Tag Archives: Sudan

Slyly Conquering East Africa

The rulers of United Arab Emirates (UAE), one of whose components, Dubai, own a majority stake in DP World, one of the world’s largest maritime firms with perations in 40 countries.It is one of several Gulf states trying to gain a strategic foothold in east Africa through ports. Controlling these offers commercial and military advantages but risks exacerbating tensions in the region…

DP World thinks the region from Sudan to Somalia needs 10-12 ports. It has just half that. The firm’s first foray was on Djibouti’s coast. When DP World won its first concessions there in the 1990s, the Emiratis were among the few investors interested in the small and poor former French colony. DP World built and operated a new container terminal, Doraleh,and helped finance roads and other infrastructure. Doraleh is now the country’s largest employer and the government’s biggest source of revenue. It runs at nearly full capacity, handling 800,000 containers a year. Much of its cargo travels along a Chinese-built railway from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital.

Djibouti’s profile rose further after the terrorist attacks on America of September 11th, 2001, when America opened a military base there. France and China also have bases; other navies patrol off its coast to deter Somali pirates. But when the Emiratis wanted to open their own naval base they were rebuffed, partly because of their close ties to Djibouti’s rival, Eritrea (the two states had a bloody border dispute in 2008). In 2015 the UAE started building a naval base in Assab, in southern Eritrea. The base has been used in the Saudi-led war against Houthi rebels in Yemen….In 2016 DP World won a 30-year concession to operate the port of Berbera in Somaliland, which declared independence in 1991 (though no foreign government recognises it). Critics said the deal would hasten the break-up of Somalia.

The Horn ports all sit near the Bab al-Mandab strait, a vital choke-point at the mouth of the Red Sea: 4.8m barrels of oil passed through it every day in 2016. Competition is getting fierce, though. Qatar and its ally, Turkey, are building ports in Sudan. Saudi Arabia is in talks to set up a naval base in Djibouti. All three Gulf states are trying to snap up farmland in east Africa, part of a broader effort to secure food supplies for their arid countries. Emirati-built ports could one day export crops from Emirati-owned farms…

Gulf states could also find themselves in competition with China…In February 2018 Djibouti seized the Doraleh port, a concession to the UAE… Shippers believe it took Doraleh as a sop to China, to which it is heavily indebted. In July 2018, Djibouti opened the first phase of a new $3.5bn free-trade zone, set to be the largest in Africa when it is finished. Built mostly by state-owned Chinese firms, it sits next to Doraleh. DP World says the project violates the terms of its concession and is threatening to sue.

Excerpts from Red Sea Scamble: Ports on the Horn, Economist, July 21, 2018, at 33

From Pariah to Responsible: Sudan

Sudan Airways regularly ranks among the worst airlines in the world. The national carrier has only one working plane..The troubled airline, or rather, airplane, epitomizes some of the effects that two decades of American sanctions have had on Sudan…Most Western countries have shunned Sudan, making it hard for companies like Sudan Airways to procure parts or buy new planes from Boeing or Airbus. The airline’s general manager once described the sanctions as “hell.”The country’s economic isolation is about to end.

The Trump administration announced on October 6, 2017 that it would formally lift a host of sanctions, including a trade embargo, saying the Sudanese government had made progress on a number of issues, like cooperating on counterterrorism efforts and making modest improvements…

The United States is still keeping Sudan on its list of terrorism sponsors, which means it will not be granted debt relief, a major drag on the economy.

The Trump administration decision has provoked a backlash from some human rights groups…Amnesty International accused Sudanese government forces of using chemical weapons against civilians in Darfur in 2016, and there are ongoing skirmishes in the region. President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who came to power 27 years ago, is sought by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Darfur…

Sudan is now expected to become at least moderately more attractive to Western investors, particularly companies eager to enter a region where countries like China, Malaysia and India are already present.

State Department officials say the removal of sanctions would unfreeze government assets and benefit aviation and energy businesses.  Sudan’s economy is mired in debt — foreign creditors are owed $51 billion, or 60 percent of its gross domestic product — and it suffers from high inflation and low productivity. The economy was dealt a severe blow after the oil-rich south tore itself away.

