In late 2001, Michael Klare published a book with the title, “Resource Wars, The New Landscape of Global Conflict.” Its cover had a dramatic photo of burning oil wells and he suggested that, while resource wars themselves were nothing new in history, we were potentially at the edge of a new era of resource scarcity and heightened conflict, not only over energy, but over water, minerals, gems, and even timber.
From Central Asia to the Middle East and North Africa, across a vast swath of lands that officials of the Bush administration once termed the “arc of instability” (back before they had any idea what instability was really all about), we are now seeing just this — heightening conflicts, or sharpening potential conflicts, over resources. For the first time, the price of a barrel of crude oil, which dipped under $20 after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, just crested above $87 — the sort of price that suddenly makes resource conflict look worthwhile.
David Morse recently traveled with three “Lost Boys” of Sudan into the heart of what could be Africa’s next major resource war. In “Starting from Zero,” part 1 of this two-part series on his journey through southern Sudan, he described the emotional homecomings of the three young Sudanese men, who, as children, had fled their ravaged villages, embarking on a remarkable and dangerous odyssey that led to new lives in the United States. Today, he considers the political future of the Sudan, a place that — except for Darfur — is not much in the American field of vision right now, but, if a resource war breaks out there in the years to come, is likely to be much on our minds. Tom
The Coming Collision in Sudan
With the Lost Boys in Southern Sudan (Part 2)
By David Morse
Even before the Cessna touched down in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, I knew that we were on the front lines of what may someday be a huge war; that we were witnessing the opening skirmish in a series of resource wars in which countries like Sudan and Nigeria now figure prominently, but which may spread to most of Africa. Not only is this continent rich in mineral wealth; but the inhabitants of a number of its countries can still be driven from their land — raped and killed — with impunity. Today’s resource-driven conflicts are but an extension of the slave trade as well as the ivory, gold, rubber, and diamond trades that have fed on Africa, undermining and corrupting its people’s attempts at governance.
Oil was the precipitating cause of the 21-year-long civil war in Sudan. The South had the oil; the North was the center of power. When the North first moved to seize the southern oilfields in the mid-1980s, a rebellion began — and, immediately after that, came the attacks on southern villages that caused our “Lost Boys” to flee for their lives. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement, signed in January of 2005, was supposed to heal the rupture between North and South and divide the oil equitably.
In neighboring Darfur, the more immediate issue is water: water for grazing versus water for farming, the competition between herders and farmers exacerbated terribly by drought, global warming, and encroaching desert. Some of the poorest, most disenfranchised Arabs had no place to graze their herds, so they were easily recruited into the militias known as the Janjaweed, along with common criminals, and given license to steal, rape, and kill.