The Race for Darfur's Oil - a Blessing or a Curse?
By Nina Brenjo (March 7, 2006)
"The main reason behind Darfur is oil. There is no other reason for this area to have blown like this," the LA Times quotes an oil industry consultant who's involved with some of Sudan's major oil companies. The consultant, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says it's going to get worse.
There have long been rumours about possible oil reserves in Darfur and how they're connected with conflict in the region. AlertNet wrote about this twist in the Darfur story back in 2005. But if the rumours are true, and it turns out there are oilfields under Darfur's deserts, it would make yet another conflict where oil seems more of a curse than a blessing.
The discovery of oil in Darfur would explain why "a seemingly barren wasteland" of Sudan has ignited such a fierce war, the paper suggests. It quotes a Khartoum analyst who says oil is what's really motivating interventions from the United States, the United Nations and Libya. And it quotes rights activists who say the hunger for oil is what's made the Khartoum government so keen to crack down on rebel demands in the region.
Meanwhile, the Sudanese government is ramping up oil exploration in the region, and has just granted three new exploration concessions. Two of them went to a Yemeni-Saudi Arabian team which has begun drilling north of where most of the fighting is Darfur is happening.
Much of Sudan's $6 billion oil stocks comes from the south of the country, which, according to the 2005 peace deal between Sudan's north and south, has the right to secede in four years' time, taking most of the oil with them.
"There's a real scramble to find oil in the north. The likelihood that there is oil in Darfur is quite high," the paper quotes another government oil official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
But not everyone thinks that oil can only bring more trouble to Darfur. Just look at what happened in southern Sudan, they say, where oil actually brought the two sides together and forced them to negotiate a peace deal.
"They will see that it's better to share in the oil than to leave it for someone else," Salah Wahbi, president of the Sudanese Advanced Petroleum Company, a is quoted by the LA Times. The company says it has recently found evidence there was oil in the past in three wells in the Darfur area.
But just who will reap the benefits of any future oil finds is another question. Take the example of Khartoum. The city itself is bursting with oil money, the Washington Post reports. There are Toyota dealerships, a cafe where customers can sip coffee under a refreshing mist spray, and a $300-a-night five-star hotel to prove it.
But venture out from the city centre and you'll find squalid camps - some of them without electricity or running water - which are home to more than 2 million people. Most of the occupants have fled to seek refuge from the conflict in the south, but it's not unusual to meet Darfurians escaping the war raging back home.
The wealth from Sudan's oil boom hasn't just passed them by. It's made their lives worse, as camps are periodically bulldozed to make way for new building by developers who buy the land from the government.
Charles Kalisto, who's been a resident of Soba Aradi camp for 22 years, describes a prime example of new wealth and old poverty side by side in Khartoum:
"When I see all these tall buildings (in Khartoum), I ask, 'Why am I staying under a plastic sheet?'" he tells the Post.
Originally appeared in Reuters AlertNet.