A Review of John Prendergast’s “God, Oil and Country: Changing The Logic of War in Sudan”

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In January 2001, the International Crisis Group (ICG) published a book- length report on Sudan entitled ‘God, Oil and Country: Changing the Logic of War in Sudan’. Written by ICG’s Africa Program Co-Director, the former Clinton Administration’s Africa director, John Prendergast, the report sought to position itself as an authoritative examination of the Sudanese civil war. Sadly, this report was deeply flawed by questionable scholarship and Prendergast’s self-serving inability or unwillingness in several crucial respects to differentiate between fact and misinformation on Sudan.

It is surely questionable to allow individuals who were intimately, and ideologically, involved in an issue, and who formulated and sought to implement a flawed policy which clearly failed, to then analyse that situation, including that policy. To have that analysis packaged as somehow authoritative and independent is deeply problematic. It is a rare person who would be able to be honest and objective in such circumstances. Prendergast is not one of those people. His inability to do so is evident in this report, which includes commentary which is best described as fundamentally unsound where not simply stale or sterile. He persists in making allegations about Sudan on the basis of questionable second and third-hand claims, often from partisan sources – hardly the basis for a credible study of the Sudanese situation. Sudan was the Nicaragua of the 1990s. Prendergast certainly though so. (1) Given Prendergast’s close and enthusiastic identification with the destabilisation by any means of Sudan, it would be analogous to allowing Oliver North to write an ICG paper on a Nicaragua still ruled by the Sandinistas after years of trying to topple that regime.

No assessment of Prendergast’s commentary on Sudan can be separated from an analysis of Prendergast’s own involvement in the Clinton Administration. It must be stated, in passing, that it is somewhat ironic that Prendergast is the International Crisis Group’s African co- director, and that the ICG states that it “works to prevent and contain deadly conflict”. (2) Prendergast was closely associated with the Clinton Administration’s Africa policies – policies which caused and built upon deadly conflict almost wherever it touched the continent. It was a Democratic Congresswoman, Cynthia McKinney, a member of the House of Representatives Committee on International Relations and Committee on National Security, who perhaps summed this Africa policy up best in a 1999 letter to President Clinton:

“I feel compelled to report to you that crimes against humanity are being committed…throughout Africa, seemingly with the help and support of your administration. I would suggest to you that U.S. policy in the Democratic Republic of Congo has failed and it is another example of our policy failures across the continent. One only has to point to diplomatic duality in Ethiopia and Eritrea, indecisiveness and ambivalence in Angola, indifference in Democratic Republic of Congo, the destruction of democracy in Sierra Leone, and inflexibility elsewhere on the continent. The result is an Africa policy in disarray, a continent on fire, and U.S. complicity in crimes against humanity….your Africa policy has not only NOT helped to usher in the so-called ‘African Renaissance,’ but has contributed to the continued pain and suffering of the African people.” (3)

Congresswoman McKinney is only one amongst many critics. The American periodical, ‘The New Republic’, has also observed:

“The Clinton administration’s Africa policy will probably go down as the strangest of the postcolonial age; it may also go down as the most grotesque…Indeed, confronted with several stark moral challenges, the Clinton administration has abandoned Africa every time: it fled from Somalia, it watched American stepchild Liberia descend into chaos, it blocked intervention in Rwanda…Clinton’s soaring rhetoric has posed a problem that his predecessors did not face – the problem of rank hypocrisy…the Clintonites have developed a policy of coercive dishonesty.” (4)

‘The New Republic’ also pointed out that Capitol Hill Africa specialists have described the Clinton Administration’s dishonesty as “positively Orwellian”. (5 ) There is no clearer example of that dishonesty than the Clinton Administration’s Sudan policy. This policy was just another example of inflexibility, systemic misjudgement and mismanagement. (6 ) And Prendergast was central to this Africa policy, serving as director of African affairs at the Nation Security Council from 1997-1999 and then as special advisor to the American assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Susan Rice.

It is perhaps fitting that having so loyally served the Clinton Administration and therefore seemingly having been responsible for considerable deadly conflict, Prendergast spends some time attempting to put right the Clinton Administration’s disastrous failures on Africa. This report, however, would indicate that on the Sudan issue he has failed to leave this luggage behind. It reflects a deeply flawed analysis – one still steeped in propaganda rather than fact.

This perhaps is enough to allow the readers of ‘God, Oil and Country’ to assess Mr Prendergast’s reliability as an analyst. Not only does Prendergast not have the honesty to admit to the Clinton Administration’s monumental policy failure with regard to Sudan, he actually attempts to downplay or ignore that failure, while seeking to recycle parts of it within this report.

This report, at 250-pages, is over-long, and consists in large part of what can best be described as gossip, by way of unattributed comments. The only people who seem to have agreed to be quoted are government of Sudan officials, a demonstration of the confidence of that government in its position.

Sudan has been at war with itself, except for a period of peace from 1972-1983, since 1955. From 1983 the war has been fought between the government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). There are three things that the Clinton Administration, ably assisted by Prendergast, succeeded in with regard to Sudan. Firstly, it encouraged and prolonged the Sudanese civil war. Secondly, it succeeded in demonising Sudan by way of a devastating propaganda war, particularly within the United States. Thirdly, the heavy-handed ineptitude of this policy managed to move Sudan from an all too obvious position of diplomatic isolation in 1996 to a position by 2000/2001 of normalisation internationally, and leadership within Africa and regionally. (7)

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has been very candid about the Clinton Administration’s attempts to prevent a peaceful resolution of the Sudanese conflict:

“The people in Sudan want to resolve the conflict. The biggest obstacle is US government policy. The US is committed to overthrowing the government in Khartoum. Any sort of peace effort is aborted, basically by policies of the United States…Instead of working for peace in Sudan, the US government has basically promoted a continuation of the war.” (8)

On another occasion he observed: “[T]he United States government has a policy of trying to overthrow the government in Sudan. So whenever there’s a peace initiative, unfortunately our government puts up whatever obstruction it can.” (9) These are clearly serious charges for a former American president to have made about another U.S. administration, all the more so coming from someone as widely respected as Jimmy Carter, himself a long-standing observer of Sudanese affairs.

