Oil vs. Communities: The Case of Sudan

Oil vs. Communities: The Case of Sudan

By Hwaa Irfan

The ravages of animism, being Muslim, or simply just being black African are probably the images that come to mind when one hears for the continuous strife of Sudan. A land mass so large and uncontainable, Sudan with the exception of Egyptian incursion, has remained the protecting force of the West’s hunger to explore and exploit the beleaguered continent of Africa to the full. The gateway to the North, East and Central Africa, as well as providing another strategic position on the Middle East and its natural resources, the plight that haunts Sudan is not tribalism, but the exploitation of external forces, oil, and an errant ruler. Just as the oil wealth of Iraq has been cordoned off to the South under the allocated jurisdiction of the Kurds, the same is about to happen to Sudan splitting it into two Sudans.

At a time in human underdevelopment on the scale of humanity, when the many crises that beset the world today is pointing to the reality that this was only ever one earth for all people, separation or nationalism has never elevated the status of humanity from self interest to the common good. It has only served to make “nations” quibble, exploit and manipulate positions of power. It has never served to teach us how to share in reciprocity. As such, the level of corruption in the current Sudanese government serves the purposes of those external forces which swears allegiance to nationalism and all its faults.

The Nuer People

The Nei Ti Naath are a pastoral people. Known as the Nuer, Nuerland is partially swamps, and is in one of the regions where good oil deposits have been found in the Upper Nile region of Sudan, which also happens to be the home of the Dinka people. The Nuer people were treated as good for nothing until the discovery of oil on their land, yet, the Nuer successfully fended off external forces in the form of colonial European powers in the 1900s. In fact they are a well organized people that have been successful in expediting the true meaning of democracy without a single leader or group therefore ensuring a homogenous decision-making process. They use the land according to its nature, which is to flood and then dry out. As such, the Nuer migrate with their animals, returning to their settlements of extended families every rainy season, with cultivation of their crops taking place around their settlements, or on higher ground levels.

When Ismail, son of Muhammed ‘Ali led the 2-year Nile campaign into Sudan for gold and slaves (30,000 slaves in total), the Nuer were one of the people their marauding soldiers came across in 1821. By then there was an intense dislike of the Turks under Muhammed ‘Ali, who earned themselves a reputation for their brutality and heartlessness to the extent that when a celebratory night of dance and music by Ismail and his men took place, Sudanese rose up and set afire the house that Ismail was staying in and attacked all camps where Turks were stationed. However, this uprising also marked the end of Sudan’s freedom. Muhammed ‘Ali went on a campaign of massacres, raiding towns from Kordofan to El-Obeid. The town of Metemma was sacked and burned down, alone with all settlements along the Nile from Berber to Sennar.  All Sudanese male prisoners encountered were emasculated, and ll Sudanese female prisoners had the breasts cut off. All the valley of the Nile from the Ethiopian mountains to the sea fell under Muhammed ‘Ali’s control. By 1983, 70-year old Muhammed ‘Ali brought European engineers to Sudan to build a railway, telegraph, to establish the industry in cotton and indigo, and to develop the slave trade further. The Nubian slaves included girls as young as 12 years of age, but the men who were wanted as fodder for ‘Ali’s army rather than be conscripted, would rather mutilate a part of themselves so that they would be of no use to the Turkish army.

The Nuer, the Dinka, the Shilluks, and the Anuaks had good intercultural, inter-tribal relations until the 19th century intrusion of the Ottomans and the British. As is the art of colonial powers, one each tribe was pitted against the other, just as the case with Muslims in Iraq today. Some members of the Dinka took to their colonial oppressors, and in doing so became untraditionally hostile towards the Nuer until this day.

One of the countries that the Nuer people fled to after Sudan fell under Egyptian control was Ethiopia, and today one can find the Neur language is taught in schools from the elementary to university level, and because of this, the Ethiopian School Certificate is not recognized by the GOSS Ministry of Education. Professor David de Chand, a Nuer resident in the U.S. speaks of the life of xenophobia. Xenophobia was further punishment by the British like the form of collective punishment the Palestinians have had to endure, but in the case of the Neur it has been for resisting British colonialism.  While the U.S. has maintained sanctions against Sudan because of the humanitarian situation, it is from Europe that the push to divide Sudan has been the strongest. De Chand explains:

“The EU has been pushing desperately for the South to cede with the intention of exploiting it at its own expense and rather its own socioeconomic and human resources development. In brief, we would like the Western world to know that the South will not cede from Sudan. Such anticipation on the South ceding is encomiastic and euphoric.

“For instance, if the rest of the South, namely Bahr el-Ghazal and Equatoria would opt to go in the aftermath of 2011 referendum, the Greater Upper will opt to declare itself own independence as a Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) that would have closer links with the North and the would not become an integral part of the New Sudan or the New South Sudan for the next 50-100 year and forever. I do certainly have the fullest support from the people of the Greater Upper Nile on this strategic Aristocratic, Socratic thinking and neo-thinking.

