Rejuvenating or restraining civil war: The role of external actors in the war economies of Sudan

Release date: 2004-08

In the political arena, the revenue from oil had a direct impact on the delicate balance of military power between the Government of Sudan and its principal enemy, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). This report analyzes how the funds from the oil boom have allowed the government side to buy modern weapons in Eastern Europe and Asia, giving it the upper hand against its lightly-armed opponents. While oil is mostly produced in the contested areas of southern Sudan, unlike other conflict commodities (such as diamonds or timber) it does not lend itself to easy exploitation by warring parties. Oil exploration and production is capital intensive and requires substantial technical skills, therefore making the presence of international companies a necessity. This report takes a critical look at corporate interactions with the government and the local population in southern Sudan.

This report does not argue that southern Sudan’s armed conflict of several decades is primarily about access to natural resources (or ‘greed’). As it happens, the conflict had been going on for many years before substantial deposits of crude oil were localized in the conflict area. It shows that the origins of the fighting can be traced back to colonial times and that the parties are motivated by a mix of ideologies (Arab vs. Christian-Animists) and the quest for political power. Both sides have utilized external actors in this context, with the SPLA drawing on the resources of the international relief effort in southern Sudan and the government using the revenue from oil to fund the war effort. However, this report shows how oil has altered the dynamics of the civil war.