In the past eighteen months, Dr Eric Reeves, a professor of English at Smith College in Massachusetts, has emerged as a self-appointed commentator on Sudan. He began his Sudan involvement in the Spring of 1999. Dr Reeves states that he is opposed to the Sudanese oil project and those foreign oil companies involved within it. He claims to be campaigning to secure international sanctions on Sudan and divestment from the foreign oil companies involved in the Sudanese oil industry. Amongst other things Dr Reeves also claims that the Sudanese government has displaced all the population around the oil fields, “orchestrating a ferocious scorched-earth policy in the area of the oil fields and pipelines.” (1)
Dr Reeves’ credibility as a commentator and researcher has already been extensively questioned in ‘The Return of the ‘Ugly American’: Eric Reeves and Sudan’. (2) The credibility of his claims about Sudan have been undermined further by recent comments made by the United Nations World Food Programme which is active in those very areas of Sudan about which Mr Reeves makes his bold assertions.
Reeves claims to have approached Sudan “with the eyes of a professional researcher”, and to have engaged in “[l]ong hours and days of assiduous reading, archival retrieval, and real-time communications with Sudan experts in and out of government” (3) From his comfortable office several thousand miles away from Sudan, Reeves has seen fit to repeatedly allege that civilians are being displaced by government forces within Sudan’s oil producing areas. He has repeatedly claimed that this has taken place in and around Bentiu – a key oil production centre some five hundred miles south-west of Khartoum. On 12 February 2001, for example, he claimed that there had been “ferocious new civilian destruction and displacement” in the immediate vicinity of Bentiu. (4) Reeves goes so far as to state that although he conveniently cannot reveal the identity of his source for these claims, he stated that he would”fully stake all my reporting credibility on its veracity.” (5)
Reeves alleged “literal scorched-earth warfare…in all directions from Bentiu”. He claimed that villagers have been forcibly displaced north of Bentiu, that east of Bentiu “many civilians have been displaced” and that south of Bentiu there has been “immense destruction” in pursuit of forced displacements. (6)
Sadly for Dr Reeves, his bluff has been called. In this instance both his “reporting credibility” and choice of “sources” can be publicly measured against credible sources. By chance two days after Reeves’ claims of “ferocious displacement” in and around Bentiu, Reuters spoke to the United Nations World Food Programme, an organisation intimately involved in the Bentiu area. In an article focusing on the Sudanese oil project, Reuters stated that:
“A spokesman for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), which operates around Bentiu, about 770 km (480) miles southwest of Khartoum, where much of the drilling is located, said the WFP was not aware of forced displacements.” (7)
The World Food Programme has been involved in Sudan for several years, are very well established in southern Sudan and have been active in areas in and around Bentiu for quite some time.
It is perhaps worth noting that Dr Reeves speaks highly of Reuters, calling it “the most reliable news agency in Africa.” (8)
It should also be pointed out that this is not the first time that Dr Reeves’ second or third-hand “reports” of massive and continuing displacement in oil-producing areas has been contradicted. Reeves has also claimed displacement in the Heglig oil area. Western journalists who visited the Heglig oil field found no such displacement. (9) Claudia Cattaneo, of ‘The Financial Post’, a Canadian newspaper hostile to the involvement of the Canadian Talisman oil company in Sudan, reported:
“[A]t Heglig, the site of Talisman’s oil major oilfields and processing facilities, there is no evidence of population displacement. Military presence is low key. Children are playing and going to school near the oil wells. Western and Sudanese workers say thousands of nomads are coming here to look for work, for medical assistance…or for education.” (10)
It would appear from first-hand, credible reporting that at the very least Eric Reeves’ claims are questionable. It would also appear that far from witnessing the systematic displacement of civilians, southern civilians seem to be being drawn towards the Heglig oil concession.
The contrast could not be any clearer. Dr Reeves has never visited Sudan, and conducts his increasingly questionable and discredited campaign from an ivory tower existence as a professor of English literature at Smith College in Massachusetts in the United States. He arrogantly claims to know more about Sudan than those who are actually on the ground within the country and observing at first hand on a day to day basis the reality of events there.
It is for outside observers to assess whether Dr Reeves’ credibility as a commentator on Sudan is in tatters. He staked “all” of his “reporting credibility” on the “veracity” of anonymous claims of “ferocious displacement” around Bentiu. Independent journalism by Reuters, described by Dr Reeves as “the most reliable news agency in Africa”, based on the reports of the United Nations World Food Programme active around Bentiu, reveal no such “forced displacements”. Reeves’ self- proclaimed “professionalism” as a researcher rings hollow. The gap between his selective and poorly-researched assertions about Sudan and the truth is self-evident.
1. ‘Investors Fuel Humanitarian Crisis in Sudan’, ‘The Catholic New Times’, Toronto, 31 October 1999.
2. ‘The Return of the “Ugly American”: Eric Reeves and Sudan’, European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council, London, November 2000.
3. Statement by Dr Eric Reeves before the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Washington-DC, 15 February 2000 available at http://www.uscirf.gov/hearings/15feb00/professor_reeves.htm
4. Eric Reeves, ‘Ferocious New Civilian Destruction and Displacement’, Freedom Now World News, 12 February 2001 at 15:46:10 – 0800 (PST)
5. Eric Reeves, ‘Ferocious New Civilian Destruction and Displacement’, Freedom Now World News,12 February 2001 at 15:46:10 -0800 (PST)
6. Eric Reeves, ‘Ferocious New Civilian Destruction and Displacement’, Freedom Now World News,12 February 2001 at 15:46:10 -0800 (PST)
7. ‘Interview – Sudan Says Oil Drilling Causes No Mass Displacement’ New Article by Reuters on 14 February 2001 at 11:53:19 EST
8. Eric Reeves, ‘Talisman Energy Share Price: What the Analysts are Saying About the Sudan “Overhang”. What the Khartoum Regime is Saying to the Oil Analysts!’, 16 June 2000.
9. It should be stated that the Canadian media has been forthright in their critical reporting on Canadian involvement within the Sudanese oil project. Reeves, for example, has commented that “[t]he enormity and complexity of human destruction in Sudan becomes more visible in Canadian news reporting” (‘Sudan Crisis Calls for U.S.-Canada Accord’, ‘The National Post’, 29 November 1999. ‘The National Post’ is a sister paper of ‘The Financial Post’).
10. ‘Analysts Upbeat About Talisman’s Sudan Role’, ‘The Financial Post’, 17 November 1999.
The European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council sent this media contribution to Media Monitors Network (MMN)