By Asad Ismi
Continuing its oil-grabbing invasions, which include those of Iraq, Libya and Somalia, the United States recently deployed South Sudan, its newly-created proxy nation, to seize control of North Sudan’s oil. On April 9, South Sudan invaded and captured the oil town of Heglig in North Sudan. The area around Heglig contains about half of the oil in North Sudan.
When South Sudan became independent in July 2011, it took over 75% of Sudan’s oil and now is attempting to grab the rest. The new country emerged after a 20-year civil war between North and South Sudan in which more than two million people were killed. The U.S. backed the southern insurgency led by the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), financing and training its soldiers, mainly to procure Sudan’s oil riches by fomenting the country’s division. The U.S. gave the SPLA $100 million a year in military assistance. Washington has followed similar strategies in Iraq, Libya, and Somalia. Sudan before its division was Africa’s largest country.
South Sudan has refused to leave Heglig and return to its borders, and its military leaders speak about marching to Khartoum (North Sudan’s capital). As Glen Ford, executive editor of the authoritative Black Agenda Report website, explains: “South Sudan is a U.S. client state that owes its independence to the U.S. and to Europeans and Israel, which was deeply involved in the Sudanese civil war. It is inconceivable that South Sudan would defy the United Nations and the European Union to invade North Sudan and seize half of its oil reserves without the connivance of the United States.
“U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, who has been calling for the head of Sudanese President [Omar] al-Bashir since George Bush was in office, will pretend that she is ‘concerned’ about the fighting between the two Sudans, and so will Obama. But U.S. client states like South Sudan don’t invade their neighbours without Washington’s blessing.”
President Salva Kiir of South Sudan actually wears a cowboy hat he was given by U.S. President George W. Bush in 2006. When U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed “grave concerns” to Kiir over the invasion of Heglig, Kiir’s reply was that “I am not under your command.” The U.N. has condemned South Sudan’s invasion and threatened sanctions against the latter if it does not withdraw. The African Union has also denounced the South’s occupation of Heglig as “illegal and unacceptable,” and appealed to the two countries to prevent a “disastrous” war. The European Union also called South Sudan’s invasion “unacceptable” and condemned it.
Omar al-Bashir, North Sudan’s president, has threatened to overthrow South Sudan’s government, accused it of fulfilling an “external agenda,” and vowed to “liberate” its people. Al-Bashir saw the U.S.’s hand behind the war when he said, “Our brothers in South Sudan have chosen the path of war, implementing plans dictated by foreign parties who supported them during the civil war… War is not in the interest of either South Sudan or Sudan, but, unfortunately, our brothers in the South are thinking neither of the interests of Sudan nor of South Sudan.”
When the two countries could not agree on oil transport fees, South Sudan shut down its oil fields in early 2012, losing $4 billion a year. North Sudan was also denied billions of dollars in fees since the South’s oil is pumped through a pipeline owned by the North in exchange for such charges. Now the additional closure of the Heglig fields has put even more financial pressure on the North.
According to Princeton Lyman, U.S. special envoy to the two Sudans, “this is war. [And] one of the dangers is that it is a war that will spread well beyond Heglig [and] get nastier and nastier.” As Time Magazine explains: “Since the end of hostilities in 2005… a very different creature has emerged in the south: a regime every bit as corrupt as the north, with a predatory army and the same flair for ruthless political brinkmanship, which — dominated by an ethnic Dinka majority — is either unwilling or unable to stop a spate of tribal violence that has left hundreds, if not thousands, dead so far just this year.”
Endre Stiansen, Norway’s special envoy to both Sudans, in commenting on South Sudanese leaders’ hopes of removing al-Bashir’s government through war and economic punishment, said: “I don’t think these people are reasonable, and I don’t think they are smart.”
In early April, President Kiir of South Sudan met with U.S. President Obama. The U.S. has stationed Special Forces in South Sudan, as it has in neighbouring Uganda, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. These forces are part of the U.S. Africa Command, or AFRICOM, set up by President Bush in 2008. Under Obama, AFRICOM “claims military responsibility for the entire continent except Egypt.”
As Glen Ford describes it, “The U.S. military command has assembled a dizzying array of alliances with regional organizations and blocs of countries that, together, encompass all but a few nations [in Africa] – leaving those holdouts with crosshairs on their backs.” Having taken Iraq’s and Libya’s oil and after thoroughly destabilizing oil-rich Somalia, the U.S. is now aggressively going after the rest of Africa’s petroleum, with North Sudan being the latest target.