In addition to militarily, logistically and financially supporting the SPLA in its war against Khartoum, the Clinton Administration also actively encouraged several military regimes neighbouring Sudan to further militarily destabilise Africa’s largest country. Carter has also bluntly stated that the Clinton Administration’s US$20 million grant in military aid to Eritrea, Ethiopia and Uganda was “a tacit demonstration of support for the overthrow of the Khartoum government”. He also believed that this behaviour by Washington had a negative effect on the SPLA’s interest in negotiating a political settlement: “I think Garang now feels he doesn’t need to negotiate because he anticipates a victory brought about by increasing support from his immediate neighbors, and also from the United States and indirectly from other countries”. (10)

It should also be pointed out that given the dangers of encouraging unstable countries such as Uganda to destabilise their neighbours, the Clinton Administration’s responsibility for the horrific civil war within the Democratic Republic of Congo from 1997 onwards is clear. Encouraged by Washington, Uganda’s destabilisation of Zaire spiralled out of control into a vicious war in which countries such as Rwanda, Burundi, Chad, Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa have also become militarily entangled. It is ironic, therefore, for Clinton Administration officials such as assistant Secretary of State for African affairs, Susan Rice, to have then claimed at the same time that the Clinton Administration’s policy was to limit “trans-national” conflicts. (11) Once again, the intellectual dishonesty of the Clinton Administration is all too clear.

Prendergast repeatedly states in his report that a “window” for peace has opened in the wake of the 11 September terrorist attacks in the United States. What he fails to tell his readers is that this window, both in terms of peace and counter-terrorism, has been open for a number of years and that it was the Clinton Administration, of which he was the Africa and Sudan expert, that repeatedly either ignored the openings or desperately sought to close the window. Prendergast states that the “broad strokes of a peace deal could potentially include the following fundamental compromises: a federal constitution neither based on religion nor labelled secular, with each regional entity or state able to craft its own laws; asymmetrical federalism (with a higher degree of autonomy for the south) during an interim period, backed by credible international guarantees, with mutually agreed benchmarks that if not met would trigger a self-determination referendum for the south; and an internationally monitored mechanism for wealth sharing that ensures that all sides benefit from implementation.” (12) Essentially these “broad strokes” formed the basis of the watershed 1997 Khartoum peace agreement signed between the Sudanese government and several southern Sudanese leaders and political groupings, including the South Sudan Independence Movement, led by Dr Riek Machar, the SPLA (Bahr al-Ghazal Group) represented by Kerubino Bol Kuanyin and Arok Thon Arok’s SPLA-Bor group, The agreement provided for a free and fair, internationally-supervised, referendum in southern Sudan to determine whether the people of the south desire independence or federation. The south would continue to be exempt from sharia law. The agreement also guaranteed freedom of movement, assembly, organisation, speech and press, and provided for an equitable representation of southerners at all levels within Sudan. It further provided for the formation of a 25-member Southern Coordination Council, to include a president, 14 ministers and the 10 southern state governors, to serve as a southern government until such a referendum, which was to have been held in four years time given a situation of peace. It was also agreed that there would be an equitable sharing of national resources between the different regions of Sudan, with priority given to the reconstruction of the south. The Khartoum Peace Agreement, along with its clauses confirming the equitable sharing of oil wealth, was incorporated into the 1999 Constitution – itself clearly not an Islamic constitution.

Rather than jump at Khartoum’s unprecedented offers of a new constitutional federal dispensation up to and including a referendum on southern Sudan’s future outlined in the 1997 Khartoum Peace Agreement, the SPLA chose first to downplay it. (13) And when the organisation did accept the concept of a referendum (14) the SPLA then demanded that any such referendum should include a redrawing of the 1956 boundaries of what constituted southern Sudan. They additionally complicated matters by demanding that other areas of Sudan, namely the Nuba mountains and Ingessana hills, should also be afforded referenda on self- determination. It would be analogous to parties to a referendum in Canada on Quebec’s political status demanding that the province’s boundaries be redrawn and that parts of Ontario and Labrador be included. There can be no doubt that the Clinton Administration had encouraged such a response, eager as it was to continue with the military destabilisation of Sudan. There can also be no doubt that the SPLA’s tutored indifference to the 1997 Khartoum agreement itself led to the genesis of the Libyan-Egyptian peace initiative which broadened the issue out into an all-inclusive national issue.

The end result of the Clinton Administration’s dabbling in Sudan was that the war has very possibly continued unnecessarily for five or more years. Prendergast is eager to point out that two million people have died in the conflict. What he ignores is that the policy he was so enthusiastically party to was itself responsible for a large number of those deaths, and injury and discomfort for countless other Sudanese.

Prendergast states that the “Sudanese are nearly unanimous in arguing that the most valuable immediate contribution the international community could make would be to address the schism between the competing peace initiatives.” This is a facile, self-serving claim. Given the previous United States’ policy of deliberately prolonging war and actively discouraging a peaceful resolution of the conflict by way of active support for the SPLA, the most valuable immediate contribution would be for those actors within the international community that have been military assisting and encouraging the SPLA in its war against the government, namely the United States and Uganda, to end that support and encourage a political rather than an unobtainable military solution.

