On 15 March 2001 Christian Aid, a British non-governmental
organisation, published a report entitled The Scorched
Earth: Oil and War in Sudan
. Civil war has raged in Sudan
off and on since 1955, and has been fought between the Sudanese
government and rebels in southern Sudan. Since 1983 the principal
southern combatant has been the Sudan People's Liberation
Army (SPLA). In 1999 Sudan began to export oil from oil fields
in south-central and southern Sudan. This Christian Aid report
called for the "immediate suspension" of oil operations
in Sudan. The publication alleged that:
Wide stretches of southern Sudan are being subjected
to a ruthless 'scorched earth' policy to clear the way
for oil exploration and to create a cordon sanitaire around
the oilfields. As new areas of exploration open up, and
oil companies facilitate troop movements by building roads
across swampland and bridges across rivers, the war expands
and the scorched earth advances.
Christian Aid specifically mentioned forced oil development
"displacement" in areas south-east of Bentiu, east
of Bentiu and north of Bentiu. It also refers to "depopulation"
and forced oil company "displacement" at the Heglig
There are several concerns about Christian Aid's report. Firstly,
Christian Aid's claims appear to have been based, at least
in part, upon faulty or partisan material, with at least one
of their central sources being a noted Islamophobe with a
track record of gross exaggeration. Secondly, Christian Aid
may have been unduly influenced by its partnership with pro-rebel
groups. Thirdly, the image of a predominantly white, European
Christian group dictating to the poverty-stricken largely
Muslim Sudanese people what they may or may not do with their
natural resources is unfortunate. Fourthly, it is evident
that Christian Aid's position on Sudan is out of step with
much of the international community and particularly the developing
world. Fifthly, Christian Aid would appear to be guilty of
double standards in attacking the Sudanese oil industry while
remaining silent on the oil industries in other countries
of concern. And lastly, it can be argued that in its projection
of questionable and partisan claims about Sudan Christian
Aid perpetuates the distorted imagery of Sudan which in turn
merely serves to prolong the conflict itself.
Christian Aid Claims Assessed Against Independent Sources
A careful assessment of such serious allegations is vital.
Allegations identical to those carried in the Christian Aid
report were made by the American anti-Sudanese activist Dr
Eric Reeves in February 2001. The World Food Programme was
directly asked to comment on these allegations of displacement
around Bentiu: it was unable to draw a conclusion:
At this point in time, however, there is unfortunately
far too little information available.
The above official statement in February 2001 fundamentally
undermines the entire gist of the Christian Aid report. What
the World Food Programme has said, therefore, is that despite
having been involved in the oil fields for some considerable
time and in considerable force there is "far too little
information available" to assess whether "oil interests
in this area have exacerbated the uprooting of people from
their homes". Indeed, as a subsequent Reuters article
stated, the World Food Programme "stopped short of laying
the blame at one party's door". It should be noted that
the World Food Program has a total of 300 staff working in
the Southern Sector operation. At any one time they have over
120 staff in the field in southern Sudan "assessing needs
and organizing airdrops and food distributions". Indeed,
Christian Aid cited the World Food Programme in its report
- albeit choosing not to use the above comment. On the basis
of one quick visit to rebel-controlled areas of southern Sudan,
and heavily influenced by questionable sources and its rebel-controlled
local partners, Christian Aid would appear to believe that
it is better placed than groups such as the World Food Programme
to know what is happening on the ground. Given the above statement
by the WFP, Christian Aid's stance is somewhat arrogant.
There are additional independent sources against which to
assess Christian Aid's claims. Christian Aid stated that there
had been large-scale oil development displacement at Heglig
dating back to 1998. Western journalists who visited the Heglig
oil field found no such displacement. Claudia Cattaneo, of
The Financial Post
, a Canadian newspaper, reported:
[A]t Heglig, the site of Talisman's oil major oilfields
and processing facilities, there is no evidence of population
displacement. Military presence is low key. Children are
playing and going to school near the oil wells. Western
and Sudanese workers say thousands of nomads are coming
here to look for work, for medical assistance.or for education.
Additionally, at the heart of the claims made by Christian
Aid is the assertion that Sudan's military budget has more
than doubled as a result of oil revenues. This is simply untrue.