The sanctions placed restrictions on international financial transactions, making it difficult to acquire technology and equipment. Hundreds of factories were shut down because of a lack of parts and trade barriers.Remittances from abroad will be transferred more easily, which will help lift domestic consumption and the economy.

Excerpts from In Long-Isolated Sudan, ‘Lot of Excitement’ as U.S. Sanctions End, NY Times, Oct. 7, 2017

Damning the Nile, the winners and losers

white and blue nile. image from wikipedia

Egyptian politicians discussed sabotaging the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in 2013, they naturally assumed it was a private meeting. But amid all the scheming, and with a big chuckle, Muhammad Morsi, then president, informed his colleagues that their discussion was being broadcast live on a state-owned television channel.

Embarrassment apart, it was already no secret that Egypt wanted to stop the largest hydroelectric project in Africa. When Ethiopia completes construction of the dam in 2017, it will stand 170 metres tall (550 feet) and 1.8km (1.1 miles) wide. Its reservoir will be able to hold more than the volume of the entire Blue Nile, the tributary on which it sits. And it will produce 6,000 megawatts of electricity, more than double Ethiopia’s current measly output, which leaves three out of four people in the dark…

This boon for Ethiopia is the bane of Egypt, which for millennia has seen the Nile as a lifeline snaking across its vast desert. The river still provides nearly all of Egypt’s water. Egypt claims two-thirds of that flow based on a treaty it signed with Sudan in 1959. But even that is no longer enough to satisfy the growing population and sustain thirsty crops. Annual water supply per person has fallen by well over half since 1970. The UN warns of a looming crisis. Officials in Egypt, while loth to fix leaky pipes, moan that the dam will leave them high and dry.,,

Only recently has the Egyptian government adopted a more conciliatory tone. In March of last year Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, who ousted Mr Morsi in a coup, joined Hailemariam Desalegn, Ethiopia’s prime minister, and Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s president, to sign a declaration that tacitly blesses construction of the dam so long as there is no “significant harm” to downstream countries. The agreement was affirmed in December. 2015, when the three countries settled on two French firms to study the dam’s potential impact. The impact studies were meant to be completed last year, but bickering over the division of labour, and the withdrawal of one firm, caused delays. Many Egyptians believe that Ethiopia is stalling so that the dam becomes a fait accompli. Already half-finished, experts worry that it may be too late to correct any problems. Representatives of the three countries are now meeting to discuss “technical” issues. The contracts for studying the dam are not yet signed.

A sense of mistrust hangs over the dam’s ultimate use. Ethiopia insists that it will produce only power and that the water pushing its turbines (less some evaporation during storage) will ultimately come out the other side. But Egypt fears it will also be used for irrigation, cutting downstream supply.  …A more reasonable concern is over the dam’s large reservoir. If filled too quickly, it would for a time significantly reduce Egypt’s water supply and affect the electricity-generating capacity of its own Aswan Dam. But the Ethiopian government faces pressure to see a quick return on its investment. The project, which is mostly self-funded, costs $4.8 billion….

A potential wild card in the negotiations is Sudan, which long sided with Egypt in opposition to the dam, some 20km from its border. But as the potential benefits to Sudan have become clear, it has backed Ethiopia…Short on energy itself, Sudan will receive some of the power produced by the dam. By stabilising the Nile’s flow, it will also allow Sudan to prevent flooding, consume more water and increase agricultural output (once old farming methods are updated). Currently much of the country’s allocation of water under the 1959 treaty is actually consumed by Egyptians…

The Renaissance Dam is merely the latest test of countries’ willingness to share water. There may soon be more difficulties. Ethiopia plans to build other dams on the river, which could further affect downstream supply. Sudan has promised foreign investors an abundance of water for irrigation…

Sharing the Nile, Economist, January 16, 2016, at 49

The Fight for Gold: central bank of Sudan against the Militias

central bank of sudan

Jebel Amer, Darfur, Sudan:  Fighting between rival tribes over the Jebel Amer gold mine that stretches for some 10 km (six miles) beneath the sandy hills of North Darfur has killed more than 800 people and displaced some 150,000 others since January 2013. Arab tribes, once heavily armed by the government to suppress insurgents, have turned their guns on each other to get their hands on the mines. Rebel groups that oppose the government also want the metal.