A key methodological failure of the book is Prendergast’s failure to address the deep propaganda dimension to American policy towards Sudan. That a propaganda component accompanies any target of American foreign policy is a simple fact. Propaganda goes hand-in-glove with any campaign and its use has intensified in the last two decades. As we will see below, Prendergast has himself drawn a comparison between American involvement in Sudan and Nicaragua. The National Security Archive described the Reagan Administration’s propaganda machine with regard to Nicaragua: “To…wage the important fight for American and international public opinion, [the White House] created a sophisticated propaganda apparatus to reshape perceptions of the conflict in Central America. This campaign resembled the type of covert propaganda operations the CIA routinely engages in against foreign nations but is prohibited from undertaking at home…Moreover…U.S. military psychological specialists, skilled in ‘persuasive communications,’ were detailed to Washington…to ‘prepare studies, papers, speeches and memoranda to support [public diplomacy] activities,’ and look for “exploitable themes and trends’…The Office of Public Diplomacy peddled these ‘themes’ to journalists, editors, academics, conservative constituent groups, Congress and the general public through a variety of mechanisms…Public diplomacy tactics also incorporated what internal documents called ‘White Propaganda Operations’ – sponsoring stories and opinion columns in the press while disguising any government connection – and promoting misinformation.” (15) There can be no doubt whatsoever that the Clinton Administration initiated similar projects affecting Sudan. Such state- sponsored propaganda is as much a legacy of contemporary warfare as landmines, and as with landmines propaganda projections must also be defused. Rather than do this Prendergast chooses to rehash repeatedly discredited propaganda claims.

While whatever resonance this propaganda campaign may have had internationally has gradually dissipated, its impact domestically within the United States has been dramatic. It is within the United States that it is at its most powerful and destructive and continues to have an influence within the American body politic out of all proportion to its veracity. The orchestrated propaganda onslaught, with its Islamophobic undertones, perpetuated by federally-funded bodies such as the so-called U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom (16), was embraced and acted upon a wide cross section of political and church groups. From this has emerged a vibrant anti-Sudan industry, which has in turn brought considerable, ultimately undue, pressure to bear upon the Bush Administration.

There are several examples of Prendergast’s inability to leave his Clinton-era Sudan misjudgements behind him. He clings tenaciously to questionable Clinton Administration propaganda projections about Sudan, some of which he may have developed himself. His repetition of claims that are clearly dubious are exemplified by his allegations of terrorism, “institutionalised slavery” in Sudan and the government’s forced “displacement” of civilians from oil-producing areas.

Sudan and International Terrorism

It is ironic that Prendergast seeks to link the “window” on peace in Sudan to 11 September 2001. He is unsurprisingly very coy about the fact that the Sudanese government had repeatedly made offers to share intelligence with Washington since 1996, five years prior to the terrorists attacks in the United States. Sudan had even offered to hand over Osama bin-Laden over to the American government in that year (just as they had extradited “Carlos the Jackal” to France in 1995). Following the bombings of the American embassies in East Africa Sudan arrested two key al-Qaida organisers who had clearly been involved in the attacks and offered them to Washington. It is now common knowledge that the Clinton Administration refused these and several other Sudanese offers. (17) President Clinton subsequently acknowledged that these refusals to accept Sudanese offers was “the biggest mistake” of his presidency. (18) There are those who have openly stated that the Clinton Administration was therefore indirectly responsible for the World Trade Center and Pentagon disasters. (19)

It is hard to point to a clearer case of governmental ineptitude with regard to “terrorism” than the Clinton Administration’s “policy” towards Sudan. Unlike Mr Clinton, Prendergast hasn’t even conceded that he made a mistake – indeed he exudes the same arrogance that led to the “mistakes” in the first place.

The Clinton Administration’s projection of Sudan as a terrorist state began with a lie and then went downhill, ultimately running aground for all time with its farcical 1998 cruise missile attack on the al-Shifa medicines factory in Khartoum. It initially listed Sudan as a “state sponsor of terrorism” in 1993. This listing was questioned from the start by former President Jimmy Carter, who asked to see the evidence for Sudan’s listing. He reported that: “In fact, when I later asked an assistant secretary of state he said they did not have any proof, but there were strong allegations” (20) – clearly ignoring the strict legal definitions to be met before such a listing. While Sudan may have been keeping bad company at the time, even the American ambassador to Sudan at the time has said that he did not believe Sudan warranted such a listing. (21) Nor does Prendergast mention, or in any seek to address, the fact that in 1998 it was admitted that at least one hundred CIA reports on Sudan and terrorism were scrapped as unreliable or having been fabricated. (22) The gap between American claims about Sudan, and reality, was also clearly demonstrated by Washington’s inept attack on the al-Shifa factory, an attack acknowledged to have been the result of yet more disastrous American intelligence failures. (23) While Prendergast does have the courage to mention the al-Shifa factory, he doggedly clings to the facile line that American “evidence was not presented publicly, however, because the U.S. said it wished to protect intelligence sources and methods”. (24) The Administration he served repeatedly blocked Sudanese requests for a United Nations inspection of the al-Shifa site. As one Sudanese diplomat at the United Nations observed of the Clinton Administration’s double standards: “You guys bombed Iraq because it blocked U.N. weapons inspectors. We’re begging for a U.N. inspection and you’re blocking it.” (25)

Before Prendergast continues to recycle old and stale claims about Sudan and terrorism he should first account for what can only be described as the Clinton Administration’s fraudulent and irresponsible claims about Sudan and terrorism, claims possibly influenced by its systemic intelligence failures regarding Sudan.

