For some time Sudan has been under great pressure from the UN and the ‘international community’ (led by the US) to grant independence, not merely self-rule, to its constituent regions, such as Darfur. The pressure has already forced Khartoum to grant Southern Sudan self-rule and the right to choose between full independence and membership of an federal Sudanese state, and has induced the rebel groups in Darfur to abandon the peace agreements they signed with Khartoum. Their bloody and destructive rebellion has now spilled over into neighbouring countries like Chad, which have their own festering inter-communal strife that can easily become uncontrollable. The pressure is also preventing regional leaders from cooperating to contain the conflicts, driving them to accuse each other of fomenting them instead.
How successful the pressure is proving to be in the case of southern Sudan was demonstrated recently when senior ministers from the south and Khartoum admitted in public that it is closer to secession than federation. The two ministers, who were attending a conference organised by a local newspaper on January 21– 22 for the discussion of the issue, agreed that the two sides are far from working together to prepare the basis for a popular decision to unite when the referendum on unity or independence is held. The two agreed to hold the referendum two years ago but are by now convinced that the southerners will vote for secession. How keen the south is to secede is also already indicated by the transitional government’s decision to act like an independent one and appoint ambassadors, issue passports, and grant visas to foreign travellers. According to Khartoum, many of these travellers are Israelis.
The US, which must be pleased with this result, is not likely to ease its pressure to disintegrate Sudan. Secession by the south will be particularly pleasing to the US government, not only because the government there will be controlled by Christians but because Sudan’s main oil resources are also in the south. Khartoum, which at present has full control of those resources, sells its oil to China, which has come under strong pressure to end its trade and diplomatic relations with Sudan.
Beijing has invested about £8 billion in Sudanese oil through the China National Petroleum Company (CNPC). According to the CNPC’s annual report, Sudan accounts for about half of all its overseas assets. The connection with China has turned the Sudanese oil industry into a significant one. Last year, for instance, China poured £3.2 billion into Sudan’s coffers. In 1998 oil-revenues were zero. China now depends on Sudan for about seven percent of all its oil imports; not surprisingly, China’s stake in Sudanese oil has made it president Bashir’s only friend among the leading powers and a strong defender of it in the UN security council.
Shortly after the outbreak of fighting in Darfur in 2004, the UN passed resolution 1564, which threatened Sudan with oil sanctions unless it curbed the Janjaweed militia opposed to those fighting the government. But Beijing immediately announced that it would veto any attempt to impose an oil embargo and the threat ceased to have any impact.
However, those anti-Khartoum powers and NGOs, including human-rights organisations, continued their pressure outside the security council. They argued that the income from the oil is enabling president Bashir to conduct “his war in Darfur”, and calling on China to use its influence on the president. According to Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch, to take only one example, “China has tremendous leverage over Sudan which it hasn’t used.”
One of the sad aspects of the international community’s reaction to the fighting in Sudan is that it has concentrated on the conduct of the Sudanese government and ignored the role of the rebel militias fighting it, and in some cases fighting each other. Blocking the flow of oil-wealth to Khartoum will not necessarily lead to an end to the fighting in Darfur. It will certainly make the already poverty-stricken people of the entire country even poorer and, consequently, lead to violence almost everywhere. The lack of pressure on or control of the rebel militias will make this violence even more destructive. The Darfur militias have already taken their violence into neighbouring Chad, adding to the misery of a people already in the grip of factional fighting. But yet again the so-called international community is blaming Khartoum alone for the mayhem in eastern Chad.
Chad already has a vast number of refugees who have very few resources at their disposal, and the numerous refugees fleeing Darfur are making their situation even worse. The fighting in Eastern Chad has also been made more violent by the arrival of rebel militias from Sudan who take sides and rob local refugee-camps of their food. Typically, the ‘international community’ and the UN – and, indeed, the Western media – single out Khartoum for all the blame for the violence. The very countries – and their allies – which bomb huge areas of Iraq and Afghanistan loudly accuse the Sudanese army of bombing refugees from Darfur inside Chad.
The selective measures being taken by the UN and international community, ostensibly to curb the war in Sudan, will not only worsen the situation but will help the violence to trigger a regional and further humanitarian catastrophe. Clearly the disintegration of Sudan will not disturb Washington, and it is likely that the spread of the mayhem into neighbouring countries, whose populations are mostly Muslim, will not unsettle the US government, its Christian backers and neo-con members either.