Tony Blair and George W Bush are currently planning yet another military operation, this time under the guise of a humanitarian intervention in Sudan. The largest nation in Africa, this country has also experienced the longest-running civil war on that continent between its northern and southern regions and recently, Darfur in the west.
In the midst of the threat of UN sanctions on the Khartoum government, urged by the European Union on July 26 if the present crisis in the Darfur region was not resolved by an August 29 deadline, Blair stated in a July press conference that the British government had the moral authority to “deal with this and to deal with it by any means that we can.” Two days later, UK General Michael Jackson announced that 5,000 troops could be deployed in Sudan. From early July U.S. officials had been floating the idea of using force and on July 22, the U.S. Congress formally charged the African nation with genocide in Darfur. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry instructed Bush to “stop equivocating” and push for a Security Council resolution approving military intervention, to include US forces.
Sudan’s pre-liberation history was as an Anglo-Egyptian condominium, where the British sought to “modernize” the northern Arab part of the country, but intentionally abandoned the remote southern Sudan regions of Equatoria, Bahr a Ghazai and Upper Nile, inhabited by African peoples, claiming that the “South was not ready for exposure to the modern world.”
Separate development followed, and by the 1920’s Britain had gradually replaced Arab administrators in the South, banned northern Sudanese from entering and discouraged the spread of Islam and Arab customs, thus effectively dividing the country. A 1930 directive called for the south’s development as a “separate people,” with a potential future integration into British East Africa.
On January 1, 1956, Sudan proclaimed its independence, and in 1989 the National Islamic Front came to power in a coup led by General Omar el-Bashir, and set about making certain constitutional reforms as a means of maintaining national unity, religious freedoms, a more equitable sharing of national wealth, and even the possibility of a referendum on southern independence.
In 1983, the United States entered the field, rekindling the long-lasting civil war between the divided north and south via support for the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), led by John Garang, whose explicit strategy was to render southern Sudan ungovernable. From the early 1990s the U.S. strategy was to enlist the support of Uganda, Eritrea and Ethiopia to back the SPLA and act as conduits for U.S. military assistance – running into the millions – to that rebel force. It subsequently imposed sanctions on Sudan in 1997, which were extended by the Bush administration in 2001.
Meanwhile, on the political front, the Clinton administration was preparing the way for bringing down the Khartoum government by charging it with actions amounting to genocide against its population in the south; in parallel – as the ultimate demonization – placing the nation on its list of terrorist states in 1993. It has consistently failed to offer any evidence that the Sudanese government was supporting Palestinian and Lebanese guerrilla groups by allowing them refuge in its country. As the London Independent reported in December 93: “Sudan: is slowly convincing its neighbours that Washington’s decision to put Sudan on its list of states supporting terrorism,” might, after all, be groundless. Even Western diplomats in Khartoum are now admitting privately that - save for reports of a Palestinian camp outside Khartoum like those that also exist in Tunisia, Yemen, Syria and other Arab countries - there may be no guerrilla training bases in the country after all.” Nevertheless, in 1997 John Prendergast, head of East African Affairs in the National Security Council, stated: “the Sudanese government is the principal threat to U.S. security interests on the continent of Africa today.”
The political onslaught steadily intensified, culminating in the August 98 U.S. cruise missile attack on the Sudanese al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in the wake of car bomb attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, for which responsibility was laid on Bin Laden, in a script that has become all too familiar. This alleged chemical weapons plant supposedly subsidized by Bin Laden was established by local entrepreneurs on soft loans from the Eastern and Southern African Preferential Trade Association, a thoroughly reputable organization, and subsequently modernized through a large investment by Sudanese born Salah Idris, resident in Saudi Arabia. It produced essential drugs for malaria and veterinary medicines for national and regional use at one third of Western prices, and was a successful attempt to build national industry on the basis of local need. Again, not a shred of evidence was provided to prove that it was producing VX nerve gas chemicals.
International Criticism, Regional Support And National Moves
That build up has not been without criticism from abroad – including in the United States itself – in Africa and the Middle East. The Khartoum government has likewise attempted to make positive attempts in response to the situation of the civilian disaster in the country.
A few months after the U.S. strike (without UN Security Council backing) on the al-Shifa plant, the London Times reported: “A catalogue of intelligence blunders and wayward political analysis by agents and senior American administration officials led to the cruise missile attacks on a pharmaceutical factory” in Sudan.