Prendergast’s “Institutional Slavery” in Sudan

Prendergast states that “slavery” exists in Sudan. Indeed, he speaks of “institutionalised slavery” (26) and “militia slave raids”. (27) Sir Robert Ffolkes, director of the Save the Children (UK) programme in Sudan, an organisation at the forefront of the abductions issue, bluntly contradicts the sorts of claims made by Prendergast. Speaking last year he stated: “I have seen no evidence at all of slave trading. And believe me, we have looked”. (28) Sir Robert has also said: “I do not believe the government in involved in slave-taking.” (29)

The respected human rights expert, and Sudan analyst, Alex de Waal, while co-director of the human rights group African Rights, has also commented on claims similar to Prendergast’s:

“(O)vereager or misinformed human rights advocates in Europe and the US have played upon lazy assumptions to raise public outrage. Christian Solidarity International, for instance, claims that ‘Government troops and Government-backed Arab militias regularly raid black African communities for slaves and other forms of booty’. The organization repeatedly uses the term ‘slave raids’, implying that taking captives is the aim of government policy. This despite the fact that there is no evidence for centrally-organized, government-directed slave raiding or slave trade.” (30)

It should be noted that Prendergast obviously recognises de Waal as a Sudan expert, citing him and organisations he is closely associated with on several occasions in the report. Anti-Slavery International has also stated with regard to allegations of government involvement in slavery that: “[T]he charge that government troops engage in raids for the purpose of seizing slaves is not backed by the evidence.” (31)

The questionable claims made by Prendergast are clearly the result of questionable sources. He cites, for example, claims made by Christian Solidarity International (CSI). (32) In February 2000 the Canadian government special envoy to Sudan stated that “reports, especially from CSI…were questioned, and frankly not accepted.” (33) Prendergast accepts CSI claims at face value, presumably because it is helpful to his propaganda imagery. As seen above, CSI has been described by reputable human rights activists as “overeager or misinformed” and that the organisation has “played upon lazy assumptions to raise public outrage”. Much the same can be said about Prendergast, and it irresponsible of the International Crisis Group to afford such a platform for propaganda.

Prendergast also touches upon “slave redemptions”. These sorts of claims have also been extensively questioned. (34) Reuters, for example, has reported that: “Local aid workers…say that they have seen children who they have known for months passed off as slaves…And Reuters interviewed one boy in Yargot who told a completely implausible story of life in the north, a story which he changed in every respect when translators were swapped.” (35) Similarly, ‘The Christian Science Monitor’ also clearly stated: “There are increasingly numerous reports that significant numbers of those ‘redeemed’ were never slaves in the first place. Rather, they were simply elements of the local populations, often children, available to be herded together when cash-bearing redeemers appeared.” (36)

It would appear that Prendergast has been very reluctant indeed to surrender the propaganda infrastructure the Clinton Administration put into place about Sudan. Who does one believe? Reputable professionals who are present in Sudan full-time or claims made by someone who worked for the Clinton Administration.

Oil Displacement Claims

Prendergast’s report also falls short on the issue of oil, so prominently featured in its title, ‘God, Oil and Country’. He unhesitatingly repeats what amount to little more than propaganda claims that the Sudanese government has “increasingly tried to remove the populations from around the oilfields”. (37) He cites as sources claims by groups such as Christian Aid and what he terms an “authoritative study”, undertaken by “two respected human rights researchers”, John Ryle and Georgette Gagnon, alleging the burning of villages and crops, aerial bombardment and helicopter gunship attacks on civilian settlements by the government. (38) Prendergast reports that tens of thousands of people have been forced from oil-rich areas of Upper Nile.

Presumably at least partly in response to these claims, one of the partners within the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Corporation (GNPOC), the Sudanese oil consortium, commissioned a leading British satellite imagery analysis company, Kalagate Imagery Bureau, to independently study a series of satellite photographs taken of oil concession areas in Sudan. The images analysed by the Kalagate Imagery Bureau included military and civilian satellite images collected over several years. Ground resolution in the images varied between about three feet and 10 feet, that is to say very detailed indeed. (39) The images were analysed by Geoffrey Oxlee, a former head of the United Kingdom Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre and Britain’s leading expert in the field. (40) Mr Oxlee stated: “there is no evidence of appreciable human migration from any of the seven sites examined.” (41) On the contrary, he further stated that analysis revealed that “once the sites were developed, then people did come into the area, and in fact it looked as if people developed around the oil sites rather than going away from it.” (42) He further stated that he was prepared to stand by his conclusions in court. It is inconceivable that massive “scorched earth” displacement on the scale repeatedly claimed by Prendergast and others would not have been immediately noticeable in the satellite pictures studied. Responding to somewhat lame suggestions that the images may have been tampered with, Mr Oxlee stated that the satellite photographs examined “are genuine pictures. Having looked at hundreds of thousands of satellite pictures, there’s no way these pictures have been doctored. Absolutely none. We check these things out.” (43)

Christian Aid’s long-distance claims about the forced displacement of civilians out of oil areas by government forces have been found somewhat wanting by more “hands on” sources. Masood Hyder, the Country Director in Sudan for the United Nations World Food Programme, the agency most directly involved in dealing with the consequences of any displacements in Sudan – an agency particularly active within the oil-producing areas – was unable to verify their “mostly second-hand claims”. He has stated that the report is “based on information they have gathered which is mostly second-hand or from testimonials. We have no way of verifying whether the content of their report is valid or not…Unfortunately, even in the Christian Aid report, hard, first-hand evidence to make the direct linkage [referred] to is missing”. (44) The World Food Programme position is perhaps best summed up by the statement that there is “far too little information available”. (45) If the World Food Programme describes Christian Aid’s claims as “mostly second-hand”, does this make Prendergast’s claims third-hand? And are questionable, third-hand claims made about very sensitive issues central to his commentary acceptable? The answer is no, it is deeply irresponsible.

In any instance Prendergast’s lack of even-handedness is clear. There has undoubtedly been considerable displacement as a result of fighting as the SPLA seeks to move closer to the oil-producing areas – this presumably something the SPLA would have been encouraged to do by its American advisers. Several news agencies have reported rebel shelling of towns and villages as they move closer to the fields. (46)

