Obama exploits South Sudanese independence struggle for propaganda

In his State of the Union address Jan. 25, Barack Obama said the US will support those struggling for freedom around the world, and made special note of the recent vote for independence in South Sudan:

Recent events have shown us that what sets us apart must not just be our power—it must also be the purpose behind it. In south Sudan—with our assistance—the people were finally able to vote for independence after years of war. (Applause.) Thousands lined up before dawn. People danced in the streets. One man who lost four of his brothers at war summed up the scene around him: “This was a battlefield for most of my life,” he said. “Now we want to be free.” (Applause.)

A Jan. 23 report on the legal news website Jurist shows a considerably more complicated—and grimmer—picture:

In September 2010, a human rights expert told the UN that Sudan was not prepared for the referendum. Mohamed Chande Othman, a Tanzanian judge and independent expert on the Sudan human rights situation, presented a report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva warning that Sudan did not have the necessary infrastructure in place and cited major setbacks, including the suppression of free speech and of the press, restrictions on other civil and political rights, and inadequate protection of society due to a lack of well-trained police officers, prosecutors and judges. The report also stated that there are unresolved issues, including border demarcation, residency and voter eligibility, as well as the lack of a referendum commission in the contentious region of Abyei in southern Sudan. Experts had feared that the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir would try to stop the election because, depending on where the border is drawn, it could result in as much as 80% of the nation’s oil reserves landing in the new southern state.

Which makes the Abyei conflict all the more critical—the disputed enclave is near some of Sudan’s biggest oilfields. Despite the south’s overwhelming vote for secession, renewed civil war in Sudan is not inevitable. For the moment, the south and north will have to work together to get the oil to market, and will therefore have to cut a deal to divvy up the proceeds. However, as the Financial Times informs us Jan. 20, global planners would like to change that:

Around 80% of Sudanese oil is in the south, but the port used to ship it abroad is in the north, fed by a pipeline. But this dynamic could be transformed if a proposal by Toyota Tsusho, the trading arm of the Japanese carmaker, to build an additional pipeline from southern Sudan to a new oil export terminal on the Kenyan coast, is realised.

And this is clearly part of the new Scramble for Africa, fueled by Western fears of China’s growing role in the continent. From the FT report:

The proposed border, 20% of which is still disputed, runs through various oil-rich regions. Foreign investors in Sudanese oilfields, notably China’s state-owned China National Petrolium Corporation, could find themselves caught in the middle.

China is Sudan’s biggest trading partner, accounting for 58% of Sudan’s exports and 21% of imports in 2009. Sudan, meanwhile, is China’s third-largest trading partner in Africa.

We have long argued that Sino-American rivalry over a strategic pipeline route lies behind Sudan’s ongoing border war with Chad, and to an extent behind the Darfur crisis. Look for another war between North and South Sudan once work actually commences on the Kenya pipeline

See our last post on the struggle for Sudan.

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