In early March 2001 the British government replied to a question
asking whether they had "any evidence that Sudanese oil
revenues are being spent on arms procurement". The government's
answer was: "There is evidence to suggest that military
expenditure has remained stable." The most recent International
Monetary Fund report confirms it. The IMF watches Sudan's
oil revenues closely, stating that: "All government agencies
involved in the energy sector.are subject to monitoring by
the independent Auditing Department." Christian Aid's
inaccurate claims of massive, oil revenue-based, military
spending are also contradicted by authoritative reports by
groups such as the International Institute for Strategic Studies
(IISS). Perhaps the single most useful weapon in any insurgency,
such as that in Sudan, is the helicopter gunship. The Institute's
1997/98 Military Balance
lists Sudan as having nine
such helicopter gunships: the 1999/2000 Military Balance
lists the same nine gunships. Christian Aid's inaccurate assertions
are all the more surprising given that it referred to both
the abovementioned IMF report and the 1999/2000 Military
It would appear, therefore, that Christian Aid may have presented
a questionable picture of events within the Sudanese oil fields.
It is a picture which downplays the fact that there is an
ongoing civil war in Sudan in which the SPLA is an active
participant. That war has intensified in some parts of southern
Sudan, including those that fall within the oil producing
areas, because one side to the conflict, the Sudanese People's
Liberation Army has chosen to target these oil fields (as
can be gathered from Associated Press articles such as 'Sudanese
Rebels Plan to Intensify War Around Oil Fields" ). Unsurprisingly,
the Sudanese government has defended these areas as it would
presumably have defended any areas of strategic importance.
Intense fighting has ensued. There has been considerable displacement
within the war zones: Sudanese civilians in these areas have
done what civilians have done in every war - they have left
areas in which fighting is taking place.
Christian Aid's Sources: Questionable, Partisan or Anonymous
While in the course of its report Christian Aid pointedly
asks about "sources of information" backing statements
made by oil companies, Christian Aid's report is itself based
overwhelmingly on unnamed, anonymous "sources".
Where it does name its "sources", they would appear
to be questionable. Christian Aid repeatedly cites its local
partner, the New Sudan Council of Churches (NSCC), in this
publication. It should be pointed out that the New Sudan Council
of Churches was formed in February 1990 from several churches
in southern Sudan and exists within areas of southern Sudan
controlled by the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army. The
extent of the NSCC's independence from the SPLA is very questionable.
As the respected human rights organisation, African Rights,
has pointed out: "The NSCC could not have been created
without the support of John Garang". African Rights further
quoted "a leading churchman" as stating that: "The
Movement was behind the formation of the NSCC." Garang
himself, in addressing the NSCC General Assembly in Torit
in 1992, stated that he saw the NSCC as the "spiritual
wing of the Movement". Given its close ties to the SPLA,
for international observers such as Christian Aid to unreservedly
accept NSCC perspectives on Sudan shows a remarkable naivety.
At best the NSCC serves as an apologist for the SPLA, and
at worst a propagandist.
One of the other sources named by Christian Aid is Derek Hammond,
said to be involved with the South African-based International
Relief and Development Agency. Hammond has previously headed
the 'Faith-in-Action' organisation, and can only be described
as a Christian fundamentalist Islamophobe. His website has
overtly championed the "Christian" fight against
"the evil of Islam". His website has also referred
to the "anti-Christian religion of Islam." Hammond's
previous exaggerations have been obvious. He has claimed,
for example, that "Christians make up.over 80% of Southern
Sudan." (This figure should be compared with the figures
of 10-15 percent carried in official American government studies,
Economist Intelligence Unit briefings or Human Rights Watch
material). It is disturbing that Christian Aid chooses to
rely upon noted Islamophobes as "sources". Another
of the other named "sources" is the United States
Committee for Refugees. This group is headed by Roger Winter,
an active supporter of the SPLA. Winter, for example, has
openly admitted that with regard to Sudan he was "not
neutral in this situation", and that he "promotes"
the "demise" of the Sudanese government.
It would appear that the question posed by Christian Aid about
"sources of information" could also be asked of
Christian Aid itself. The unreserved acceptance of claims
made by Islamophobes, pro-rebel groups and other anti-Sudanese
activists, plus the use of anonymous sources, seriously undermines
the credibility of the report.
What Sustains the Sudanese Conflict?
Christian Aid distorts the reality of the Sudanese conflict
by claiming that the war will continue merely because of the
presence of oil, and therefore the government and those companies
involved in the Sudanese oil industry are to blame for the
continuing conflict. While conveniently propagandistic, this
stance is utterly naïve. A much clearer picture of the
dynamics of the conflict is provided by former American President
Jimmy Carter. Carter has been very candid about who is perpetuating
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
Former President Carter is an active Christian respected the
world over for his work towards peace in various conflicts.
