On 13 January 2001, the 'New York Times' published an editorial
on Sudan entitled 'Oil and War in Sudan'. The editorial sought
to link the continuation and escalation of the Sudanese conflict
to the advent of "lucrative oil exports". One would
have expected considerably more journalistic professionalism
and integrity from a newspaper of record such as the 'New
York Times'. The editorial was selective and partisan - where
not simply questionable - in the analysis it presented of
the Sudanese conflict.
WHAT SUSTAINS THE SUDANESE CONFLICT?
The attempt by the 'New York Times' to claim that the Sudanese
war was being sustained by oil revenues and that there was
no "credible peace process" is disingenuous to say
the least. One simple question being that given the pivotal
role claimed for oil revenues in the war, how does the 'New
York Times' explain the fact that the war has been fought
for sixteen years without any such revenues? The reason for
the continuation of the Sudanese conflict is much close to
home. It is clear that the outgoing Clinton Administration
had been the single biggest obstacle to peace in Sudan. No
less a commentator than former President Jimmy Carter was
very candid about the Administration's attempts to prevent
a peaceful resolution of the Sudanese conflict:
The people in Sudan want to resolve the conflict. The
biggest obstacle is US government policy. The US is committed
to overthrowing the government in Khartoum. Any sort of
peace effort is aborted, basically by policies of the
United States.Instead of working for peace in Sudan, the
US government has basically promoted a continuation of
This is not the Sudanese government speaking. It is a man
respected the world over for his work towards peace in various
conflicts. Former President Carter is also a man who knows
Sudan, and the Sudanese situation well, having followed the
issue for two decades or more.
If the United States would be reasonably objective
in Sudan, I think that we at the Carter Center and the
Africans who live in the area could bring peace to Sudan.
But the United States government has a policy of trying
to overthrow the government in Sudan. So whenever there's
a peace initiative, unfortunately our government puts
up whatever obstruction it can.
It is not that there is no "credible peace process"
in Sudan. There are at least two viable initiatives. The peace
initiatives that exist have been handicapped by the fact that
the American government has encouraged one side, the rebel
Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), to merely pay lip service
to the search for a peaceful initiative whilst actively continuing
The editorial glibly states that "Sudan's war.is by no
means a purely local affair. Government forces and allied
militias obtain weapons from China, Iran, Iraq, former Soviet
republics and Bulgaria.". What the New York Times studiously
ignores is the explicit American involvement in the same conflict.
The Clinton Administration's military, diplomatic and political
support for the SPLA has long been an open secret. In its
programme of supporting the SPLA, tens of millions of dollars
worth of covert American military assistance has been supplied
to the rebels. This has included weapons, logistical assistance,
and military training. On 17 November 1996, the London Sunday
More than $20m of military equipment, including radios,
uniforms and tents will be shipped to Eritrea, Ethiopia
and Uganda in the next few weeks.much of it will be passed
on to the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), which
is preparing an offensive against the government in Khartoum.
This was confirmed by the newsletter 'Africa Confidential'
"The United States pretends the aid is to help the governments
concerned...to protect themselves from Sudan...It is clear
the aid is for Sudan's armed opposition."
Former President Carter bluntly stated that the Clinton Administration's
US$ 20 million grant in military aid referred to above was
"a tacit demonstration of support for the overthrow of
the Khartoum government". He also believed that this
behaviour by Washington had a negative effect on the SPLA's
interest in negotiating a political settlement: "I think
Garang now feels he doesn't need to negotiate because he anticipates
a victory brought about by increasing support from his immediate
neighbors, and also from the United States and indirectly
from other countries".
The editorial's studied ignorance of what is really sustaining
the Sudanese conflict is strange given the fact that the 'New
York Times' has itself previously criticised the Clinton Administration's
close association with, and support for, the SPLA, describing
the SPLA as "brutal and predatory", stating that
they "have behaved like an occupying army, killing, raping
and pillaging" in southern Sudan, and calling SPLA leader
John Garang one of Sudan's "pre-eminent war criminals".
The 'New York Times' somewhat selective memory jars with good
In its selective review of the Sudanese conflict, the editorial
also claims, for example, that there had been massive government-led
displacement of civilians from the oil-production areas of
Sudan: "tens of thousands of people have been displaced
in the last two years". The reality is once again somewhat
different. While that there is fighting in the oil-producing
areas is clear, the 'New York Times' seemingly prefers to
ignore the fact that there are two sides involved. In February
2000, for example, Reuters correspondent Rosalind Russell
provided reliable, first-hand reporting of activity leading
to the displacement of civilians. She personally witnessed:
"a pillar of smoke rising from the besieged town of Mayom,
subject to daily bombardments by rebels as the try to advance
eastwards to the oil development."
The rebel bombardment of towns has indeed led to the displacement
of thousands of civilians. In August 2000, Reuters reported
thousands of civilians had fled the fighting initiated by
the rebels, and had fled into Government-controlled areas
such as Bentiu, in the heart of the oil areas:
An influx of displaced people into Bentiu, the capital
of Unity state in war-torn southern Sudan, has greatly
strained humanitarian and food aid in the town.World Food
Programme (WFP) official Makena Walker told Reuters about
20,000 people displaced by recent fighting had reached
Bentiu in the last three weeks.
In yet another example, in July 2000, the Roman Catholic bishop
of the southern Sudanese diocese of Rumbek, Caesar Mazzolari,
stated that thousands of civilians were fleeing the southern
town of Wau. Bishop Mazzolari said that this massive human
exodus was triggered by fears of a possible rebel attack.
