Bush sees new NATO role in Darfur; Chad oil project in background

Its amazing how much the New York Times can say without directly saying it. In today’s edition are twin front-page stories on Darfur and Chad. Read together they convey much more about US interests in the Sahel than either states explicitly.

While the world media have largely ignored it, readers of WW4 REPORT will be aware that since last spring NATO has been providing air support for the African Union “peacekeepers” in Darfur. Now, the Times reports, Bush is calling for an expansion of NATO’s role in the conflict:

President Bush signaled a new American commitment on Friday to addressing the crisis in Darfur, saying he would support an expanded role by NATO to shore up a failing African peacekeeping mission there.

Mr. Bush also said he favored doubling the number of peacekeepers operating in Darfur under United Nations control, as proposed by the Security Council last month…

Administration officials said Mr. Bush’s comments reflected discussions between the United States and its allies calling for a broader interim role for NATO in Darfur until a larger, United Nations peacekeeping operation can be established…

A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Joe Carpenter, said in Washington that no decisions had been made on NATO’s role, but “NATO could potentially be a significant leader” in United Nations peacekeeping.

Over the last two years, under NATO auspices, the United States has transported tons of supplies and several thousand African Union troops to western Sudan. The United States has also provided $190 million for training and building camps for the soldiers, the Pentagon said…

Mr. Bush acknowledged that the African Union troops had been unable to “bring some sense of security to these poor people that are being herded out of their villages and just terribly mistreated.”

“The effort was noble,” he said, “but it didn’t achieve the objective.”

At a NATO meeting last week in Taormina, Sicily, an alliance spokesman, James Appathurai, said the United Nation special representative for Sudan, Jan Pronck, briefed defense ministers on the Security Council debate on Darfur. No decisions were made on expanding the NATO role, he said.

“For the moment NATO is doing what it has been asked to do, and that is to extend our airlift and capacity-building operation,” he said.

Over the last year, about 7,000 African Union peacekeepers troops have been stationed in Darfur to monitor and enforce a cease-fire between rebel and government troops. In January, the Security Council began to plan to send peacekeepers to Sudan, which envisions a force of as many as 20,000 operating under a broad mandate…

In recent days, some members of Congress and others have begun saying they hoped NATO forces could work with the African Union troops until United Nations forces arrive.

“In the interim, let’s get NATO involved in this process, because every day you wait, you’re going to have more people dying,” Senator Sam Brownback, the Kansas Republican, said Thursday in an interview on “The Newshour With Jim Lehrer.”

Mr. Bush noted on Friday, as he did last month when asked about Darfur by a student in Kansas, that his Administration was the first to use the word genocide to describe what was happening in Sudan.

“Our country was the first country to call what was taking place a genocide, which matters,” he said in front of the audience of about 400 people, who appeared overwhelmingly supportive of Mr. Bush. “Words matter.”

But is this really about genocide? Darfur’s Black inhabitants might well wlecome NATO as perceived protectors from the Janjaweed—but the genocide has already been effected. The organized violence has been underway for three years, some 200,000 have been killed, and 2 million displaced. Apart from the ineffectual African Union force, the world has done little to interfere. Why this sudden imperative?

The adjacent front-page story on adjacent Chad provides a clue. Ostensibly, the story is about Chad reneging on a commitment to funnel profits from a new World Bank-funded oil project into social programs. Instead, Chad will be using them to beef up its armed forces to suppress a new rebel movement in the east of the country. This movement is apparently supported by Sudan, in retaliation for Chad’s support of the Darfur guerillas. World Bank chief Paul Wolfowitz, in contrast to the bleeding-heart bureaucrats at the Bank, notes that Chad’s decision to put guns before butter is no reason for the Bank to stop cooperating in the oil project. A map shows the new pipeline (built by an Exxon-led consortium) connecting Chad’s Doba Basin oil fields to the coast in Cameroon. Excerpts:

“It’s not clear at all how to get your hands around it,” said Paul D. Wolfowitz, who became president of the bank last summer. “But I think to stand back and say the whole thing is a dirty business and we in the World Bank don’t want to have anything to do with it is very shortsighted.”

Africa is in the midst of an oil boom, with countries that have already struck oil aiming to double production by the end of the decade.

Billions of dollars have been invested in new production capacity, much of it to feed a thirsty American market. The United States already gets about 18 percent of its oil from sub-Saharan Africa, a share that will rise in coming years and could outpace imports from the Persian Gulf, experts say.