The gold mine death toll is more than double the number of all people killed by fighting between the army, rebels and rival tribes in Darfur in 2012, according to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s quarterly reports to the Security Council.  U.N. officials and diplomats told Reuters the government has been complicit in the violence by encouraging at least one militia group to seize control of mines, a charge the government denies.  Until last year the Darfur conflict pitted the government and its Arab militias against three large rebel groups. The Jebel Amer attack changed that, dividing Arab tribes against each other.  But international peace efforts are still focused on bringing the main rebel groups into a Qatar-sponsored deal Khartoum signed with two splinter groups in 2011.

At the last meeting to discuss the Qatar deal in September, Qatar’s deputy prime minister, Ahmed bin Abdullah al-Mahmoud, expressed concern about the recent tribal violence, but stressed a key factor in bringing peace to Darfur would be to get the rebels to the negotiating table, according to Qatari state media….

The recent resurgence in violence is rooted in Sudan’s loss of a huge chunk of its territory in the south two years ago. When South Sudan seceded in 2011, the rump state of Sudan lost most of its oil production – worth some $7 billion in 2010 – sending the economy into a spin. Sudan’s GDP contracted by 10 percent last year, according to the World Bank.

To replace the oil the government in Khartoum has encouraged people to dig for gold. Now half a million diggers roam Darfur and the north of the country with mine detectors and sledgehammers, according to the mining ministry. The gold rush helped boost output by 50 percent last year to around 50 tons, making Sudan Africa’s third-largest producer, equal with Mali after South Africa and Ghana, according to official data and expert estimates. Gold exports have become Sudan’s lifeline, providing the government with $2.2 billion (net) last year and making up more than 60 percent of all exports.

Sudan’s central bank, desperate for anything to secure foreign currency, pays artisanal miners up to 20 percent more than the global market price, several gold trading sources told Reuters. The central bank denies this.

At the same time, around a quarter of Sudan’s annual gold output is smuggled abroad, industry sources inside and outside Sudan said. If that figure is right, the government lost up to $700 million last year – money it badly needs.  “The government is so desperate for the gold that they are willing to stoke conflict to get artisanal mines under its control,” said Magdi El Gizouli, a fellow at the Rift Valley Institute, a think tank based in London and Nairobi.

On a sunny morning in early January 2013, dozens of Land Cruisers surrounded the town of El Sireaf near the Jebel Amer gold mine. Men readied themselves behind mounted machine guns and mortars and started firing.  “I saw 30 cars. They came from all sides and fired randomly into houses,” said Fateh, a worker who hid in his house as the attack began. “They shot women, children, even cattle, anything they spotted,” he said, asking for his full name to be withheld as he fears the gunmen might come back.  The attackers, members of the Arab Rizeigat tribe appeared to locals to have one goal: to seize control of the mines from the Bani Hussein, a rival Arab tribe…

Until the fighting began, the area was dominated by small artisanal miners. Over the past couple of years, gold diggers arrived from neighboring Chad, the Central African Republic and even far-flung West African countries such as Nigeria and Niger, Darfur residents said.”There were even some Libyans, Syrians and Jordanians,” said Suleiman Dubaid, a Bani Hussein leader who said seven members of his family were killed during the fighting. “Some people made 6,000 (Sudanese) pounds ($800) a day.”

The gold is smuggled out in bags or underwear, to middlemen on the other side of the Chad border. From there it goes to the capital N’Djamena where it is loaded onto commercial flights or stashed in the baggage of courier firms, Sudanese gold sources and Darfur residents say. The final destination is often Dubai, the Middle East’s main gold market.Some gold is also smuggled to Cameroon, where it is exported and shipped to gold markets in India and China, a Sudanese gold source said.

