Page 1 of 2 Darfur: Forget genocide, there's oil
By F William Engdahl
To paraphrase the famous quip during the 1992 US presidential debates, when an
unknown William Jefferson Clinton told then-president George Herbert Walker
Bush, "It's the economy, stupid," the present concern of the current Washington
administration over Darfur in southern Sudan is not, if we look closely,
genuine concern over genocide against the peoples in that poorest of poor part
of a forsaken section of Africa.
No. "It's the oil, stupid."
The case of Darfur, a forbidding piece of sun-parched real estate
in the southern part of Sudan, illustrates the new Cold War over oil, where the
dramatic rise in China's oil demand to fuel its booming growth has led Beijing
to embark on an aggressive policy of - ironically - dollar diplomacy. With its
more than US$1.2 trillion in mainly US dollar reserves at the Peoples' National
Bank of China, Beijing is engaging in active petroleum geopolitics. Africa is a
major focus, and in Africa, the central region between Sudan and Chad is a
This is defining a major new front in what, since the US invasion of Iraq in
2003, is a new Cold War between Washington and Beijing over control of major
oil sources. So far Beijing has played its cards a bit more cleverly than
Washington. Darfur is a major battleground in this high-stakes contest for oil
China oil diplomacy
In recent months, Beijing has embarked on a series of initiatives designed to
secure long-term raw materials sources in one of the planet's most endowed
regions - Sub-Saharan Africa. No raw material has higher priority in Beijing at
present than oil.
Today China draws an estimated 30% of its crude oil from Africa. That explains
an extraordinary series of diplomatic initiatives which have left Washington
furious. China is using no-strings-attached dollar credits to gain access to
Africa's vast raw material wealth, leaving Washington's typical control game
via the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) out in the cold. Who
needs the painful medicine of the IMF when China gives easy terms and builds
roads and schools to boot?
In November last year Beijing hosted an extraordinary summit of 40 African
heads of state. They literally rolled out the red carpet for the leaders of,
among others, Algeria, Nigeria, Mali, Angola, Central African Republic, Zambia
and South Africa.
China has just done an oil deal that links it with two of the continent's
largest nations, Nigeria and South Africa. China National Offshore Oil
Corporation (CNOOC) will lift oil in Nigeria, via a consortium that also
includes South African Petroleum Co, giving China access to what could be
175,000 barrels a day by 2008. It's a $2.27 billion deal that gives
state-controlled CNOOC a 45% stake in a large off-shore oil field in Nigeria.
Previously, Nigeria had been considered in Washington to be an asset of the
Anglo-American oil majors, ExxonMobil, Shell and Chevron.
China has been generous in dispensing its soft loans, with no interest or as
outright grants, to some of the poorest debtor states of Africa. The loans have
gone into infrastructure, including highways, hospitals, and schools, a stark
contrast to the brutal austerity demands of the IMF and World Bank. In 2006
China committed more than $8 billion to Nigeria, Angola and Mozambique, versus
$2.3 billion to all sub-Saharan Africa from the World Bank. Ghana is
negotiating a $1.2 billion Chinese electrification loan. Unlike the World Bank,
a de facto arm of US foreign economic policy, China shrewdly attaches no
strings to its loans.
This oil-related Chinese diplomacy has led to the bizarre accusation from
Washington that Beijing is trying to "secure oil at the sources", something
Washington foreign policy has itself been preoccupied with for at least a
century. No source of oil has been more the focus of China-US oil conflict of
late than Sudan, home of Darfur.
Sudan's oil riches
Beijing's China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) is Sudan's largest foreign
investor, with some $5 billion in oil field development. Since 1999 China has
invested at least $15 billion in Sudan. It owns 50% of an oil refinery near
Khartoum with the Sudan government. The oil fields are concentrated in the
south, site of a long-simmering civil war, partly financed covertly by the
United States to break the south from the Islamic Khartoum-centered north.
CNPC built an oil pipeline from southern Sudan to a new terminal at Port Sudan
on the Red Sea, where the oil is loaded on tankers bound for China. Eight
percent of China's oil now comes from
southern Sudan. China takes 65-80% of Sudan's 500,000 barrels/day production.
Sudan last year was China's fourth-largest foreign oil source.
In 2006 China passed Japan to become the world's second-largest importer of oil
after the United States, importing 6.5 million barrels a day of the black gold.
With its oil demand growing by an estimated 30% a year, China will pass the US
in oil import demand in a few years. That reality is the motor driving Beijing
foreign policy in Africa.
A look at the southern Sudan oil concessions shows that China's CNPC holds
rights to bloc 6, which straddles Darfur, near the border with Chad and the
Central African Republic. In April 2005, Sudan's government announced that it
had found oil in Southern Darfur, which is estimated to be able to pump 500,000
barrels per day when developed. The world press forgot to report that vital
fact in discussing the Darfur conflict.
Move to militarize Sudan's oil region
Genocide was the preferred theme, and Washington was the orchestra conductor.
Curiously, while all observers acknowledge that Darfur has seen a large human
displacement and human misery, with tens of thousands or even as many as
300,000 deaths in the last several years, only Washington and the
non-governmental organizations (NGOs) close to it use the charged term
"genocide" to describe Darfur. If they are able to get popular acceptance of
the charge of genocide, it opens the possibility of drastic "regime change"
intervention by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) - read Washington
- in Sudan's sovereign affairs.
The genocide theme is being used, with full-scale Hollywood backing from the
likes of stars like George Clooney, to orchestrate the case for de facto NATO
occupation of the region. So far the Sudan government has vehemently refused,
The US government repeatedly uses "genocide" to refer to Darfur. It is the only
government to do so. US Assistant Secretary of State Ellen Sauerbrey, head of
the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, said during a USINFO online
interview last November 17, "The ongoing genocide in Darfur, Sudan - a gross
violation of human rights - is among the top international issues of concern to
the United States." The Bush administration keeps insisting that genocide has
been going on in Darfur since 2003, despite the fact that a five-person UN
mission led by Italian Judge Antonio Cassese reported in 2004 that genocide had
not been committed in Darfur but grave human rights abuses were committed. They
called for war crime trials.
Merchants of death
The United States, acting through surrogate allies in Chad and neighboring
states has trained and armed the Sudan Peoples' Liberation Army, headed until
his death in July 2005 by John Garang, trained at the US Special Forces school
at Fort Benning, Georgia.
By pouring arms into first southeastern Sudan and since discovery of oil in
Darfur into that region as well, Washington fueled the conflict that led to
tens of thousands dying and several million driven to flee their homes. Eritrea
hosts and supports the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), the umbrella NDA
opposition group, and the Eastern Front and Darfur rebels.
There are two rebel groups fighting in Sudan's Darfur region against the
Khartoum central government of President Omar al-Bashir - the Justice for
Equality Movement and the larger Sudan Liberation Army (SLA).
In February 2003, the SLA launched attacks on Sudan government positions in the
Darfur region. SLA secretary-general Minni Arkou Minnawi called for armed
struggle, accusing the government of ignoring Darfur. "The objective of the SLA