In December 1999, the Boston Globe quoted ex-U.S. president Carter commenting on the situation in that war-torn African country: “the biggest obstacle (to peace) is U.S. government policy. The United States is committed to overthrowing the government in Khartoum.”
In the region, and in the context of the immediate crisis in Darfur, African Unity (AU) initiated peace talks between the Khartoum government and rebels on August 23 in the Nigerian capital, and an AU mission in Sudan has been monitoring a ceasefire in the troubled region while assessing the possibility of a regional peace-keeping force. Meanwhile, in the Middle East, Libya hosted informal talks on the Sudanese crisis and Egypt spoke out against any imposition of UN sanctions.
The national government in that country has made its own efforts to attain tranquility. In July 2002, the Machakos Protocol, a peace agreement between the Sudanese government and Southern rebels was signed in Kenya allowing for six-year transition period, with an autonomous administration in the south and a referendum on independence at the end of that period. However, in 2003 came the secessionist revolt in southern Darfur, led by the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), demanding a parallel deal for the rebels there, and subsequent fighting in the area involving an Arab-speaking militia group, the Janjawid, which the government has denied backing.
Recent moves by the Sudanese government include the signing of an agreement with the SPLA on January 8, 2004 on sharing the nation’s wealth in terms of oil revenue, and its submission to the UN of a list of 11 safe areas for the displaced civilian population in Darfur
Whys And Wherefores: Geography, Independence, Oil And China
Motive No 1 can be found in a 2001 report from the Washington Center for Strategic and International Studies: “Sudan matters because it straddles a fault between Africa and the Middle East that requires the United States to balance delicate, competing foreign policy interests. Depending on how it manages its internal affairs Sudan can provide either a constructive link between Africa and the Middle East or a point of confrontation that has destabilizing consequences for both regions. Eventually Sudan might provide an additional source of energy supply.”
However, generally speaking, the nation has attempted to develop as an Islamic state without bowing to outside dictates, while adopting an independent stance on the Israeli war on Palestine and in relation to Iraq. As Dr. Sean Gabb, director of the London-based Sudan Foundation pointed out in February 2001, the African nation’s “independence and threat of a democratic Islamic model to America’s absolutist and authoritarian allies in the Middle East marked it out as a target for American displeasure.”
In other words, Sudan has not acted as “a subservient regime like Nigeria “a huge country awash with petrodollars which do nothing for the people and with a massive debt to boot which makes it totally beholden to the West’s economic bodies (Crescent International, Vol. 28, No. 13, September ’99). That could be expressed as Motive No 2 for intervention.
Close on its heels comes Motive No. 3. Sudan began exporting oil through the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPC) on August 30, 1999. Producing 150,000 barrels per day, it was likewise self-sufficient in domestic needs (standing at 60-65,000 barrels per day) Given the U.S. trade embargo imposed in ’97, this was both a developmental advance and a threat to the United States. Sudanese oil revenues in 2000 comprised 45% of the total national income.
As another crucial factor, 75% of the country’s oil is located in the south and coincidentally, those areas have been a particular target for the SPLA, logically prompting a military response from the government. Darfur is likewise rich in oil, and is precisely the location of concessions to the Chinese National Petroleum Company and a projected pipeline.
Here comes Motive No. 4. China is Sudan’s largest trading partner, and within the GNPC consortium has a 40% share in Sudanese oil, followed by Malaysia (30%), Canada (25%) and the national company Sudapet with 5%. In order to move ahead with its own development, China needs an independent supply of petroleum. That Asian giant was deprived of a potential pipeline from the oil-rich area of the Caspian Sea when the United States invaded Afghanistan and set up bases throughout Central Asia along its route. It subsequently had a deal to develop Iraqi oil, doubtlessly thwarted by the Anglo-U.S. occupation, and another alternative in Sudan is now being threatened in its turn.
The stage has been set, and the forces are being marshaled against this African nation. Those forces have already proven themselves capable of acting without the acquiescence of international agencies such as the UN or governments subscribing to world peace, and despite the will of the people in many of those nations. We can only hope that the lesson of the lie of the 20th-21st wars waged by the superpower and its allies on the false bases of combating terror, promoting democracy or for humanitarian motives, has been sufficiently exposed.