Prendergast also boldly claims that the Canadian partner within GNPOC, Talisman Energy, has had a “lack of success…at engaging the government on human rights”. (47) Prendergast also cites the “authoritative” study by John Ryle and Georgette Gagnon which similarly claims that “Talisman has failed at constructive engagement in Sudan and proved unable to exert a positive influence in the government through its partnership with Khartoum in oil development.” (48) These claims by white, middle- class, anti-Sudan activists, part of the lucrative anti-Sudan industry, written from their comfortable offices and homes in North America and Europe, following their short political safaris in Sudan, are contradicted by reputable Sudanese opposition figures. In June 2001, for example, ‘The Washington Post’ reported in an article entitled ‘Activists in Sudan Fear Loss of Western Oil Firms’ Influence’ that human rights activists within Sudan “emphasize that as long as the companies involved are Western, their concerns about corporate citizenship provide valuable leverage to…many critics. Talisman Energy, the Canadian firm…has quietly pressed human rights concerns on a Sudanese government over which the West has little other influence, the opposition figures say.” The paper quoted prominent Sudanese opposition activist Ghazi Suleiman: “If Talisman were to pull out of Sudan, this doesn’t mean the oil business will come to an end. Talisman will be replaced by some company”. Suleiman said that any replacement company will be less interested than Talisman in the Sudanese people. ‘The Washington Post’ also reported that Suleiman credited Talisman’s presence with some of the freedoms now enjoyed by opposition parties in Sudan. ‘The Economist’ has described Suleiman as “the country’s leading human-rights lawyer and an outspoken critic of the regime” (49) Another voice on this issue has been that of Alfred Taban, himself from southern Sudan. Taban, the publisher of ‘The Khartoum Monitor’, Sudan’s only independent English language newspaper, stated that Talisman has acknowledged some of the difficulties the oil project has brought with it: “The way forward is not to take away companies that admit some of this is going on and have been working to try to end some of that abuse.” (50) It should be noted that both Suleiman and Taban have been detained by the Sudanese government on several occasions, and are much closer to the reality of events within Sudan than people such as Prendergast, Ryle and Gagnon could ever be.

Poor Scholarship

Even Prendergast’s scholarship is also wanting. In one of the more glaring examples he gives a less than accurate, self-serving, account of the dynamics behind the 1983 redivision of southern Sudan which contributed greatly later that year to the re-starting of the Sudanese civil war and the formation of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army.

Prendergast sticks rigidly to his propaganda script, attributing all the impetus for Nimeiri’s amendment to the 1972 accord to northern Sudanese intransigence. He states, for example: “Southerners were infuriated by abrogation of the Addis Agreement.” (51) He ignores, or is unaware of, the fact that there was considerable pressure from the southern Sudanese themselves for such moves. In April 1982, for example, ‘Africa Now’ published a special report on the politics of southern Sudan. In addition to pressure from northern politicians, ‘Africa Now’ stated that there was also considerable southern pressure to redivide southern Sudan from people such as Joseph Lagu, the southern Sudanese military and political leader during the first phase of the Sudanese civil war, and the man who negotiated the 1972 accord. ‘Africa Now’ reported: “Lagu has been pushing the idea of division for over a year now, arguing that regionalism and a division into the three provinces would serve the interests of the smaller ethnic groups; it would also help to break what Lagu sees as the political hegemony of the largest single group in the South, the Dinka…In February last year, Lagu was complaining about ethnicism in the South, organising discussion groups to talk about division, and public demonstrations…Lagu himself…[published] a pamphlet entitled ‘Decentralisation – a necessity for the South'”. (52) In April 1982 elections to the Southern Regional Assembly saw the return of Equatorian representatives who were overwhelmingly “divisionist”.

Equatorian unease with Dinka domination continues to this day. The UN Special Rapporteur has stated that the SPLA “was behaving as an occupying army in Eastern Equatoria” and that thousands of local Didinga people had been displaced. (53) The BBC have also independently reported that the SPLA is seen as “an army of occupation” by Equatorian tribes such as the Didinga. (54) In his more observant days, before joining the Clinton Administration, Prendergast previously observed that the SPLA has shown an “absolute disregard for their human rights” (55):

The SPLA has historically utilized…counter-insurgency tactics against populations and militias in Equatoria considered to be hostile…By destroying the subsistence base of certain groups, relations have been destablized between various Equatorian populations…This has exacerbated relations between certain Equatorian communities…The common denominator between the attacks was the destruction or stripping of all assets owned by the community, creating increased dependence and displacement.” (56)

Prendergast has also previously admitted elsewhere that SPLA behaviour included the: “widespread raping and forced marriages of Equatorian women.” (57) He also cited one observer as saying “The overwhelmingly ‘Nilotic’ character of the early SPLA was…enough to alienate many Equatorians” and personally states that the SPLA is seen in Equatoria as “an army of occupation.” (58) Prendergast scarcely mentions Equatoria in this study, contradicting, as it does, much of his analysis of southern Sudan.

American Military Assistance to the SPLA

Prendergast’s unreliability as a commentator on Sudan is self-evident. He conveniently claims that the “United States gave no direct assistance but provided the SPLA with moral and political support”. (59) He also states that “U.S. political support for the SPLA was widely, but erroneously, believed to be coupled with financial and logistical aid”. To say that he has been economical with the truth would be an understatement.

Despite Prendergast’s attempts to deny it, the Clinton Administration’s military, diplomatic and political support for the SPLA was an open secret. In its programme of supporting the SPLA, tens of millions of dollars worth of covert American military assistance was supplied to the rebels. This included weapons, landmines, logistical assistance, and military training. On 17 November 1996, the London ‘Sunday Times’ reported that: “The Clinton administration has launched a covert campaign to destabilise the government of Sudan.” ‘The Sunday Times’ further stated that: “More than $20m of military equipment, including radios, uniforms and tents will be shipped to Eritrea, Ethiopia and Uganda in the next few weeks…much of it will be passed on to the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), which is preparing an offensive against the government in Khartoum.” This was confirmed by the newsletter ‘Africa Confidential’: “The United States pretends the aid is to help the governments concerned…to protect themselves from Sudan…It is clear the aid is for Sudan’s armed opposition.” (60)

Prendergast appears to have forgotten that on one of his less discrete days he himself confirmed that the Clinton Administration used the same covert warfare tactics that the Reagan Administration used against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, making a direct comparison between Sudan and Nicaragua:

“The parallels to Central America in the 1980s are stark. The US provided covert aid to the Contras (and official aid to the regimes in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatamala) and because of domestic public pressure urged numerous reforms on the Contras (and the three Central American governments), especially in the area of human rights and institutional reform (though the pressures were undercut by an administration in Washington not serious about human rights).” (61)

It is obvious that the Contras in the Sudanese example are the SPLA. Given that Prendergast himself made the comparison, it should perhaps be recalled that the Reagan Administration provided the Nicaraguan Contras with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of military and “non-lethal” assistance, which included at the very least $100 million between 1981-85, $100 million in 1986, $66 million in 1989. (62) The National Security Archive has stated that “The depth of U.S. control over the Contras extended into the military sphere…the CIA supplied the funds, purchased the weapons, established logistical infrastructure, provided intelligence and target lists, coordinated the training programs – in short, ran the paramilitary war.” (63) In addition to using surrogates, the United States has also provided military training to the SPLA by CIA and special forces instructors. United States army generals, for example, have been present during Ugandan army exercises held in conjunction with SPLA forces and Eritrean army units. The American military presence in these “front line” states was under the guise that U.S. advisers were providing “antiterrorist” training. In 1996, ‘Africa Confidential’ confirmed that the SPLA “has already received US help via Uganda” and that United States special forces were on “open-ended deployment” with the rebels. (64) Prendergast appears to be confident enough of ‘Africa Confidential”s reliability to use cite the newsletter as a source in his report. He now somewhat disingenuously suggests that no such thing happened.

Prendergast was also party to moves to provide direct American government food aid to the SPLA, provoking considerable controversy in the United States and within the international community. The military implications of such assistance were clear. ‘The New York Times’, for example, plainly stated that: “The plan is designed by its advocates in the State Department and the National Security Council to strengthen the military operations of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army.” (65) ‘The New York Times’ quoted an enthusiastic Prendergast: “This is so forces can eat more easily and resupply forces in food-deficit areas.” He also said that the Administration hoped that the food aid would allow rebels to “stay in position or expand positions in places where it is difficult to maintain a logistical line.” (66) SPLA leader John Garang clearly stated that the proposed American food aid would boost the SPLA’s military capacity in its war with the Sudanese government. (67) Speaking in December, 1999, he said that: “We will be able to concentrate more men in bigger units. Concentration is one of the principles of war. If you concentrate your manpower or firepower, you get better results.” (68)

Unsurprisingly, the Clinton Administration’s stated intention to feed the SPLA was heavily criticised, domestically and internationally, by aid agencies, human rights organisations and other commentators. ‘The New York Times’ stated of the policy: “This is likely to prolong the war, ally Washington with one of Sudan’s pre-eminent war criminals and enlist America in the conflict’s most pernicious tactic – the use of food as a weapon of war.” (69) This also notwithstanding the fact that the Roman Catholic church had reported that the SPLA was stealing two- thirds of the emergency food aid coming into rebel-controlled parts of southern Sudan (70) – at the height of the devastating 1998 famine.

Prendergast would appear in any instance to have a selective memory about Sudanese affairs. This includes his previous documentation of SPLA human rights abuses. Before coming to work for the Clinton Administration, Prendergast worked as an academic specialising in development issues, particularly in the Horn of Africa. His 1997 book ‘Crisis Response: Humanitarian Band-Aids in Sudan and Somalia’, written before he joined the Clinton Administration, examined several important aspects of the Sudanese situation and provided a stark insight into the SPLA. As an academic, he was one of the few Americans who was clearly aware that the SPLA “was responsible for egregious human rights violations in the territory it controlled”. (71) In his 1997 book, for example, Prendergast personally observed that the SPLA:

“attained possession of adequate means of coercion and has terrorized the southern population into passive compliance. The predominant instruments of the movement since 1983 have been and still are coercion and corruption. It has not managed to integrate society around any positive values…The movement has been able to persist only as long as it successfully coerces, and demoralises social groups in the region….Institutionalization of the top-down arrangements by the socialist group who initially established the SPLM/A has led to a permanent oppression of those persons in the area under the control of the movement.” (72)

Nevertheless, once part of the Clinton Administration, far from counselling against support for such an organisation, he became an active party to enthusiastic military, logistical, financial and logistical support to the group. Indeed, in ‘God, Oil and Country’ he states that the “rebel movement was respected by the U.S. government – an important endorsement for any rebel group constantly in search of legitimacy”. (73) If the Clinton Administration came to “respect” an organisation mentored by Ethiopia’s Marxist Mengistu dictatorship, an organisation described by ‘The New York Times’ as led by a “pre-eminent war criminal” and described by ‘The Economist’ as “little more than an armed gang of Dinkas…killing, looting and raping”, (74) Prendergast’s often stated concern about human rights in ‘God, Oil and Country’ is two-faced and hollow – something that can be said of the Clinton Administration’s Sudan policy in general.

Conclusion

The ICG has squandered an opportunity to greatly assist the international community with an objective and credible analysis of the Sudanese situation. ‘God, Oil and Country’ was neither. This review has touched on only some of the flaws in this book. There is much, much more that can be said about ‘God, Oil and Country’. There is also much more that can be said about John Prendergast and his credibility as a commentator on Sudan. It is, of course, for the International Crisis Group to choose whom they employ and commission to produce reports. That they chose unwisely in allowing Prendergast to write anything on Sudan is for the reader to decide.

There is no doubt, however, that Prendergast incorporated deeply questionable claims and disingenuous propaganda into what was presumably hoped by the ICG to be an objective and constructive perspective on the Sudanese conflict. In so doing he continues to be part of the problem with analysing Sudan and Sudan’s problems. Prendergast has been unable to cut away the dead hand of propaganda or to accept that the American administration he served so unquestioningly greatly exacerbated and artificially prolonged the Sudanese conflict. Despite the fact that much of Prendergast’s commentary is predicated upon terrorism and the war on terrorism, he fails, for example, to address the central issue of what constitutes terrorism. Prendergast states that “the SPLA recognises that it must disrupt the government’s control of oil, or at least prove it has the capability to mount a substantial attack on the oilfields”. (75) It is clear that according to the United States government definition of terrorism and international terrorism, such attacks constitute terrorism. The relevant definitions come from Title 22 of the United States Code, Section 2656f (d): “The term terrorism means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.” What is the difference in “politically motivated” attacks on “noncombatant” American oil workers and installations, and the SPLA’s “politically motivated” attacks on “noncombatant” Canadian oil workers and installations?