This threatens to provoke a conflict between the U.S., China and Russia, the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (UNSC). While South Sudan is a U.S. ally, North Sudan is close to Russia and China. Said political author and columnist Reason Wafawarova, speaking to Russian Television (RT): “If the conflict escalates, we are likely to see a stalemate at the U.N.S.C., with China and Russia opposing any proposals that may be politically costly to Sudan… The U.S., with its allies France and the U.K., is likely to push for proposals politically favourable to South Sudan.”
According to Wafawarova, the big power confrontation in the region may lead to an arms race between the two Sudans. The U.S. will be “expanding the military strength of South Sudan, while China and Russia will keep arming [North Sudan],” he says.
RT adds that “Experts say the behaviour of President Kiir may be explained by the fact that he was confident of the unshakable support of the United States.” According to RT, “There are also persistent rumours that the U.S. plans to set up a military base in South Sudan – to be the largest in Africa.” Says Wafawarova,“The U.S. has failed to set up its AFRICOM base in Ghana, Mozambique, Uganda, Kenya, and other proposed countries in the past… It would not be surprising if the U.S. is trying to capitalize on the vulnerability of South Sudan in its efforts to establish the planned AFRICOM base somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa.”
In North Sudan’s case, China is Washington’s target, as well, since it is the largest investor in the country’s oil resource development, as well as the leading customer for this oil. According to F. William Engdahl, author of the book A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics in the New World Order, “There is a major AFRICOM and U.S. State Department campaign… to undermine Chinese influence in central Africa — now that they have successfully driven the Chinese oil companies out of Libya, and carved out a new republic of South Sudan containing much of the oil that fuels China’s economy.” [Chinese companies dominate South Sudan’s oil sector, as well.]
Engdahl points to Chinese and U.S. competition for the resources of Africa’s Great Rift Belt. This area includes Uganda (which borders South Sudan), where a huge oil field has been discovered, and some of the world’s richest mineral areas including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, South Sudan, North Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Mozambique.
“This East African Rift System… is, prospectively, one of the richest treasures of subsurface minerals, including clearly vast untapped reserves of oil and gas.”
According to Engdahl, since Tullow Oil, a British company, found about two billion barrels of oil in Uganda in 2009, “the geopolitical importance of the entire central African region suddenly underwent change.” China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), China’s leading offshore oil explorer, is in a joint venture with Tullow Oil to develop three oil blocks in Uganda’s Lake Albert basin.
Engdahl adds that, “According to geologists, the East African Rift is suspected to be one of the last great oil and natural gas deposits on Earth. This region of central and east Africa is considered one of the hottest unexplored regions in the world for potential hydrocarbons — oil and gas… While West and North Africa have undergone tens of thousands of oil well drillings over the last decades, East and Central Africa, including Darfur and South Sudan, Chad, Central African Republic are all but terra incognita in terms of drilling.”
Engdahl points out that, by 2007, “China was making economic and diplomatic inroads all over Africa and there was increasing international competition for access to Africa’s oil and other natural resources.” In 2006, China hosted more than 40 African heads of state in Beijing, following that with state visits across Africa, with Chinese oil companies signing multi-billion-dollar deals with the continent’s governments. Washington noticed China’s moves and President Bush reacted in 2008 by creating AFRICOM, a single Pentagon command, for Africa.
As Daniel Volman, director of the African Security Research Project in Washington, explained, “A number of developments — especially the continent’s increasing importance as a source of energy supplies and other raw materials — have radically altered the picture. They have led to the growing economic and military involvement of China, India, and other emerging industrial powers in Africa and to the re-emergence of Russia as an economic and military power on the continent.
“In response, the United States has dramatically increased its military presence in Africa and created a new military command — the Africa Command, or AFRICOM — to protect what it has defined as its ‘strategic national interests’ in Africa. This has ignited what has come to be known as the ‘new scramble for Africa’ and is transforming the security architecture of Africa.”
Given its chronic economic weakness, the U.S. is answering Chinese economic power in Sudan and Africa with military power. As in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Somalia, this strategy threatens to set the continent aflame with potentially millions of people dying in resource wars. The U.S. has already killed about six million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo by using its proxies Rwanda and Uganda to invade the country and pillage its mineral resources, starting in 1998. This holocaust now appears set to engulf all of Africa.
Published in the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Monitor, May 2012
Asad Ismi is the CCPA Monitor’s international affairs correspondent. He is author of the radio documentary The Ravaging of Africa which has been aired on 28 radio stations in the U.S. and Canada reaching about 30 million people.