War of the Future

Oil is fueling the genocide in Darfur at every level. This is the context in which Darfur must be understood – and, with it, the whole of Africa. The same Africa whose vast tapestry of indigenous cultures, wealth of forests and savannas was torn apart by three centuries of theft by European colonial powers – seeking slaves, ivory, gold, and diamonds – is being devastated anew by the 21st century quest for oil.

By David Morse
Posted by Bulatlat.com

A war of the future is being waged right now in the sprawling desert region of northeastern Africa known as Sudan. The weapons themselves are not futuristic. None of the ray-guns, force-fields, or robotic storm troopers that are the stuff of science fiction; nor, for that matter, the satellite-guided Predator drones or other high-tech weapon systems at the cutting edge of today’s arsenal.

No, this war is being fought with Kalashnikovs, clubs and knives. In the western region of Sudan known as Darfur, the preferred tactics are burning and pillaging, castration and rape – carried out by Arab militias riding on camels and horses. The most sophisticated technologies deployed are, on the one hand, the helicopters used by the Sudanese government to support the militias when they attack black African villages, and on the other hand, quite a different weapon: the seismographs used by foreign oil companies to map oil deposits hundreds of feet below the surface.

This is what makes it a war of the future: not the slick PowerPoint presentations you can imagine in boardrooms in Dallas and Beijing showing proven reserves in one color, estimated reserves in another, vast subterranean puddles that stretch west into Chad, and south to Nigeria and Uganda; not the technology; just the simple fact of the oil.

This is a resource war, fought by surrogates, involving great powers whose economies are predicated on growth, contending for a finite pool of resources. It is a war straight out of the pages of Michael Klare’s book, Blood and Oil; and it would be a glaring example of the consequences of our addiction to oil, if it were not also an invisible war.


Invisible because it is happening in Africa. Invisible because our mainstream media are subsidized by the petroleum industry. Think of all the car ads you see on television, in newspapers and magazines. Think of the narcissism implicit in our automobile culture, our suburban sprawl, our obsessive focus on the rich and famous, the giddy assumption that all this can continue indefinitely when we know it can’t – and you see why Darfur slips into darkness. And Darfur is only the tip of the sprawling, scarred state known as Sudan. Nicholas Krist of pointed out in a New York Times column that ABC News had a total of 18 minutes of Darfur coverage in its nightly newscasts all last year, and that was to the credit of Peter Jennings; NBC had only 5 minutes, CBS only 3 minutes. This is, of course, a micro-fraction of the time devoted to Michael Jackson.

Why is it, I wonder, that when a genocide takes place in Africa, our attention is always riveted on some black American miscreant superstar? During the genocide in Rwanda ten years ago, when 800,000 Tutsis were slaughtered in 100 days, it was the trial of O.J. Simpson that had our attention.

Yes, racism enters into our refusal to even try to understand Africa, let alone value African lives. And yes, surely we’re witnessing the kind of denial that Samantha Power documents in A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide; the sheer difficulty we have acknowledging genocide. Once we acknowledge it, she observes, we pay lip-service to humanitarian ideals, but stand idly by. And yes, turmoil in Africa may evoke our experience in Somalia, with its graphic images of American soldiers being dragged through the streets by their heels. But all of this is trumped, I believe, by something just as deep: an unwritten conspiracy of silence that prevents the media from making the connections that would threaten our petroleum-dependent lifestyle, that would lead us to acknowledge the fact that the industrial world’s addiction to oil is laying waste to Africa.

When Darfur does occasionally make the news – photographs of burned villages, charred corpses, malnourished children – it is presented without context. In truth, Darfur is part of a broader oil-driven crisis in northern Africa. An estimated 300 to 400 Darfurians are dying every day. Yet the message from our media is that we Americans are “helpless” to prevent this humanitarian tragedy, even as we gas up our SUVs with these people’s lives.

Even Kristof – whose efforts as a mainstream journalist to keep Darfur in the spotlight are worthy of a Pulitzer – fails to make the connection to oil; and yet oil was the driving force behind Sudan’s civil war. Oil is driving the genocide in Darfur. Oil drives the Bush administration’s policy toward Sudan and the rest of Africa. And oil is likely to topple Sudan and its neighbors into chaos.

The Context for Genocide

I will support these assertions with fact. But first, let’s give Sudanese government officials in Khartoum their due. They prefer to explain the slaughter in Darfur as an ancient rivalry between nomadic herding tribes in the north and black African farmers in the south. They deny responsibility for the militias and claim they can’t control them, even as they continue to train the militias, arm them, and pay them. They play down their Islamist ideology, which supported Osama bin Laden and seeks to impose Islamic fundamentalism in Sudan and elsewhere. Instead, they portray themselves as pragmatists struggling to hold together an impoverished and backwards country; all they need is more economic aid from the West, and an end to the trade sanctions imposed by the U.S. in 1997, when President Clinton added Sudan to the list of states sponsoring terrorism. Darfur, from their perspective, is an inconvenient anomaly that will go away, in time.

It is true that ethnic rivalries and racism play a part in today’s conflict in Darfur. Seen in the larger context of Sudan’s civil war, however, Darfur is not an anomaly; it is an extension of that conflict. The real driving force behind the North-South conflict became clear after Chevron discovered oil in southern Sudan in 1978. The traditional competition for water at the fringes of the Sahara was transformed into quite a different struggle. The Arab-dominated government in Khartoum redrew Sudan’s jurisdictional boundaries to exclude the oil reserves from southern jurisdiction. Thus began Sudan’s 21-year-old North-South civil war. The conflict then moved south, deep into Sudan, into wetter lands that form the headwaters of the Nile and lie far from the historical competition for water.

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