He is also a man who knows Sudan, and the Sudanese situation
well, having followed the issue for two decades or more. He
was also speaking well after the inception of the Sudanese
oil project. The pivotal role played by the United States'
in the continuation of the Sudanese war is not mentioned anywhere
in Christian Aid's material on Sudan. This is either the result
of very poor research or a selective reading of events in
Sudan. This omission further detracts from Christian Aid's
credibility as a commentator on Sudan.
Rather than seeking to deny the poverty-stricken people of
Sudan the right to exploit their own natural resources in
any attempt to address their predicament, Christian Aid should
be focusing on the bigger picture - the American military
and political involvement which sustains the conflict and
encourages one side, the SPLA, to continue the war.
Christian Aid: Out of Step with the International Community
Christian Aid is clearly out of step with the international
community, and especially the developing world, with regard
to Sudan. This is at least in part because of the reactionary
nature of its stance on the country and its natural resources.
The Canadian government attempted to introduce a resolution
containing precisely the sort of sanctions called for in Christian
Aid's report while Canada was chairman of the United Nations
Security Council in 2000. The Canadian government had to drop
this idea in the face of considerable opposition from the
international community. The Canadian ambassador to the United
Nations, Robert Fowler, admitted that:
The representations we received suggested that the
timing was not right, that there were important peace
initiatives under way both from Libya and Egypt. The Arab
League and the OAU (Organization of African Unity), as
well as the nonaligned movement, suggested to us that
council engagement on this issue at this time would not
It should be noted that the Non-Aligned Movement is made up
of 113 nations. The fact that the Non-Aligned Movement, the
Organisation of African Unity and Arab League as well as the
vital regional IGAD nations pointedly opposed the very sanctions
called for by Christian Aid shows how out of step Christian
Aid is on Sudan in much of the world, and particularly within
the developing world. From having been mired in regional conflicts,
Sudan has over the past three years emerged as a leader of
its region, culminating in Sudan's current presidency of the
seven nation eastern and central African IGAD body. Sudan
has also been elected president of the sixteen-strong Community
of Sahel-Saharan States. In seeking to deny Sudan its oil
project, Christian Aid would also as a result deny the region
the knock-on effects of the Sudanese oil boom.
Indeed far from seeking to impose any new sanctions on Sudan,
the Secretary-General of the Organisation of African Unity,
Salim Ahmed Salim, has called for the lifting of the vestigial
limited diplomatic sanctions remaining on Sudan: "The
lifting of sanctions imposed on Sudan is not only urgently
called for, but would also positively contribute to efforts
aimed at promoting peace, security and stability in the region.
The European Union has been engaged in a political dialogue
with Sudan for two years and has commented on the positive
signs it has seen.
It is self-evident that the international community, with
the exception of the United States, feels that there have
been significant changes within Sudan. These changes have
included a Constitution safeguarding civil liberties and human
rights, legislation entrenching multi-party politics - and
the return to Sudan of all major political opposition parties
because of these changes - the offering of a referendum whereby
the people of southern Sudan can choose their own political
destiny and the holding of multi-party parliamentary and presidential
elections in December 2000.
Christian Aid and Sudan: Keeping Sudan Poor?
Part of the reason why Christian Aid is out of step with the
developing world with regard to Sudan is obvious. The image
of well-fed, middle-class Christians in London telling a poverty-stricken
Muslim African nation that it cannot exploit its natural resources
does not go down well in the Third World. It is also a hypocritical
position for Christian Aid to take in any instance given that
it states it:
[B]elieves in strengthening people to find their own
solutions to the problems they face. It strives for a
new world transformed by an end to poverty and campaigns
to change the rules that keep people poor.
This does not appear to apply to the people of Sudan, amongst
the world's most impoverished. Christian Aid apparently wishes
to deny the Sudanese people, north and south, the means whereby
to escape the crippling poverty they exist in. It is apparently
Christian Aid that wishes to tighten the "rules that
keep people poor" - at least as far as the largely Islamic
country of Sudan is concerned.
Christian Aid, Oil Revenues and Selectivity
Yet more double standards are obvious. Christian Aid states
that it is active in both Sudan and Angola. Both Sudan and
Angola are stricken by long-running civil wars. Both have
an oil industry. Angola's is a long-standing business, and
Sudan's has only just begun. While Christian Aid has launched
a ferocious campaign against the oil industry's involvement
in Sudan, and the alleged effect that oil revenues have had
in exacerbating the Sudanese civil war, it has shown no such
concern about the Angolan oil revenues which do clearly fund
the ongoing devastating Angolan civil war.
