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From The Socialist newspaper, 11 June 2008

Sudan's poor paying the price for oil

THE BATTLE for control of oil resources is threatening the very future of Sudan. Tens of thousands have been forced out of their homes and the town of Abyei has been destroyed in fighting between the Northern government's Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Southern Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA). A small clash between the two sides quickly escalated into a full-scale military attack on the Abyei by the SAF.

Naomi Byron

The recent fighting shows the desperate need for democratic, public control of natural resources in order to prevent the wealthy elite ripping the country and its population apart over oil wealth.

Half of Sudan's oil production comes from the region of Abyei, just north of the border between North and South Sudan which was drawn up in the 2005 peace deal that ended a civil war that lasted over 20 years and killed over 2 million people.

Under the peace deal national elections are due in 2009, and also a referendum in 2011 in Abyei on whether the population want to be part of the North or the South. Six months later another referendum will take place in the South on whether to stay part of Sudan or have independence. The current conflict is partly an attempt to redraw the borders by force in advance of these votes to ensure control of the huge oil reservoirs in Abyei.

The Northern elite in government in Khartoum have not used the oil wealth at their disposal to develop the country as a whole, or even to benefit the masses they rule over in the Northern half of the country.

The vast majority of Sudan's rural population is still living in extreme poverty, struggling to feed themselves and their families and with little or no access to health care or clean water.

Instead, they have used it to line their pockets, build vanity projects for the rich and buy enormous amounts of arms. China, which has financed much of Sudan's oil production since the late 1990s and is heavily dependent on Sudanese oil, is one of the largest suppliers of arms to the Khartoum regime, fuelling the brutal war against the local population in Darfur and the ongoing conflict in Abyei.

These battles over resources - land, oil and water - are further complicated by the boundaries dictated by the colonial powers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly Britain which ruled Sudan between 1898 and 1956.

The Abyei region is populated by the (Black African) Ngok Dinka and (Arab) Misseriya peoples, who since the 18th century have shared precious cattle grazing land and water. But during the civil war - which ended in 2005 - the Khartoum regime armed the Misseriya to fight for them while the Ngok Dinka supported the southern rebels.

As The Socialist goes to press another peace deal over Abyei has been agreed, hopefully avoiding an escalation to full-blown war at least for the moment. However, the very nature of the peace agreements imposed with the help of imperialism on all the participants will only help create more tensions in the future - for example, by parcelling out oil revenues to the elite of various different ethnic groups, without the democratic safeguards or structures needed to ensure that the rest of the population can benefit.

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In The Socialist 11 June 2008:


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Anti-racism

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