to political
author and columnist Reason Wafawarova, US interest in South Sudan is
neither accidental nor motivated by humanitarian issues. He told RT, “It
would not be surprising if the US is trying to capitalize on the
vulnerability of South Sudan in its efforts to establish the AFRICOM base
somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa.” RT goes on to reference Sudan’s Al-Intibaha
newspaper for its reports on Israeli weapon supplies to Juba.
and Israeli military support of Juba is not a new phenomenon. Sudan’s civil
war (1983-2005), which cost an estimated 2.5 million lives, could not have
lasted as long as it did without steady sources of military funding. And
while the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the January 9-15, 2011
referendum, and finally the independence of South Sudan in July were all
meant to usher in a new era of peace and cooperation, none actualized.
Sudan’s territorial concessions proved most costly, and South Sudan,
destroyed and landlocked, was ripe for outside exploitation.
countries are now caught in a deadly embrace. They can neither part ways
completely, nor cooperate successfully without a risk of war at every turn.
Bashir also knows he is running out of options. While Khartoum has already
“lost three-quarters of its oil revenue after the secession,” according
Egypt’s Al Ahram Weekly, “now it is poised to lose the rest.”
Naturally, a conflict of this magnitude cannot be resolved by empty gestures
and reassuring statements. The conflict has been festering for decades, and
war has been the only common language. Powerful countries, including the US,
Russia, China, but also Israel and regional Arab and Africa players
exploited the conflict to their advantage whenever possible. In a recent
analysis, the International Crisis Group in Brussels advised that a “new
strategy is needed to avert an even bigger crisis.” The crisis group
recommends that the “UN Security Council must reassert itself to preserve
international peace and security, including the implementation of border
monitoring tasks as outlined by UN Interim Security Force in Abyei.”
Expecting the Security Council to act in political tandem seems a bit too
optimistic, however. Considering that the US is arming and supporting South
Sudan, and that Russia and China continue to support Khartoum, the rivalry
in fact exists within the UN itself.
For a sustainable future peace
arrangement, Sudan’s territorial integrity must be respected, and South
Sudan must not be pushed to the brink of desperation. Rivalries between the
US, China and Russia cannot continue at the expense of nations that teeter
between starvation and civil wars. And whatever hidden hands that continue
to exploit Sudan’s woes now need to be exposed and isolated.
Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an
internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of
PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter:
Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).