The Bush Administration seems to be committed to a peaceful solution to the Sudanese conflict. It is a policy in marked contrast to that of the Clinton Administration, the full ineptitude of whose regarding Sudan is being revealed for all to see. President Bush must show leadership, particularly in challenging the propaganda that still surrounds Sudan. He would be well advised to pay no regard to this thinly disguised apology for a failed policy presented by Prendergast and the International Crisis Group.

Notes

1       See, John Prendergast, ‘Crisis Response: Humanitarian Band-Aids in Sudan and Somalia’, Pluto Press, London, 1997, p.77.

2       John Prendergast, ‘God, Oil and Country: Changing the Logic of War in Sudan’, International Crisis Group, Africa Report No. 39, Brussels, January 2002.

3       Letter from Hon. Cynthia McKinney to U.S. President William Jefferson Clinton, 31 August 1999, available at http:www.africa2000.com/UGANDA/mckinney.html

4       “Sierra Leone, the last Clinton betrayal: Where Angels Fear to Tread”, ‘The New Republic’, 24 July 2000.

5       “Sierra Leone, the last Clinton betrayal: Where Angels Fear to Tread”, ‘The New Republic’, 24 July 2000.

6       See David Hoile, ‘Farce Majeure: The Clinton Administration’s Sudan Policy 1993-2000’, The European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council, London, 2000 (available at www.espac.org). See also articles such as “Sierra Leone, the Last Clinton Betrayal: Where Angels Fear to Tread”, ‘The New Republic’, 24 July 2000; Michael Kelly, “U.S. Handiwork in Sierra Leone”, ‘The Washington Post’, 19 July 2000.

7       See, for example, Sudan’s normalisation of relations with the European Union: “EU to Resume Financial Aid to Sudan After Decade-Long Break”, News Article by Agence France Presse, 30 January 2002; and “EU Seeks to Renew Dialogue with Sudan Broken Off in 1996″, News Article by Agence France Press, 10 November 1999. In 2001, for example, Sudan also held the presidency of both the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development as well as the Community of Sahel-Saharan States (COMESSA) a body which brings together eleven north African states. concerning this issue.” In 2002 Sudan was picked by the Organisation of African Unity to represent Africa on the UN Security Council (this was ultimately defeated by American pressure).

8       ‘Carter, Others Say US Has Faltered in Africa’, ‘The Boston Globe’, 8 December 1999.

9       ‘CARE Seeks Political Fix in Sudan’, ‘Atlanta Journal- Constitution’, 7 October 1999.

10       ‘Ex-President Opposes Policy of Aiding Khartoum’s Foes’, ‘The Washington Times’, 25 September 1997.

11       ‘US Official Warns of War in Africa’, News Article by Associated Press, 20 October, 1999 at 22:52 EDT. See, also, ‘Where is Clinton’s “African Renaissance”‘, The Wisdom Fund ‘News & Views’, 31 January 1999, http://www.twf.org/News/Y1999/0131-AfricaRen.html

12       Prendergast, ‘God, Oil and Country’, op. cit., p.xvi.

13       “SPLA Plays Down Deal on Referendum in southern Sudan’, News Article by BBC, 7 May 1998

14      “Referendum Agreed at Sudan Peace Talks”, News Article by BBC World, 7 May 1998

15       “The United States and the Nicaraguan Revolution”, The National Security Archives’, at http://nsarchive.chadwyck.com/niessayx.htm

16      For a critique of this body, see, for example, ‘Partisan and Hypocritical: The United States Commission for International Religious Freedom and Sudan’, The European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council, London, April 2000.

17      “In ’96, Sudan Offered to Arrest bin Laden”, ‘The International Herald Tribune’, 4 October 2001; “Resentful West Spurned Sudan’s Key Terror Files”, ‘The Observer’ (London), 30 September 2001; “US Rejected Sudanese Files on al-Qaeda”, ‘The Financial Times’ (London), 30 November 2001; and David Rose, “The Osama Files”, ‘Vanity Fair’, January 2002.

18       “US Missed Three Chances to Seize Bin Laden”, ‘The Sunday Times’ (London), 6 January 2002.

19      See, for example, “Sudan’s Angle: How Clinton Passed up an Opportunity to Stop Osama bin Laden”, ‘The Wall Street Journal Europe’, 8 October 2001; “Shame on Clinton – Again”, ‘The Washington Times’, 8 December 2001.

20      The Independent (London), 17 September 1993.

21       Donald Petterson, ‘Inside Sudan: Political Islam, Conflict and Catastrophe’, Westview Books, Boulder, 1999, p.69.

22      See, “Decision to Strike Factory in Sudan Based Partly on Surmise”, ‘The Washington Post’, 21 September 1998; and “Sudan Attack Blamed on US Blunders”, ‘The Times’ (London), 22 September 1998.

23       See, “More Doubts Rise Over Claims for U.S. Attack”, ‘The Wall Street Journal’ (New York), August 28, 1998; “Sudan to Allow U.N. to Investigate Any Alleged Chemical-Arm Site”, ‘The Wall Street Journal’ (New York), October 16, 1998; “U.S. Should Admit Its Mistake in Sudan Bombing”, ‘The Wall Street Journal’ (New York), May 20, 1999. It is surprising to see it subsequently publish unsubstantiated claims of Sudanese involvement in chemical weapons.

24      Prendergast, ‘God, Oil and Country’, op. cit., p.79.

25       ‘Absent at Conference, Sudan is Still Talking With U.S.’, ‘The Washington Post’, 17 March 2000.