“We are democrats, federalists rather than ethnocentrists (tribalists) and secessionists. Our people are underdeveloped and we do need more education, healthcare, hospitals, roads for transport, agro-development for self-sufficiency, self-reliance, food security and good infrastructure before we could dream if ceding from the North. Europe underdeveloped Africa during the colonial years, but is now seeking only continuous exploitation of its people and natural resources at their own expense.

“The Scottish Presbyterian missionary to Uganda, Alexander Murdoch McKay observed in 1889 that “in formers years, the universal aim was to steal Africans from Africa. Today the determination of Europe and North America is to steal Africa from the Africans”. Without the shadow of a doubt, 120 years later Europe and North America appear to still trying to steal both Africa and Africans. They are now using their newly establishment, the so-called ICC, to steal Africans from Africa and try them in mood or Kangaroo courts or mock trials in Western Europe. This is the real political means of destabilizing the African continent- which then makes the political exploitation and domination of Africa; the subsequent extraction and exploitation of African minerals and natural resources relatively much easier and cheaper”.

Now under government control, oil exploration in an area known as 5A located in Nuerland, was based on satellite images from Landsat 1999 – 2003. In the oil rush, the Sudanese government built roads to the oil fields, which led to the military displacing the population. Then the people were besieged from the sky.

“All of a sudden, a helicopter gunship appeared from nowhere,”

“First of all it surrounded the area. For sure they have seen that these are not army people. These are people distributing food. Those of us who know … this kind of [attack] helicopter, we warned people that these people should run away because this is not a relief plane. This is coming to kill you.” – James Ninrew, director of Assistance Mission for Africa.

The Oil Concessions

The comprehensive peace agreement of 2005 between the Arabized North, and the black south gave rights of compensation to those whose rights have been violated by oil contracts. These compensations should be paid by the oil companies, and all oil revenues are to be shared by the North and the South. But the catch is, is that the oil from the South is sold by the North, which also has the oil pipeline, and the port from where to export.

Oil production began in the 1990s with output from:

–        Blocks 1, 2, and 4 in the North, and South of the Abyei region under the Greater Nile Petroleum Company, which includes the Chinese National Petroleum Company, Petronas, and Sudapet.

–        Blocks 3 and 7 is in the Melut Basin of South Sudan under the Petrodar consortium, which consists of the Chinese National Petroleum Company, Petronas, Sudapet, Sinopec. Tri-Ocean Energy  Kuwait

–        Block 5A  in Nuerland is under the White Nile Petroleum Operating Company, which includes Petronas as the major shareholders, and Sudapet

–        Block 5B in the Muglad Basin  is under Ascom, a Moldocan company

–        Block 6 , the Fula oilfield is under the Chinese National Petroleum Company

–        Block B in south east Sudan is under Total.

–        Block EA runs along the Muglad Basin, and is under Star Petroleum from Luxembourg with Sudapet, and Hamla from Norway.

All concessions were granted by the Sudanese government in the North. By 2009, of the 485 billion barrels produced, most was exported to Asia, Ethiopia, and the Netherlands (the U.S. has placed sanctions on any trading with Sudan under the current social climate the precedent of which was set by Darfur), the rest, the 90,000 billion barrels was consumed domestically.

The Current Situation

Following the coalition of 50 NGO’s in Sudan, The European Coalition on Oil in Sudan, ECOS, have been reporting on the situation. In July 2010, it has been noted that 12,000 people have been killed, and 160,000 displaced by Block 5A in Nuerland by the thirst for oil. Said coordinator of ECOS Egbert Wesselink:

“We’re talking about rape, murder, torture, arson, looting, arbitrary bombing by high-altitude bombers as well as by helicopter gunships, driving people into uninhabitable areas like the swamps where many people suffered and died due to exhaustion, hunger, diseases.”

George Riak from Leer town in Block 5A said:

“Thank God that I was not shot but I lost materials. I lost 79 cows, I lost 51 goats and sheep. I lost my two luaks [cattle containers] plus my farms.”

Rightly so Riak is of the belief that communities should be compensated, not just individuals for

“Everything was destroyed,”

But how does one trust a government that puts wealth over its people and their people as inconveniences in the first place.

Lundin Petroleum rejected the claims that had been complicit in the oil crimes, and OMV is under the impression that they have fulfilled their “social responsibilities.”

Oil Crimes

“There is a straight line crossing the swamps of Nuerland where the earth has been methodically scorched and plugged. Rusting metal caps lie beneath fetid ponds of water six feet across. They are the only physical evidence of what will soon be the next generation of Sudan’s oil wells.

“They sit atop man-made hills, bulldozed from the burnt marshes and waiting to be connected to high-pressure pipelines that will pump the crude out of the ground of Unity State and send it north to Port Sudan.

