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Raffique Shah


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Please, not another war over oil

August 08, 2004
By Raffique Shah

WITH many seemingly intractable problems haunting our country, we have become so immersed in them that we've lost that most human quality, feeling compassion for other human beings who are suffering infinitely more than the poorest among us. A handful of criminals, some of whom seem to have lost their humanity and have reverted to animal status, have us so trapped in the crime spiral that we cannot see the trees from the wood. We fail to recognise our good fortunes. We are blessed with an economy that can virtually run on auto-pilot and allow us a standard of living that is the envy of billions who are less fortunate. Our public institutions and services, however deficient they may be, still compare favourably with what obtain in most other countries. Yet, we gripe, we remain insular (even in the Caribbean), and we absolutely refuse to even consider the plight of the less fortunate.

In this respect, we are becoming very much like the USA and its people. Because they are wealthy, they care only about maintaining their opulent lifestyles, even if it is at the expense of hundreds of millions of " poor-arse" around the world. Oh, I know Ambassador Roy Austin (he's been rather quiet recently) will boast of the amount of money and food and other forms of assistance the USA doles out to the suffering around the world. But he knows that's the proverbial drop-in-the-bucket, and he also knows that the USA extracts more of its wealth by any means necessary from outside its boundaries. I shall not even mention Iraq, where it reduced what was once a prosperous country to a near-basket-case. Or Afghanistan, where it promised a miracle and delivered chaos.

Take the latest country to come under UN (read US) scrutiny, Sudan. Sudan is the largest country in Africa. It is not the poorest, but because of its size, composition of population, and range of climatic conditions (from arid deserts to tropical jungle), it has always been a country in crisis. It is also the oldest black civilisation in sub-Sahara. It was subjected to invasions by Christians in Egypt (around the 6th Century), then Arab-Muslims in the 7th, survived a war between "The Mahdi" (Muslim messiah) and British-Egyptian forces in 1885 until it was conquered by Lord Kitchener (not our beloved late Grandmaster!) in 1898. It remained under British rule for more than 50 years until it was granted independence in 1956.

But its history has been one of almost perpetual conflicts and strife. The civil war that is today brought into our living rooms via television did not start yesterday. It's almost as old as the country itself. Warlords dominated sections of the vast country, and remained beyond the reach of what passed for a central government in Khartoum, from as far back as the early 19th Century. Several hundred thousand civilian deaths were attributed to war and man-made famine between 1983-92. The UN did not intervene then, except to feebly provide some food. Today, the UN claims that more than 50,000 people have been killed in what it dubbed "ethnic cleansing", and around one million displaced in refugee camps because of attacks by the "Jangaweed" militia. No one, not even the Khartoum government, disputes that there is a major conflict and that there are large numbers of refugees who are literally starving. But in the wake of misinformation the UN/US peddled before invading Afghanistan and Iraq, one must be sceptical about these numbers.

Is the conflict in Sudan, though, deadlier than that in neighbouring Congo, where an estimated two-to-three million people are believed to have been killed in civil wars there? So why the focus on Sudan? Would you believe oil? Yes, Darfur has oil-huge reserves in both southern Sudan and Darfur. Currently, most oil exploration and refining is conducted by China, the biggest foreign investor in Sudan. In fact, oil exports have allowed Sudan to enjoy a five per cent annual growth in GDP. It's still far from becoming an "oil-rich" country, but given the horrendous uncertainties that pervade the Arab world, every barrel that can be extracted to reach America is deemed important. It's for oil, no other reason, that President George Bush visited several countries in West Africa a few months ago. And oil, not democracy, is behind the upcoming referendum in Venezuela. Oil also drives increased US involvement in Colombia.

Indeed, besides the Congo that seems to be in permanent crisis, why is the UN/US axis not concerned about the basket-case that is Somalia? Because it was forced by a warlord to withdraw its troops in 1993 after suffering the humiliation of seeing dead soldiers being dragged through the streets? According to Somali writer Nuruddin Farah, Somalia is a "free-for-all" country. There is no functioning government, and its neighbours do not respect its borders. The capital Mogadishu is in ruins. There are millions of people starving, and all institutions-education, security, etc.-have collapsed.

So why give the Sudan government a six-week ultimatum to rein in the "Jangaweed", an impossible task in a country where warlords remain beyond the reach of the the government in Khartoum? And why brand the conflict "ethnic cleansing" when "Darfur's Arabs are black, indigenous, African and Muslim-just like Darfur's non-Arabs .who hail from a dozen smaller tribes", as one expert on the country, Alex de Waal, wrote recently? The root of the conflict lies not so much in differences in race or religion as in conflicts over limited arable land, and water. Moreover, those who are now seen as victims of the "Jangaweed" are not without sin, although no one with a conscience can help but feel deeply for the displaced, the starving, the victims of marauding militias. Still, there is no reason for the US or Britain to send troops into this country. Note well that among those countries that abstained during the UN vote on the ultimatum was China. China has vested interests there, so this will be no Afghanistan or Iraq. As we say in Trini, "Monkey know which tree to climb".

As I wrote in my opening paragraph, in spite of our many woes, we must not lost our humaneness, whether it means lending a hand to our brothers in Haiti, or speaking out on injustices meted out to the suffering people of Darfur. We must not sit idly and allow the US to invade yet another country under the guise of saving it. Iraq and Afghanistan tell us otherwise.