26       Prendergast, ‘God, Oil and Country’, op. cit., xii.

27      Prendergast, ‘God, Oil and Country’, op. cit., p.204.

28      Sir Robert Ffolkes was quoted in “‘Sudan’, A Special International Report”, ‘The Washington Times’, 10 July 2001.

29      “Anti-Slavery Drive in War-Torn Sudan Provokes Response Critics Say Buyback Boost Market”, ‘The Washington Times’, 25 May 2000.

30      Alex de Waal, “Sudan: Social Engineering, Slavery and War”, in ‘Covert Action Quarterly’, Spring 1997.

31      Peter Verney, ‘Slavery in Sudan’, Sudan Update and Anti-Slavery International, London, May 1997.

32      Prendergast, ‘God, Oil and Country’, op. cit., p.126.

33      Ambassador John Harker, ‘Human Security in Sudan: The Report of a Canadian Assessment Mission’, Prepared for the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ottawa, January 2000.

34      See, for example, ‘The Reality of “Slave Redemption” in Sudan’, The European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council, London, March 2001 (available at www.espac.org).

35      “Aid group tries to break Sudan slavery chain”, News Article by Reuters on July 11, 1999 at 23:40:58.

36      “Slave ‘Redemption’ Won’t Save Sudan”, ‘The Christian Science Monitor’, 26 May 1999.

37      Prendergast, ‘God, Oil and Country’, op. cit., xii.

38      John Ryle and Georgette Gagnon, “Report of an Investigation in Oil Development, Conflict and Displacement in Western Upper Nile, Sudan”, Ottawa, October 2001.

39       ‘Talisman Fights Back on Sudan Displacement Claims Releases Aerial Images’, ‘The Financial Post ‘(Toronto), 19 April 2001.

40      It should be noted that Mr Oxlee retired from the Royal Air Force with the rank of Group Captain (in American terms a full Colonel). He has 45 years experience as an analyst and is the author of ‘Aerospace Reconnaissance’, (published by Brasseys in 1997). Mr Oxlee is a member of the Royal Aeronautical Society and the Institute of Expert Witnesses. He lectured at the United Kingdom School of Photographic Interpretation for six years.

41      ‘Talisman Energy Says Study Disproves Sudan Allegations’, ‘Dow Jones Newswire’, 18 April 2001.

42      ‘Talisman Fights Back on Sudan Displacement Claims Releases Aerial Images’, ‘The Financial Post'(Toronto), 19 April 2001.

43      ‘Talisman Fights Back on Sudan Displacement Claims Releases Aerial Images’, ‘The Financial Post'(Toronto), 19 April 2001.

44      “Propaganda War Over Sudanese Oil Displacements”, afrol.com, 29 March 2001, http://www.afrol.com/News2001/sud006_oil_displace2.htm

45       Ibid.

46      See, for example, ‘Rag-tag Rebels Fight for Sudan’s Oil Riches’, News Article by Reuters on 14 February 2000.

47      Prendergast, ‘God, Oil and Country’, op. cit., p.193.

48      John Ryle and Georgette Gagnon, “Report of an Investigation in Oil Development, Conflict and Displacement in Western Upper Nile, Sudan”, Ottawa, October 2001.

49 ‘The Economist’, 29 August 1998.

50      ‘Activists in Sudan Fear Loss of Western Oil Firms’ Influence’, ‘The Washington Post’, 24 June 2001.

51      Prendergast, ‘God, Oil and Country’, op. cit., p.13.

52      “Southern Sudan Division Still an Election Issue”, ‘Africa Now’, April 1982, pp.53-54

53      See, ‘Situation of Human Rights in the Sudan’, United Nations General Assembly, A/55/37a, New York, 11 September 2000.

54      ‘Growing friction in rebel-held southern Sudan’, News Article by BBC, 9 June 1999.

55      Prendergast, ‘Crisis Response: Humanitarian Band-Aids in Sudan and Somalia’, op. cit., p.57.

56      Ibid, p.56.

57      Ibid, p.28.

58      Ibid, p.57.

59      Prendergast, ‘God, Oil and Country’, op.cit., p.18.

60      ‘Africa Confidential’, 15 November 1996

61      Prendergast, ‘Crisis Response: Humanitarian Band-Aids in Sudan and Somalia’, op. cit., p.77.

62      Eva Gold, ‘The US Encirclement of Nicaragua’, NARMIC, Philadelphia, 1986, p.17. Gold states there was an additional $400 million in military assistance from the CIA.

63      “The United States and the Nicaraguan Revolution”, The National Security Archives’, at http://nsarchive.chadwyck.com/niessayx.htm

64       ‘Africa Confidential’, 15 November 1996

65       ‘Misguided Relief to Sudan’, Editorial, ‘The New York Times’, 6 December 1999.

66       Ibid.

67       ‘Sudan Rebel Says U.S. Food Aid Will Help’, News Article by Reuters on 9 December 1999 at 11:42:44.

68       ‘Interview – Sudan Rebel Says U.S. Food Aid Will Help’, News Article by Reuters on 9 December 1999 at 11:42:44.

69      ‘Misguided Relief to Sudan’, Editorial, ‘The New York Times’, 6 December 1999.

70       ‘Aid for Sudan Ending Up With SPLA: Relief Workers’, News Article by Agence France Presse on 21 July 1998.

71      Prendergast, ‘Crisis Response: Humanitarian Band-Aids in Sudan and Somalia’, op. cit., p 77.

72      Prendergast, ‘Crisis Response: Humanitarian Band-Aids in Sudan and Somalia’, op. cit., p.57.

73      Prendergast, ‘God, Oil and Country’, op. cit., p.18.

74       ‘The Economist’, March 1998.

75      Prendergast, ‘God, Oil and Country’, op. cit., p.18.

The European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council sent this media contribution to Media Monitors Network (MMN)

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