The line of the plugs is matched by the fearsome symmetry of raised and graded roads that have been cut through the fringes of the great Sudd Swamp. This grid of dead-straight scars in the wetlands is a lasting reminder of a brutal meeting between the industrial world and the pastoral life that existed before the discovery of oil.” – Daniel Howden

The three multinational oil companies that have been complicit in the divisive crimes against the oil communities of Sudan are the government owned Malaysian company Petronas, the Austrian energy group OMV, and Sweden’s Lundin Petroleum. These three companies led by Lundin Petroleum are the major stakeholders in the oil production of Sudan, and the land that goes with the oil.

Focusing on Petronas, it market’s itself as having a “… commitment to operational excellence and sustainable development, while conducting our business with integrity mutual respect and understanding…”

Operating two Malaysian oil refineries, Petronas also operates a refinery in Durban, S. Africa, Petronas finalized a contract to develop Iraq’s 46,000 barrels a day Majnoon Oilfield along with Shell, which owns 60%. However, Ethiopia has not been so yielding.  The Ogaden National Liberation Front in fact argued in Petronas favor, at least on an ethical basis, that oil exploration carried out in the eastern region would link the oil company to the war crimes of the Ethiopian government.

“We urge Petronas to exercise corporate responsibility and steer clear of Ogaden so long as our people are victims of genocide and their rights to determine their own future are violently denied.”

However greed has no boundaries, as the situation outlined by ONFL has not been enough to deter Petronas, as they have recently pursued the Ethiopian government.  Petronas has asked the Ethiopian government to agree to sell all of its oil and gas concessions to a locally owned firm. Who would be silly enough to put all their eggs in one basket! The locally owned firm is South West Energy (H.K), which just happens to be registered in Hong Kong has offered to buy all of Petronas interests in the Horn of Africa.

Yet, it is the Malaysian state of Kelantan that finds itself having to sue Petronas in August 2010, because Petronas has failed not paid the 5% royalty outstanding to the state for oil extracted off its shores under the Petroleum Development Act of 1974. Once royalty is paid, in return states would surrender their control of the petroleum to Petronas, a state owned company.

Meanwhile, early in 2010, it has been found that there is a huge discrepancy over the actual oil production with the official Sudanese figures differing from the Chinese-led consortium: Chinese National Petroleum Company, Petronas, and Sudapet (owned by the Sudanese government, and others.The discrepancy was discovered by Global Witness who found that the Chinese figures were 12% greater or 12 million barrels of oil worth U.S.$370mn.

ECOS calls on Lundin Petroleum, Petronas, and OMV and their home governments to account for the injustices suffered by the victims of the oil wars in Block 5A. Some inroad has been made concerning OMV, has the Swedish Public Prosecutor has been pursuing a criminal investigation, which is more than the Malaysian, Austrian and Sudanese government has done in violation of  the Sudanese International Humanitarian Law for the period 1997 – 2003.


AFP. “Petronas Caught in Sudan Oil Scandal http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/fmt-english/business/news-and-analysis/3394-petronas-caught-in-sudan-oil-scandal

Ashdown, M.  “Sudan: Oil Companies Alleged to Be Complicit in War Crimes.”  http://www.towardfreedom.com/home/africa/2047-sudan-oil-companies-alleged-to-be-complicit-in-war-crimes

Howden, D. “Independent Appeal: Where Unity is Divided By Oil.”

ECOS. “Unpaid Debt: The Legacy of Lundin, Petronas and OMV in Sudan, 1997-2003.” http://www.ecosonline.org/reports/2010/Press_release_UNPAID_DEBT/

De Chand, D. “A Critical Analysis on the U.S. Foreign Policy Towards Sudan.”  http://www.sudanvisiondaily.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=64627

Moorehead, A. “The Blue Nile.” Book Club Associates, UK. 1973. Prins, E. “Satellite of Land Cover and Use in Relation to Oil Exploitation in Concession Block 5A in Southern Sudan 1987 – 2006.”

Reuters. “Ethiopian Rebels Warn Petronas on Oil Exploration.” http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSL643480420090106

“Shell Signs Iraq Oil Field Deal.” http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8464295.stm

“Strategic Partners for Growth.” http://www.petronas.com.my/

“Sudan Oil.” http://www.eia.doe.gov/cabs/Sudan/Oil.html

“Sudan: Oil Companies Alleged to Be Complicit in War Crimes.”  http://bit.ly/a6yTG5

Zalkapli, A. “Kelantan to Sue Petronas for Oil Royalty.”  http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/kelantan-to-sue-petronas-for-oil-royalty/

Related Topics:

Oil vs. Communities: The Case of the Niger Delta

Oil vs. Communities: The Case of Ecuador

Oil vs. Communities: The Case of Peru

2 thoughts on “Oil vs. Communities: The Case of Sudan

  1. That is some inspirational stuff. By no means knew that viewpoints could possibly be this varied.

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