Sudan — Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:53 pm on 7th January 2010.

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Photo of The Earl of Sandwich The Earl of Sandwich Crossbench 12:53 pm, 7th January 2010

My Lords, we owe our thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. I also pay tribute to her for all the work that she has put in over many years. She has helped to keep this important country, Sudan, in the public eye.

Sudan is generally seen by the media as a trouble spot, but we must also remember, as the noble Baroness said, that there are signs of hope. The threat of a return to civil war has undoubtedly served as a deterrent and has renewed the commitment of both sides to a comprehensive agreement, imperfect as it may be. The latest agreement on the Abyei ballot is an example of this determination to move forward. The south has gradually developed its autonomy, while the north has enjoyed prosperity-as yet, not shared equally with the south. In the east, Chad and Sudan have reached an agreement to monitor the border and expel rebel groups.

The framework of a peaceful transition to good governance is there, ready to be used as soon as the parties show enough willingness to use it. The international community, in my view, is doing its utmost to help to implement the CPA and, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, it must be down to the Sudanese themselves to move as smoothly as possible towards the elections and the referendum.

As Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General's special representative and head of the UN mission, said a few days ago, this year will be critical, and continued:

"As far as possible, each and every Sudanese will need to make every effort, both individually and collectively, to contribute to the success of the CPA, which will be measured, above all, by the extent to which it brings about, consolidates and sustains peace".

Those are wise words. He would also recognise the key role of the churches in this success. It is a pleasure to look forward to the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford, although we are sorry not to have his colleague from Salisbury here.

There are problems right at the centre of the CPA and the most serious of these is wealth-sharing, which is absolutely fundamental to the success of the agreement and above all to the political trust that must be invested on either side. Sudan is potentially a rich nation-it is the third largest producer of oil after Nigeria and Angola with about 500,000 barrels per day. However, the north-south border, along which many of Sudan's oil fields lie, has still not been drawn and the status of Abyei and the other central states, Blue Nile and South Kordofan, is still not clear.

The whole question of the survival of the south as an autonomous state depends on a post-2011 wealth-sharing agreement. This must therefore be developed now. The terms of the CPA were agreed on the basis of a unified state , and will go rapidly out of date during the course of this year unless something is put in their place. With pipelines running as they are, the north will hardly give up its oil fields lightly.

There are, however, many technical difficulties, not least in determining how much oil there is. Most of the old oil companies have left. Out of the 15 oil companies remaining, only three-from China, Malaysia and India-control 88 per cent of oil production. The China National Petroleum Company takes 57 per cent of exports.

I have a number of questions for the Minister at this point, although I recognise that she may have to wait until she has returned from Sudan; I wish her well in that visit. Given the large and growing economic influence of China, what estimate can the Minister give us of its political influence and its contribution to peace in the north and south? To what extent have EU and US diplomats been able to engage and involve the Chinese in discussions about the implementation of the agreement? We must surely not wring our hands and assume that China, judging from its unwillingness to engage in human rights elsewhere, will not be a willing partner in discussions over Sudan. I do not believe, for example, that China has not noticed events in Sudan such as the recent beating up of opposition and southern politicians.

China's doctrine of non-interference was understandable when it began trading in Sudan many years ago; indeed, every empire begins that way-ours did. But it becomes less justifiable when it achieves a degree of considerable economic power. Its political influence on and, indeed, support for the Government of Sudan is undeniable; my noble friend Lord Alton has reminded us of the arms shipments. The question is what will happen to China when north and south-and, therefore, its own interests-are divided in two. The south has by far the largest share of oil in the ground-some say 88 per cent-but it is certainly not receiving its fair share of revenues as laid down by the CPA. Global Witness says that the south has only received $2 billion a year since 2005. The SPLM secretary-general, Pagan Amum, says that only $7 billion of $50 billion of total oil revenues has gone to the south.

There are also concerns about lack of transparency. Both the actual production figures and the prices on which transfers are based remain uncertain. The south has too little influence in Khartoum, and there are not enough southern appointees in oil consortia or senior positions in the industry, perhaps because of inexperience or because not enough names have been put forward. To add insult to injury, oil transfers to the Bank of Southern Sudan remain largely in Sudanese pounds. And of course there is corruption. Much of the revenue has gone astray or ended up in false grain contracts.

There are also doubts about the quality of oil. High-quality Nile crude from the Muglad basin in Unity state is now declining rapidly and major companies such as Lundin have pulled out altogether. The new Dar blend in Upper Nile is taking over from Unity and South Kordofan. But there is a lack of refinery capacity and the inexperience of new companies, insecurity and political mistrust have together created new uncertainties.

To return to my original theme, we must be positive about Sudan. I was sorry that even the 10 aid agencies are straying into alarmist language in some of their reports this morning. As the treasurer of the all-party group I strongly endorse their general conclusions, but they must be careful how they record what they have learnt. To judge from some of the media, the civil war has never ended. An article published in the New York Times in December described an attack by the Nuer on the Dinka as "no cattle raid". We have to resist descriptions of Sudan such as:

"The land here is unforgiving, and in places looks like a junkyard of war, with burned-out tanks and shot-down jet fighters sinking into the weeds".

I have seen one or two places like that in the south, but journalists tend to repeat the same stories based on the same places. This is a vast country, scarred by war perhaps, but full of promise. The Nuer, the Dinka and many others have reasons to fight each other, but they are not only warriors, but a wonderful pastoral people of considerable stature and integrity. They need and deserve our support as they move towards a self-reliant, autonomous and probably separate state.

The Los Angeles Times saw it from another angle when it recently interviewed one of the "lost boys", who escaped from the civil war in the south and was resettled in the United States. He is called Mayuol and has returned to start projects in his home village. He says,

"There is no more shooting, but nothing else has changed. There is still a lot of suffering. People are dying of hunger. There is disease and no medication".

The drama of Sudan is therefore not war, but poverty, which is the original source of both conflict and corruption. I believe that we are addressing it, but it takes time and we need to persuade all the parties to the comprehensive peace agreement, including those on the sidelines, that that is the real priority in Sudan. As the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and my noble friend Lord Alton said, too many suffer from hunger, malnutrition, ill-health and lack of education and the oil revenues are not coming through fast enough to help them.