Sudan and oil politics: A nation split by oil

Published on Pambazuka News, by Nnimmo Bassey, January 13, 2011.

With the Sudanese referendum this week, Nnimmo Bassey looks back at Nigeria’s civil war in 1967, what is at stake for South Sudan and the role of oil in the region.

As Sudanese vote this week on staying as one nation or becoming two, my mind goes back to when civil war broke out in Nigeria in 1967. I recall that when Biafra was announced, I leapt in celebration at the novelty of suddenly being a citizen of a new country under a new flag and with a bearded man at the head of state. What my young mind could not fathom, and did not question, were the reasons for the emergence of the new nation. What were the announced reasons and what were the unspoken ones? … //  

… Oil companies operating in Sudan are exempted from paying taxes. The contracts were mostly negotiated when the price of an oil barrel of oil was less than 20 US dollars. Surely, the companies operating here could not hope for a better space for reckless exploitation and incredibly high profit margins. Added to this is the fact that the regulatory regime is largely non-existent and even the conduct of environmental impact assessments are selective.

With Sudan having about five billion barrels of oil in reserves and currently exporting billions of dollars worth of oil per year, it must be painful for Khartoum to let the oil rich South go. About 80 per cent of Sudan’s oil exports come from the southern states. Only 50 per cent of revenue accruing from oil goes to the South, a factor that undoubtedly stokes the embers of discontent in the area.

As the peoples of Sudan vote for the emergence of a new Southern nation, dreams of the desperately poor and those traumatised by war and cruelties will run high. Children who never experienced peaceful environments will be marvelling at great possibilities. Oil has certainly greased the engines of exploitation, oppression and war in Sudan. It is oiling the machines of separation today. What will it lubricate next?

These are questions we must mull over, but a bigger question is over the implication of continued fragmentation for Africa as a whole. At a time when the continent should be coming together and erasing the arbitrary boundary lines drawn by colonialist adventurers, we continue to fragment. Certainly, this cannot be the only way to overcome poor and parasitic governance. (full text).

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