The 'New York Times' is either unaware of these publicly reported
incidents of rebel-led displacement or it chose to ignore
the SPLA's deliberate displacement of thousands of civilians
within oil-producing areas of Sudan. Simply put, it is either
ill-informed about the issue it chose to pontificate upon,
an example of poor journalism, or it deliberately chose to
ignore simple facts, in which case it is guilty of rank hypocrisy.
In whatever instance its glib moralising falls somewhat flat.
OIL REVENUES AND MILITARY EXPENDITURE
The 'New York Times' attempts, without producing any evidence,
to link military expenditures in Sudan to oil revenues. The
British Government has repeatedly been asked if there is any
such evidence. In March 2000, the British Government, in a
typical reply to a Parliamentary question about whether Khartoum
had used oil revenues to purchase weapons, publicly stated
that they did not "have any evidence of such expenditure
at present". It might also be noted that given its membership
of the European Union, any British reply would have also incorporated
information available to other European countries. Perhaps
the 'New York Times' should have contacted the International
Monetary Fund. Given that Sudan is adhering to a strict International
Monetary Fund regime, the IMF will know exactly how these
funds are dispersed.
THE NEW YORK TIMES AND SUDAN
While the editorial chose to praise the Clinton Administration's
imposition of American sanctions on Sudan, it ignored the
fact that these sanctions were because of Sudan's alleged
involvement in international terrorism. Yet it was the very
same New York Times
which had previously editorialised
the Central Intelligence Agency.recently concluded
that reports that had appeared to document a clear link
between the Sudanese Government and terrorist activities
were fabricated and unreliable.The United States is entitled
to use military force to protect itself against terrorism.
But the case for every such action must be rigorously
established. In the case of the Sudan, Washington has
conspicuously failed to prove its case.
The reports in question were over one hundred American intelligence
reports. It was also the 'New York Times' which produced the
outstanding reporting which tore apart the Clinton Administration's
rationale for the 1998 cruise missile attack on the al-Shifa
medicine factory in Khartoum. The simple fact is that the
Clinton Administration's Sudan policy was questionable in
"NO CREDIBLE PEACE PROCESS"
The editorial also stated that "unfortunately, no credible
peace process is currently under way". This claim once
again illustrates the selectivity characterising the editorial.
Not only has Khartoum engaged in peace talks with rebels,
but the biggest Sudanese opposition party, the Umma party,
led by former Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi, the mainstay
of the rebel coalition has left the opposition alliance, and
entered into domestic politics within Sudan. The former Prime
Minister, Sadiq al-Mahdi, himself ousted in 1989 by the present
government, and a pivotal rebel leader, has declared that:
"There are now circumstances and developments which could
favour an agreement on a comprehensive political solution."
Once again, these developments have been widely covered by
the international news media, with titles such as 'Opposition
Leader Predicts Solution to Sudan's Conflict', 'Sudanese Rebel
Group to Enter Khartoum Politics', and 'Mahdi's Withdrawal
Dents Opposition Alliance'. These appear to have escaped the
attention of editorialists at the 'New York Times'.
And as part of its peace negotiations with the rebels, Khartoum
has since 1997 offered an internationally-supervised referendum
whereby the people of southern Sudan would be able - for the
first time since independence - to chose their destiny, either
within a united Sudan or as a separate state. This offer was
incorporated into Sudan's new 1998 constitution and has been
repeated on several occasions. It is an offer that has also
been acknowledged, but not taken up, by the SPLA - encouraged
as they have been by the American government to continue with
Perhaps those who write editorials at the 'New York Times'
should engage in some real journalism from time to time. At
the very least one would expect that they should occasionally
read wire service reports about subjects they chose to write
THE 'NEW YORK TIMES' AND THE HORN OF AFRICA: A POOR TRACK
It should also be remembered that the 'New York Times' has
produced similarly naïve editorials on other African
nations. One may remember the 1 December 1992 'New York Times'
editorial which strongly advocated President Bush to deploy
thousands of American soldiers in Somalia stating: "The
realities there are ghastly and the choices limited.there
is no alternative to the threat or use of force if food is
to reach those trapped in the chaotic clan war." And,
less than a year later, on 6 October 1993, the 'New York Times'
editorialised that "it's time to come home", followed
by a 8 October 1993 editorial entitled 'Somalia. Time to Get
Out'. In the meantime there had been the fiasco of American
military and political intervention, dozens of dead American
servicemen, hundreds of Somali civilians killed by American
servicemen, an ignominious departure for the United States
and a disaster for American foreign policy in Africa. The
recent 'Oil and War in Sudan' editorial by the 'New York Times'
shows a very similar misreading of another African conflict.
In its more lucid reporting on Sudan, the 'New York Times'
has been very critical of some of Washington's Sudan policies.
Despite failures in many areas, however, the Clinton Administration
did succeed in preventing a peaceful resolution of the Sudanese
conflict. As former President Carter pointed out, Washington
is the biggest obstacle to a negotiated peace in Sudan.
American encouragement of southern rebels to pay lip service
to peace talks while continuing with an unwinnable war against
Khartoum is virtually all that keeps the conflict going.
It is disappointing that poor journalism, or prejudice,
on the part of the 'New York Times' prevents it from recognising
the simple fact that it is American policy rather than Sudanese
oil that fuels the war in Sudan.