ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Oil revenues do not translate into schools and hospitals for the people
they translate into arms
Julie flint & Alex deWaal, Darfur: a short history of a long war. Zed Books, in association with International African Institute, 2005. 151 pages.
Gérard Prunier. Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide. Cornell University Press, 2005. 212 pages.
David Morse. The Iron Bridge (1998)
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Blood, Ink, and Oil: the Case of Darfur
The ink is scarcely dry on oil deals signed between the Islamist dictatorship that rules Sudan from the northern capital, Khartoum, and an eager bevy of oil companies from China, India, Japan, and Britain – even as the genocide continues full tilt in the western region known as Darfur. Every new contract signed in Khartoum makes it clearer that this genocide is fueled by the world’s unquenchable thirst for petroleum.
Oil rigs are now drilling on land seized from black African farmers – who have been killed, raped, and driven off their land by their own government through its proxy militias, known as Janjaweed, in a campaign of ethnic cleansing now in its third year.
The Islamist regime of Lt. General Umar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir bears primary responsibility for the slaughter.
Khartoum’s claims that it can’t control the Janjaweed are refuted by United Nations observers and by human rights organizations, as are Bashir’s denials that rape of women and children is used systematically to intimidate and demoralize black farmers and prevent them from returning to their ruined villages. Khartoum’s continuing slaughter of its own people should make it a pariah among nations.
Obviously the oil companies are deeply complicit. Attacks by Janjaweed, often with aerial support from Sudan government forces, have cleared the way for pipelines and drilling. Oil company roads and bridges are used by government troops to carry the genocide into more remote communities in Darfur. And it is an unhappy fact of recent history that violence, disorder, and corruption generally accompany the exploitation of oil in undeveloped nations. Oil revenues do not translate into schools and hospitals for the people; they translate into arms and Swiss bank accounts for the elite. Sudan, the largest country in Africa, and one of the poorest, is a case in point.
Sudan’s governing elite have whipped up ancient ethnic rivalries in their pursuit of oil revenues, half of which is spent on arms. Oil has thus contributed indirectly and directly to the death of roughly 370,000 Darfurians and the displacement of some 3.5 million more, who are now dependent on outside aid for food and water.
American oil companies are not visibly part of the scramble, because in 1997 the Clinton administration added Sudan to the list of states sponsoring terrorism, which included Iran and Libya. Under these trade sanctions, Americans who do business with Sudan face up to ten years imprisonment and fines of $500,000.
But why, especially in the absence of “strategic interests” in Sudan, does President Bush not take the moral high road? Why does he seem so reluctant to take even the smallest step to end the genocide?
Congress, to its credit, is way ahead of the President – reflecting most Americans’ essential decency in believing that the genocide should be brought to a halt. The Darfur Peace and Accountability Act, now being deliberated in Congress, purports to do that. It calls for beefing up the African Union peacekeeping forces, which are now stretched dangerously thin in Darfur, providing the AU with logistical support, and broadening its mandate to include protection of civilians. The bill also provides for prosecuting before the International Criminal Court individuals – such as Major General Salah Abdallah Gosh, head of Sudan’s intelligence agency = who are suspected of helping orchestrate the present genocide.
Why has the Bush administration lobbied to weaken the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act?
Why has the administration sought instead to cozy up to this bloodiest of regimes? Last spring, the CIA sent one of its own jets to Khartoum to fly none other than intelligence chief Gosh to meet with intelligence officials in Washington D.C. The official reason offered by the Bush administration? Sudan was proving a “valuable ally” in the war against terrorism.
The real reason may lie with the oil money that has backed George W. Bush from early in his first campaign for president.
U.S. oil companies, sidelined since 1997, are clearly eager for a piece of the action in Sudan. One of the recent oil deals signed with Khartoum is worth noting. On June 10, a “British” oil tycoon named Friedhelm Eronat acquired for $8 million the largest stake in a drilling contract signed two years ago on behalf of Cliveden Sudan, a company owned by Eronat at that time and had registered in the Virgin Islands to avoid paying taxes. Until then, Friedhelm Eronat had been an American citizen. He swapped his American citizenship for British just before signing the contract, thereby avoiding a jail sentence or fine.
But was Eronat – a high-risk wheeler-dealer who owns extensive drilling rights in neighboring Chad, where he played the Chinese against Canadian oil interests – acting on his own behalf in the recent deal, or was he fronting for other interests? Eronat has fronted for Exxon Mobil and other companies in the past. He narrowly escaped indictment on corruption and fraud charges in connection with a deal allegedly involving shell companies, bribery, and the swapping of Iranian oil for oil from Kazakhstan in order to circumvent the American law against trading with Iran.
U.S. oil companies, to judge by Eronat, can scarcely wait to drill in Sudan. “The war against terrorism” is, once again, a red herring to cover the administration’s true interest: oil.
The only thing standing in the president’s way is the ugly fact of genocide and the ability of the American people to make it politically unacceptable for our president to avert his eyes from what is happening in Darfur.
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David Morse is an independent journalist based in Storrs, CT. He can be reached at his web-site: www.david-morse.com Darfur Map — http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/36028 / Read also: War of the Future: Oil Drives the Genocide in Darfur
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Ethnicity and the Struggle in Darfur
I am always uncomfortable describing the genocide in Darfur in the ethnic shorthand of identifying the attackers as “Arab” militias and identifying those attacked as “Black African farmers.” As my Sudanese friends point out, the truth is far more complex. All parties to the conflict are African; many of the Janjaweed are “black,” many Arab tribes are aligned with the Fur and others for whom Arabic is generally a second language; there is Darfur’s special history as a Sultanate until 1922, and additional political and ideological complications.
In short articles of the kind I have been writing, there isn’t space for attending to the ethnology involved, without losing readers and thereby missing the key point I have been trying to make – that the genocide is continuing, that it requires our attention and (despite the silence of the mass media) the strongest possible devotion on our part to pressure our government to act to stop it, and, finally, that oil increasingly drives the conflict and must be addressed as a root cause of future wars like this.
The latter point seems to be catching on. My newest article, “War of the Future: Oil drives the Genocide in Darfur,” published last week by Tom Engelhardt, is now being translated into French and Japanese. I hope it will lend new urgency to our struggle to save Darfurian lives.
As for the complexity of the situation, I would like to refer friends and comrades in this struggle to a fine article by Alex de Waal, entitled “Counter-Insurgency on the Cheap.” It’s the richest and most authoritative description I have encountered of the situation. (Thank you Dave Markland, for calling it to my attention.) De Waal paints a vivid picture of a once symbiotic ethnicity driven into ugly polarization.
Also, for an update on the genocide and the precariousness of the 3.5 million Darfurians driven from their homes and now dependent on outside humanitarian aid, see Eric Reeves “Genocidal Choke-hold in Darfur: Khartoum’s continuing restriction of humanitarian aid,” published in the August 15-21 2005 Political Affairs Magazine.
Please help keep up the pressure on our elected representatives in the U.S. and the U.K. and also on our mass media. It’s worth visiting the web-site of www.beawitness.org to sign the letter directed at the FCC and the major television networks, who have refused to air the organization’s paid advertisement about Darfur. The media’s silence kills.
Yours in Peace and Struggle, David
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By Charles C. Mann
Im a big fan of Charles Manns previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. Its exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that its anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, Im proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, globalized entity.
Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple. We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.
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This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label ‘trafficked’ does not accurately describe migrants’ lives and that the ‘rescue industry’ serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. “Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality.”Lisa Adkins, University of London
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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updated 14 March 2008