It is also a matter of record that while the international
community has not seen any evidence that Sudanese oil revenues
are being used to continue the Sudanese civil war, there is
abundant evidence that Angolan oil revenues are directly funding
the Angolan conflict. In March 2000, the British Government,
for example, in reply to a Parliamentary question about whether
the Sudanese Government had used oil revenues to purchase
weapons, publicly stated that they did not "have any
evidence of such expenditure at present". In the same
month, in responding to a similar question about whether the
Angolan Government was using oil revenues to acquire weapons,
the British Government stated: "There is no doubt that
oil revenues are used to fund the purchase of arms".
The Angolan Government receives at least $10 million per day
in oil revenues (Christian claims that Sudan receives $1 million
per day in oil revenues) The Bishop of Luanda, Damiao Franklin,
has openly stated "Much of Angola's wealth goes on weapons."
Christian Aid appears to be deliberately selective as to which
oil revenues fuel which conflict. While active in Angola Christian
Aid has never so much as mentioned the fact that Angolan oil
revenues demonstrably perpetuate that conflict - let alone
take a stand on the issue: all Christian Aid states is "Huge
oil revenues and valuable mineral deposits, especially diamonds,
could contribute significantly to the economy." It would
appear to turn a blind eye to the Angolan oil industry and
those American oil companies involved in it. Surely Christian
Aid wishes to see an end to the misery and suffering within
the Angolan conflict: surely by its own argument, as used
with regard to Sudanese oil revenues, it should be campaigning
to end international involvement in the Angolan oil industry.
One of the conclusions that might be drawn is that Christian
Aid's selective interest in the Sudanese oil industry may
be because Sudan is a Muslim country, and Angola is not. Or,
alternatively, perhaps Christian Aid is politically supportive
of the Angolan government and thus turns a blind eye to oil
revenues directly perpetuating war, deaths, misery and sickness.
Why does Christian Aid believe that the Angolan government
is entitled to spend its oil revenues defending itself against
insurgents while denying the Sudanese government the right
to defend itself against American-supported destabilisation?
All in all, Christian Aid betrays its stated commitment to
justice, peace and human rights for all.
Given that it is an overtly Christian organisation, Christian
Aid would have been better advised not to position itself
in ways which leave it open to the claim that it has deliberately
targeted the oil industry in a Muslim country (without providing
evidence that this revenue is being used for arms procurement)
while ignoring an industry that produces ten times as much
revenue in Angola which is not a Muslim country (and which
revenue is clearly being used to wage war).
Christian Aid: Why Images of Smiling War Criminals?
Christian Aid has chosen to prominently feature pictures of
smiling SPLA gunmen on both its home page and in the report
itself. The picture is entitled "An officer of the Sudan
People's Liberation Army with his troops". Quite why
Christian Aid should choose to do so is surprising given the
SPLA's image. The New York Times
, a vigorous critic
of the Sudanese government, states that the SPLA: "[H]ave
behaved like an occupying army, killing, raping and pillaging."
It also described the SPLA leader John Garang as one of Sudan's
"pre-eminent war criminals". The United Nations
Special Rapporteur on human rights in Sudan has documented
one particular incident in which SPLA forces attacked two
villages in the Ganyiel region in southern Sudan. SPLA personnel
killed 210 villagers, of whom 30 were men, 53 were women and
127 were children. The Special Rapporteur stated that:
Eyewitnesses reported that some of the victims, mostly
women, children and the elderly, were caught while trying
to escape and killed with spears and pangas. M.N., a member
of the World Food Programme relief committee at Panyajor,
lost four of her five children (aged 8-15 years). The
youngest child was thrown into the fire after being shot.
D.K. witnessed three women with their babies being caught.
Two of the women were shot and one was killed with a panga.
Their babies were all killed with pangas. A total of 1,
987 households were reported destroyed and looted and
3, 500 cattle were taken.
Amnesty International has also documented instances in which
SPLA forces lined up 32 women from the village of Pagau, 12
kilometres from Ayod in southern Sudan, and then shot each
once in the head. Eighteen children were reported to have
been locked in a hut which was then set on fire. Three children
who attempted to escape were then shot. The rest burnt to
death. In Paiyoi, an area north-east of Ayod, Amnesty International
reported that 36 women were burnt to death in a cattle byre.