Nonetheless, gold revenues are expected to fall as low as $1.5 billion this year due to declining global prices… That may be one reason, say Western diplomats, tribal leaders and international peacekeepers working in Darfur, why government officials encouraged the Rizeigat tribe to break the Bani Hussein’s control of the Jebel Amer mine. “They wanted the Rizeigat to shake up things a bit so that at least some of the gold goes to the central bank,” said a Western diplomat.

Khartoum has used the Rizeigat before: The tribe provided the core of the feared “Janjaweed” militias, armed and unleashed by the government in 2003 to put down the rebel insurgency, according to rights groups such as Human Rights Watch.The Rizeigat were also Khartoum’s allies during the 1983-2005 civil war with the south, sending fighters armed by the government.

The Rizeigat had their own reasons to seize the mine, according to Western diplomats and tribal leaders. Many of them had been integrated into state forces such as the border guards or central reserve police, but Khartoum has slashed funding to those forces.  Since the January attack, Rizeigat tribesmen have mined Jebel Amer on their own, residents said. Guards have sealed off roads and banned anyone from the Bani Hussein or even some government forces from approaching the site. They attacked a nearby army base in June, according to an internal report from the UNAMID peacekeepers seen by Reuters.

Darfuri rebels want gold, too. Tribesmen from the Zaghawa, the backbone of the rebel Sudan Liberation army (SLA), until recently operated its own mine in Hashaba to the east of Jebel Amer. There is no data on how much rebels make from gold sales but locals and UNAMID staff say Hashaba’s output was much smaller than Jebel Amer.  The potential spoils are huge. To the south of Jebel Amer, for instance, there is an area called “Shangil Tobaya”, which is Sudanese Arabic for “turn a brick and you find gold.” Rebels and Arab militias are vying for control for a strip of low-rise mountains. “People say there is gold up there but we cannot check it because the armed militias are there,” said Adam Saleh, a local farmer.

Excerpts, Special Report: The Darfur conflict’s deadly gold rush, Reuters, Thursday, Oct. 10,  2013

The Covert War in Sudan; Yarmouk military complex bombed

Satellite images of the aftermath of an explosion at a Sudanese weapons factory this past week suggest the site was hit in an air strike, a US monitoring group said Saturday (Oct. 27, 2012) The Sudanese government has accused Israel of bombing its Yarmouk military complex in Khartoum, killing two people and leaving the factory in ruins.  The images released by the Satellite Sentinel Project to the Associated Press on Saturday showed six 52-foot wide craters near the epicenter of Wednesday’s explosion at the compound.  Military experts consulted by the project found the craters to be “consistent with large impact craters created by air-delivered munitions”, Satellite Sentinel Project spokesman Jonathan Hutson said.  The target may have been around 40 shipping containers seen at the site in earlier images. The group said the craters center on the area where the containers had been stacked.

Israeli officials have neither confirmed nor denied striking the site. Instead, they accused Sudan of playing a role in an Iranian-backed network of arms shipments to Hamas and Hezbollah. Israel believes Sudan is a key transit point in the circuitous route that weapons take to the Islamic militant groups in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon.  Sudan was a major hub for al-Qaida militants and remains a transit for weapon smugglers and African migrant traffickers. Israeli officials believe arms that originate in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas go through Sudan before crossing Egypt’s lawless Sinai desert and into Gaza through underground tunnels.

The Satellite Sentinel Project is a partnership between the Enough Project, a Washington-based anti-genocide advocacy group and DigitalGlobe, which operates three commercial satellites and provides geospatial analysis.  The project was founded last year with support from actor George Clooney, and in the past has used satellite images to monitor the destruction of villages by Sudanese troops in the country’s multiple war zones.

Opened in 1996, Yarmouk is one of two known state-owned weapons manufacturing plants in the Sudanese capital. Sudan prided itself in having a way to produce its own ammunition and weapons despite United Nations and US sanctions.  The satellite images indicate that the Yarmouk facility includes an oil storage facility, a military depot and an ammunition plant.

