The Final Call Online Edition


WEB POSTED 07-02-2002
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'Rogue' no more
U.S. eyes oil in Libya, Sudan

by Franz Schurmann
—Guest Columnist—

Editor’s Note: With both oil-rich Central Asia and the Middle East riddled by conflict and U.S. voters’ continued distaste for new domestic oil exploitation, Washington is getting serious about changing policy toward Africa. Pacific News Service Editor Franz Schurmann ([email protected]), emeritus professor at UC Berkeley, has written on the politics of oil since the late 1970s.

SAN FRANCISCO (—First Lady Laura Bush has told gas-guzzling SUV owners that they can’t have their cake and eat it too, according to local media. But her husband thinks he has found a way they can still have both—lots of gas and no need to drill in the United States.

The Bush administration is looking for oil in former "rogue" nations Libya and the Sudan.

The reason for this policy shift is that most of the world’s major oil sources—the Middle East, Central Asia and the Andean nations—are now riddled by violent conflicts.

Until recently, that also was the case in Africa. But now conflicts are simmering down there. One major reason is that the world’s most powerful country, America, has decided to work with two countries it has long labeled as "rogues," the Sudan and Libya. Washington knows that no Pan-African peace is possible without the Sudan and Libya.

Not coincidentally, both countries are awash in oil.

Libyan production already ranks second to African oil giant Nigeria, and the Sudan, when fully explored by oil geologists, could eventually rival oil behemoth Saudi Arabia.

Libya got its rogue status not long after Col. Muammar Gadhafi seized power in 1969. Then on Dec. 21, 1988, a terrorist bomb brought down a Pan Am flight over the Scottish village of Lockerbie. Washington accused Libya of being the culprit.

The Sudan’s rogue status was due to a military coup in 1989 that brought an Islamic fundamentalist regime to power. A few years later the regime invited Osama bin Laden to help build up the country’s infrastructure. But once entrenched there, bin Laden also organized a global Islamic movement now called al Qaeda.

In March 1998, Bill Clinton paid the first visit to sub-Saharan Africa by a U.S. president in more than 20 years. That was a signal that the United States now had major interests in Africa.

Though the Clinton administration did not change policy toward the two African rogues, its successor, the Bush administration, did. The first change was made indirectly in January 2001, through its staunch ally Britain. After the Lockerbie trial, London quickly resumed diplomatic relations with Libya. And nary a peep went up in Washington.

But a more dramatic move came later that year. Five days before Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush appointed former Missouri Senator John Danforth to be his special envoy to the Sudan, with a mandate to bring about peace in a civil war that dates back to 1959. On May 21 of this year, Bush renewed Danforth’s mandate.

Sept. 11 changed everything—even in the world of oil. George Bush Sr. thought that the collapse of the Soviet Union had increased the chances of obtaining a new ocean of oil and natural gas in Central Asia. But with his son’s war on terrorism, the Central Asian option is now up in the air. The only chances left anywhere in the world are in Africa.

The South African-based business web site Mbendi says, "Although the Sudan has been a producer of oil and gas for a number of years, it is considered vastly unexplored." Estimates put the Sudan’s known reserves at 1.2 billion barrels, with another 800 million of recoverable reserves. According to the Sudan’s energy minister, Ahmed Aud al-Jaz, every one of his country’s 26 provinces has significant fossil fuel reserves, as reported by the Arabic-language As-Sharq al-Ausat of June 8.

Mbendi says that the African continent has seven percent of the world’s oil and natural gas reserves. Five countries now dominate African oil production: Nigeria, Libya, Algeria, Egypt and Angola. Chad and the Sudan lead the list of exploratory possibilities.

American oil companies are clearly envisaging an African substitute for their lost Central Asia. That region would begin in the Persian Gulf and extend through a vast African expanse, deep into Nigeria.

That vision can only be realized if there is peace in the region. Except for the Sudan, that goal has been largely achieved. And with every other country in the region plus the Bush White House putting pressure on the Sudanese combatants to end the fighting, chances are that an agreement will be reached. In fact, division of oil revenues is one of the main issues in the conflict, according to the Sudan’s energy minister Ahmed Aud al-Jaz.

If Sen. Danforth could bring about an end to the half-century long civil war in the Sudan that would be the first real victory in the war on terrorism.

And if the oil starts flowing, grateful SUV owners would likely vote Republican this fall and for Bush in November 2004.

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