Nine others were clubbed to death by the SPLA. Amnesty also
reported that in another incident SPLA forces "massacred
about 200 Nuer villagers, many of them children, in villages
around the town of Ayod. Some of the victims were shut in
huts and burnt to death. Others were shot." The SPLA
has also murdered dozens of humanitarian aid workers. In one
attack alone, for example, SPLA gunmen killed 23 relief workers,
drivers and assistants. In 1998, the SPLA murdered relief
workers in the Nuba mountains, and in 1999 the SPLA murdered
four aid workers assisting with a Red Cross project in southern
Would Christian Aid have been comfortable with a picture of
smiling Khmer Rouge gunmen, Serbian paramilitaries or any
other war criminals adorning their website? To have done so
with the SPLA given their record merely serves to confirm
a belief that Christian Aid is in some way supportive of that
Within days of the report's launch the real nature of Christian
Aid's smiling gunmen was once again evident. The Vatican's
news agency reported that on 22 February: "Rebels of
the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) attacked and razed
to the ground the town of Nyal, in the Western Upper Nile
region". The Vatican stated that 15,000 civilians had
been displaced. The SPLA also destroyed a Catholic mission
"Relief as a weapon of war"
An entire section of the Christian Aid report was devoted
to problems with the provision of food aid in southern Sudan.
To say that it presented only half a picture would be an understatement.
While alleging that the Sudanese government has from time
to time denied flight access to parts of the region, Christian
Aid ignores the rebel's systemic interference with food aid.
In March 2000, for example, the SPLA rebel movement started
to expel international non-governmental organisations which
had refused to sign an aid Memorandum drawn up by the SPLA.
The SPLA Memorandum made unacceptable demands of aid agencies
including SPLA control over the distribution of humanitarian
assistance; a requirement to work "in accordance with
SPLA objectives" rather than solely humanitarian aims.
Eleven international humanitarian aid agencies felt themselves
unable to remain active in southern Sudan under the conditions
demanded of them by the SPLA. These NGOs handled 75 percent
of the humanitarian aid entering southern Sudan. The withdrawal
of these NGOs directly affected US$ 40 million worth of aid
programs. The expelled aid agencies stated that one million
southern Sudanese were at risk as a result of the SPLA's decision
to expel the NGOs. The United Nations explained that the SPLA's
expulsion of the NGOs:
This has created a void in the OLS consortium's ability
to provide adequate humanitarian assistance to the people
of southern Sudan, already made vulnerable by decades
of war and deprivation. Emergency response, health, nutrition,
household food security, and water and sanitation programmes
will be hardest hit.
This has not been an isolated case. The Catholic Church in
southern Sudan has accused the SPLA rebel movement of stealing
65 percent of the food aid going into those parts of southern
Sudan controlled by the SPLA. Agence France Press also reported
that: "Much of the relief food going to more than a million
famine victims in rebel-held areas of southern Sudan is ending
up in the hands of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA),
relief workers said Tuesday." This food aid was often
quite literally taken out of the mouths of starving southern
Sudanese men, women and children at the height of famine.
While presenting examples of alleged government interference
in food aid supply in parts of western Upper Nile, the Christian
Aid report was deafeningly silent about the fact that the
SPLA has been found guilty of diverting two-thirds of emergency
food aid in southern Sudan and that its subsequent intransigence
caused three-quarters of all humanitarian assistance to be
suspended throughout the entirety of southern Sudan.
Christian Aid's report and the recommendations contained within
it are clearly deeply questionable. The report has made inaccurate
claims, and has relied on questionable sources. Christian
Aid appears not to have realised that the image of white Christians
in London thinking they know what is in the best interests
of black and brown Sudanese, and how they should exploit their
own resources, is one of arrogance. Christian Aid believes
in poverty eradication except in the case of Sudan. Its interest
in "oil-fuelled" civil wars does not extend to that
of Angola, possibly because that country is not Muslim. Christian
Aid has further shown itself to be out of step with the international
community and particularly the developing world regarding
Christian Aid's position with regard to conflict in Sudan's
oil fields has been one, in effect of blaming the victim.
It is similar to blaming a rape victim for the rape while
additionally ignoring the fact that the rapist has also been
encouraged by a third party. In its publication of half-truths
Christian Aid has presented precisely the sort of distorted
image of Sudan that only serves to prolong the conflict. It
is strangely silent in the face of clear evidence of the American
destabilisation of Sudan.
There is a simple, unanswered question which comes to mind
when reading The Scorched Earth: Oil and War in Sudan
Three million southern Sudanese refugees have deliberately
trekked hundreds of miles to seek refuge in northern Sudan.
Perhaps as many as two million of these southern Sudanese
refugees live in and around Khartoum. Many of those displaced
by rebel attacks in the oil fields have fled to government
towns. Few refugees flee toward oppressors - not many displaced
Kosovars headed towards Belgrade. It is against this background
that one should assess the picture presented of Sudan in this