The monitoring group said the images indicate that the blast “destroyed two buildings and heavily damaged at least 21 others”, adding that there was no indication of fire damage at the fuel depot inside the military complex.  The group said it could not be certain the containers, seen in images taken 12 October, were still there when explosion took place. But the effects of the blast suggested a “highly volatile cargo” was at the epicenter of the explosion.  “If the explosions resulted from a rocket or missile attack against material stored in the shipping containers, then it was an effective surgical strike that totally destroyed any container” that was at the location, the project said.  Yarmouk is located in a densely populated residential area of the city approximately 11km southwest of the Khartoum international airport.  Wednesday’s explosion sent exploding ammunition flying into homes in the neighborhood adjacent to the factory, causing panic among residents. Sudanese officials said some people suffered from smoke inhalation.  A man who lives near the factory said that from inside their house, he and his brother heard a load roar of what they believed was a plane just before the boom of the explosion sounded from the factory.

In the aftermath of Wednesday’s explosion, Sudanese officials said the government has the right to respond to what the information minister said was a “flagrant attack” by Israel on Sudan’s sovereignty and right to strengthen its military capabilities.  In a Friday speech marking Eid al Adha, Islam’s biggest holiday, Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir called Israel “short-sighted,” according to comments published by the Egyptian state-owned paper Al Ahram. The president likened the incident to the 1998 bombing by American cruise missiles of a Khartoum pharmaceutical factory suspected of links to al-Qaida.

Some Israeli commentators suggested that if Israel did indeed carry out an airstrike causing Wednesday’s blast, it might have been a trial run of sorts for an operation in Iran. Both countries are roughly 1,000 miles (1,600km) away from Israel, and an air operation would require careful planning and in-flight refueling.

Satellite pictures suggest Sudanese weapons factory hit by air strike, Associated Press, Oct. 27, 2012

Oil Curse and the the Unending Violence in Sudan

The United States accused Sudan of targeting civilians in recent airstrikes, including one that destroyed a Bible school in South Kordofan, an oil-rich Sudanese province that borders the newly-created independent country of South Sudan….The Sudanese government could not be immediately reached for comment, but has said in the past that it is targeting rebels in the area….

More than 78,000 people have fled South Kordofan and Blue Nile states since August last year after an armed rebellion took root, the United Nations reported. The Sudanese government is thought to have responded to the rebellion by conducting sustained air raids with the use of Russian-made Antonov bombers, which have raised concerns over civilian casualties.

Decades of civil war between the north and south, costing as many as 2 million lives, formally ended with a U.S.-brokered peace treaty in 2005. But before South Sudan gained independence in July of last year, human rights monitors expressed concerns that longstanding grievances could again lead to violence consuming the region.  In November, there were several days of bombings near an entry point for refugees at the border, the United Nations reported. It did not specify who launched the bombs.

U.S. accuses Sudan of bombing civilians, CNN.com, Feb. 3, 2012

More War Crimes in Sudan: Abyei

The Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) has confirmed through the analysis of DigitalGlobe satellite imagery collected on 27 May the intentional destruction of approximately one-third of all civilian structures in Abyei town by the Government of Sudan and northern-aligned militia forces. SSP has documented multiple violations of international humanitarian law in Abyei town. These abuses can constitute war crimes, including violations of the Geneva Conventions, and in some cases they may represent crimes against humanity.

The imagery captures at least ten SAF main battle tanks consistent with T-55s or T-64s, three mobile artillery pieces, heavy equipment transports, heavy trucks and infantry fighting vehicles in Abyei town. Widespread looting, debris, and destruction of property is visible, including the ransacking of the World Food Programme’s (WFP) storage facility. Additionally, SSP confirms the destruction of Banton Bridge on the Kiir River south of Abyei town. This is consistent with reports that Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) detonated the bridge.

Satellite imagery analyzed by Harvard Humanitarian Initiative with support from DigitalGlobe provides new evidence of SAF forces carrying out extensive and wanton destruction and appropriation of property without the justification of military necessity. The attacks on civilian objects under the SAF’s occupation of Abyei town constitute violations of international humanitarian law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and its First and Second Additional Protocols of 1977 to which Sudan is party.

May 28, 2011, Satellite Images