But the United States also faces fierce competition for Africa’s oil from countries like China, Taiwan, India and Malaysia…

Chad has been ranked with Bangladesh at the world’s two most corrupt countries by the corruption watchdog Transparency International. The hope that Chad would chart a more humane path fractured when its Parliament voted recently to soften the oil revenue law, allowing the money to be diverted.

“We have our backs against the wall,” said Hourmadji Moussa Doumgor, Chad’s minister of communications, explaining that the nation was out of money and facing a rebellion from former soldiers seeking to overthrow President Idriss DĂ©by. “We have lived without oil in the past, and we are prepared to do it again to preserve our dignity. And there are other partners we can pursue.”

That Chad’s government faces a crisis is beyond doubt. Civil servants went on strike for weeks when their salaries were not paid for several months, and retired people have not received their benefits since 2004. The ailing Mr. DĂ©by, president since 1990, is facing an armed rebellion in the east of the country. Some experts say he may believe that he needs money now to buy weapons and the loyalty of restive military officers.

The crisis in Darfur, the region of neighboring Sudan that borders Chad, has also put enormous pressure on Chad, which is now host to 200,000 Sudanese refugees. Complicating matters, Chad and Sudan have accused each other of supporting rebels on each other’s soil.

Chad has demanded that the consortium led by Exxon Mobil that built the pipeline begin depositing the oil royalties directly in the country’s central bank rather than an account designated in its agreement with the World Bank. Chadian officials said they were prepared to “close the faucets” of the oil pipeline if no settlement was reached.

Exxon, responding to written questions, said only that it hoped that the bank and Chad could address Chad’s financial distress while preserving the poverty-reduction framework.

The Exxon-led consortium was willing to build the 665-mile pipeline from landlocked Chad to the sea only with the World Bank’s backing, said Rashad Kaldany, director of oil, gas and mining for the bank and its private investment agency, the International Finance Corporation. With Chad’s history of civil war, ethnic strife and corruption, its oil lay untapped for decades because no one was willing to put capital at risk here.

In 2000, the bank approved the project and lent Chad $37 million for its stake in the pipeline, while its finance agency lent the companies building the pipeline $100 million. Their support was conditioned on Chad’s commitment to adopting a law requiring that most of the oil revenue go to poverty alleviation.

The royalties were to be deposited in an offshore account, and an independent oversight committee was to vet, approve and monitor all spending.

But once the oil revenues began to flow into the government’s coffers in 2004, the model program quickly ran into trouble…

The oversight group officially charged with monitoring the oil spending laid out a damning catalog of malfeasance and bungling last May, from overspending on office equipment to bungling or abandoning entire public works projects…

The largest amount of money — $51 million through last year — has been devoted to public works, mainly roads. Of that, $48 million has been assigned to a partnership formed between a foreign construction company and a company led by President DĂ©by’s brother, Daoussa DĂ©by, according to the oversight committee.

It is not difficult to read between the lines here. The Wolfowtiz quote makes clear that Chad’s regime (and Exxon) needn’t worry about the militarism, nepotism and corruption—Bank funding for the Doha Basin project will go ahead, requisite hand-wringing notwithstanding. Meanwhile, NATO will secure Darfur, depriving the rebels seeking to destabilize DĂ©by of their critical staging ground. The oil will not fall into the hands of an Islamist state.

The worst irony is that the emergence of the Sudan-backed rebels—and the Janjaweed genocide itself—may be a result of Chad’s support for the Darfur guerillas, likely undertaken at Washington’s behest in the first place…

See our last post on the politics of the Sahel.

  1. Chad
    In the interests of fair play I’d like to respond to this piece. I’ve just spent the last week reporting from Chad (I am Africa correspondent for The Economist). From what I can see, it is simply not true that Paul Wolfowitz has taken the side of Esso in this dispute. On the contrary, it was his forthrightness which allowed the World Bank to act with a rare sense of urgency against the kleptocratic Chadian regime. In this instance, at least, the World Bank is clearly on the side of the poor. The larger question is what to do with Chad. The World Bank, and particularly Mr Wolfowitz, know they have limited leverage over Chad, especially when Esso begins to pay taxes to Chad, as it is about to do. I would respectfully ask Mr Weinberg to present any idea he has on boosting the subsistence incomes of the 80% or so Chadians who live in absolute poverty (less than a dollar a day).

    1. Don’t get me wrong
      I am not here to apologize for the Chadian regime. But I do think it is telling that the Times chose that particular quote from Wolfowitz.