When, on May 3, US president George W. Bush said in a speech to the American Jewish committee that “we must turn the eyes of the world upon the atrocities in Sudan” but only as a “first step”, adding that “more will follow”, he knew what he was talking about. At the end of May the Bush administration announced that it had decided to grant $3 million to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), an umbrella organisation opposed to the government in Khartoum, and to release to the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) the $10 million already earmarked for this southern Christian rebel group. And on June 14 the US House of Representatives voted to prohibit foreign oil-companies that do business in Sudan from raising capital in the US or listing their securities in American financial markets. The legislators, who voted for this decision by 422 votes to 2, accused the “Muslim-dominated” governments of using oil revenues to commit “genocide” against the Christian and animist people of the south.
Bush’s war-like rhetoric and his release of funds to the insurgents, and the House of Representatives’ total endorsement of the war-aims of Christian warlords and Church groups worldwide, had an immediate and catastrophic impact on the prospect of a negotiated settlement. The perception that both the new US administration and the US Congress are united in their determination to topple the regime of president Omar Hassan al-Bashir had a galvanizing effect on the hitherto squabbling opposition-groups, and appeared to cause Sudan’s Horn of Africa neighbours to have second thoughts about improving their relations with Khartoum.
Two days after the House of Representatives passed its bill, NDA leaders began a two-day emergency meeting in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, to discuss ways of stepping up their flagging joint operations and of reviving the fighting in eastern Sudan, suspended after Eritrea and Ethiopia had decided to improve relations with Khartoum. According to a statement issued at the end of the meeting, the NDA decided to step up military operations in oil-producing regions, and to reopen the eastern front. Instructions for putting the necessary funds at the disposal of the joint military command were issued, the statement said, adding that the funds would be used to improve the fighting capabilities of the NDA forces, particularly on the eastern front. The Asmara meeting also rejected Khartoum’s offer to share oil revenues with the southerners, demanding instead that all oil-operations must be halted.
John Garang, who attended the meeting, said that his group would abide by the rules of the NDA, and would continue its raids into the oil-producing regions, holding Khartoum responsible for the destruction of oil-installations. Garang knows that any damage his forces inflict on oil-installations and on villages in the oil-producing areas will be blamed on the Sudanese government by his US supporters. Indeed, in his May 3 speech Bush called Sudan “a disaster area for all human rights” and accused the government of killing “Christians or those who would not convert to Islam”. And the House of Representatives’ Bill directs the Bush administration to file regular reports on the extent of government bombing-raids in the south and the level of oil-production. The mayhem caused by Garang’s undisciplined forces in the south is regarded as a by-product of government bombing.
In fact, some legislators use the allegation of genocide to justify their totally one-sided view of what they say is happening in southern Sudan. Representative Tom Lantos, Democrat of California, was quoted in a newspaper interview as saying that “we should not help foreign oil-companies who are helping prolong this bloody slaughter”. He called it “shameful” that foreign oil-companies could raise money in the US and use it to back “genocide”.
The foreign oil-companies operating in the Sudan include China National Petroleum Corporation, Gulf Petroleum Corporation of Qatar, Lundin Oil Corporation of Sweden, Petronas of Malaysia, Total Fina (also known as Elf) of France, and Talisman Energy Corporation of Canada. The House Bill would force the companies off the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq. But company representatives deny that their operations are at the expense of the southern Sudanese, whom on the contrary they say that they bail out, saying that their withdrawal from the Sudan would not stop the production of oil. David Mann, a spokesman for Talisman Energy, said: “Talisman’s leaving does not stop oil production in Sudan. We play a role in trying to improve the situation there. We’re building clinics and hospitals. Tens of thousands of southern Sudanese have benefited from clean drinking water, education and medicine directly because of Talisman being there.”
The Sudanese government appears to agree with David Mann that oil-companies that withdraw will be replaced by others who are keen to start operations, as Ahmed Osman, the minister of state for industry and investment, indicated in an interview with al-Hayat daily on June 24. Osman said that oil-companies from all parts of the world were getting in touch to obtain concessions and exploration-rights. He expected the value of Sudan’s oil exports to rise to $3 billion within two years. That sounds like good news, but the bad news is that Washington’s unequivocal declaration of hostile intent against Khartoum may persuade Sudan’s neighbours, who were at war with it only a year ago, to suspend their recent efforts to improve relations. Eritrea’s readiness to host the NDA meeting is certainly a worrying sign. So is the recent announcement by the Ugandan government that it allowed its troops to enter Sudanese territory to pursue Ugandan rebels. The announcement came only days after president Bashir travelled to Kampala to meet Museveni, his Ugandan counterpart, who agreed to withdraw his backing for Garang’s SPLA. The war between Ethiopia and Eritrea is practically over, and Asmara and Kampala discount the possibility of a Khartoum-Addis Ababa alliance being established against them.
The Bashir regime has not directly expressed any anxiety about either development. But Mustapha Osman Ismail, the foreign minister, called for the revival of the defence pact between Egypt and Sudan that was frozen at the end of Numeiri’s rule in 1985. The call reflects Ismail’s anxiety rather than his conviction that the pact could be revived, although relations between the two countries have improved considerably in recent months and Cairo is committed to the territorial integrity of its southern neighbour.