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What imperialists don’t say

Oil is behind struggle in Darfur

Published Apr 27, 2006 9:49 AM

The mass media in the U.S., France and Britain are writing a great deal about the suffering in the Darfur region of western Sudan and the tensions between the Sudanese government and neighboring Chad. Not surprisingly, they write very little about the economic interests these three imperialist countries have in the oil recently discovered in this part of Africa.

Chad, which was once a French colony and still is occupied by French troops, is accusing Sudan of supporting and encouraging an April 14 raid on its capital, Ndjamena. It is threatening to expel 200,000 Sudanese living in Chad who get their support from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Sudan—which at one time was a British colony, but has since been using its oil to develop an independent economy—charges that Chad has been supporting rebellion in Darfur. Sudan wants the UNHCR to financially support the 15,000 Chadians who have fled to Sudan recently to escape heavy fighting in eastern Chad.

The fierce fighting in eastern Chad at the end of March resulted in the combat death of Chadian Army commander Brig. Gen. Abakar Youssouf Mahamat Itno, underlining the army’s decline.

China plays a different role

Darfur is known to have major yet untapped oil reserves, representing a vast amount of potential wealth at a time when crude oil has risen to nearly $75 a barrel.

While France and the U.S. are the only two imperialist countries with significant military forces in Africa, Britain still plays a major diplomatic and political role there, generally in coordination with Washington.

China plays a different role. The Western imperialists see China as their growing competitor for Sudan’s oil.

China has actually helped Sudan’s economic development while serving its own needs for oil.

According to a Dec. 23, 2004, report in the Washington Post, China National Petro leum Corp. (CNPC), owned by the Chinese government, invested $300 million in an expansion of Sudan’s largest refinery, doubling its output. The refinery now supplies most of Sudan’s petroleum needs.

The CNPC also began trial production of oil at a field in southern Darfur in 2004 and has a 41-percent share of the oil from a field in the Melut Basin. Another Chinese firm, Sinopec Corp., built a 1,000-mile pipeline from that complex to Port Sudan on the Red Sea, where China’s Petroleum Engineering Construction Group has built a tanker terminal.

All in all, China buys about two-thirds of Sudan’s oil.

U.S. policy: divide and rule

After Sudan achieved its formal independence from Britain in 1956, the country went through a period of internal struggles. Beginning in the 1970s Sudan began moving in a radical Islamic direction, rejecting the neocolonial relations that the United States and other European powers wanted to impose.

A well-organized and well-financed rebellion in southern Sudan began soon after. The United States supported the south financially, politically and militarily in order to divide and conquer. By tightening an economic embargo on the Sudanese government, the U.S. could also exert economic pressure.

Washington even went so far as military attacks, like the cruise missile strike in 1998 that blew up the only pharmaceutical plant in Sudan. No proof was ever offered to back up the imperialist pretext that the plant manufactured chemical weapons, or that Sudan was somehow connected to terrorist bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

A delegation led by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark of the International Action Center visited the ruins of the plant and confirmed that it had simply been making medicines.

In 2005, the central government and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement—the group which led the struggle in the south—ratified an agreement. The settlement granted the south substantial auto nomy, a 50-50 split of oil revenues and a referendum on full independence within six years. China was instrumental in the negotiations for this peace agreement.

Once the Sudanese settled this conflict, the imperialists needed another one to keep up the threats and pressure on Sudan.

Washington foments division

Drought and the subsequent encroachment of the desert have led to fighting over grazing and water rights in Darfur, which escalated in 2003 into a major conflict. The fighting has grown so intense that tens of thousands of people are reported to have died and 200,000 to have fled across the border into Chad.

Two competing armed movements—the Sudanese Liberation Army and the Movement for Justice and Equality—won some early victories against the Sudanese Army. These two armed movements maintained their logistic and training bases in the eastern part of Chad, near the border with Darfur.

Once the rebellion in Darfur began, the Sudanese government set up counter-militias, called Jinjaweed, recruited from nomadic ethnic groups in Darfur who main ly speak Arabic. The Sudanese Liberation Army and the Movement for Justice and Equality recruited from ethnic groups in Darfur who don’t use Arabic.

The U.S. government, among others, is trying to exacerbate these differences by defining this conflict as between “Arab vs. black.” Washington has accused Sudan of “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing.” However, Paul Moorcraft, a British expert on Sudan, points out, “Darfur’s Arabs are black, indigenous African Muslims—just like Darfur’s non-Arabs.”

The African Union has 7,000 troops in Darfur trying to keep the peace. But the imperialist powers want more direct control by replacing the African Union forces with either NATO or UN troops in order to further imperialist interests in the region and to deny the Sudanese control over their own territory.

Propaganda for NATO intervention

The New York Times, whose right-wing columnist Nicholas D. Kristof just won a Pulitzer prize for demanding U.S. intervention in Darfur, supplies the liberal cover for imperialist troop deployment.

Two Zionist groups, the American Jewish World Service and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, have taken a very active role in building a national rally set for April 30 whose main demand is direct U.S. intervention in Darfur to “stop the genocide.” The AJWS is pushing to replace the African Union soldiers in Darfur with 20,000 UN or NATO troops.

But that would require the approval of the UN Security Council. China is very likely to veto any such resolution. So the U.S. and Britain are stepping up their propaganda against Sudan and against China’s significant support and investment there.

France, the main competing imperialist power in Africa, is concerned about Sudan. But its real worry is Chad and its oil, which is currently being extracted by a consortium led by ExxonMobil. France is concerned that a key part of its sphere of influence in Africa is shrinking.

The World Bank has forced a deal on Chad that restricts how that country can spend its oil revenue and that limits its oil income per barrel to $10 to $15 less than world market prices. (Jeune Afrique, April 16-22)

Opposition to the World Bank oil deal is growing in Chad. And many Chadians also resent the fact that French soldiers are still guarding government buildings 45 years after independence.

The U.S. want to get President Déby out and a new president in who relies on it, not France. The very day of the attack on Ndjamena, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick called on Chad to adopt a “different political process” and to reach a “satisfactory arrangement” with the political opposition. Undersecretary of State for African Affairs Donald Yamamoto began a two-day visit there on April 24.