February 15, 2005


A Catalyst for Peace: Oil has played a major role in ending Sudan's civil war. (Alexandra Polier, 2/21/05, Newsweek International)

The peace agreement between northern and southern Sudan recently brought one of Africa's most protracted civil wars to an end. For years the mostly Muslim Arabs in the north, who run the government, battled largely Christian (and animist) African rebels in the south, who were angling for more power, money and autonomy. Mounting international pressure on the government was certainly a big reason the warring sides were finally able to reach an accord—one that gives the south the opportunity to hold a referendum on whether to secede in seven years. But another, less-known catalyst for peace lay under the combatant's feet—oil.

Sudan began exporting large quantities of oil in the late 1990s, and has since become a major player in the global industry. The country's proven reserves have doubled over the last three years (to 563 million barrels)—and they're sure to rise again, say experts, because exploration efforts have barely begun. Oil sales now bring the impoverished African nation about $5 billion annually, about one third of the national budget. China's National Petroleum Co. owns about 40 percent of a consortium that controls Sudan's oil production. According to a source familiar with Sudan's long conflict, it is no accident that the government and its longtime enemy, the Southern People's Liberation Army (SPLA), began serious peace talks about three years ago, when the oil bounty was becoming apparent. Nor is it a surprise that negotiators for the two sides made an unexpected push to finish the deal late last year—when oil prices hovered near record highs of close to $50 a barrel. "Oil has been the most important factor in the 'push for peace' in the north-south deal," says the source, an African diplomat long involved in the peace negotiations.

Let's all put our heads together and try to figure out what else happened four and then three years ago?

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 15, 2005 5:13 PM
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