Socialist Worker

The West has bled Sudan dry

A history of intervention by the great powers has led up to the horror in Darfur, says Ghanaian socialist Mani Tanoh

Issue No. 1917

Without understanding the role and impact of capitalism and superpower intervention in Africa, the responses evoked by horrors such as that unfolding in Darfur, western Sudan, will often be mistaken.

Today, the likes of British foreign secretary Jack Straw, following in the trail of Colin Powell and Kofi Annan, are beating a path to Sudan to find out about the Darfur crisis and contribute to its resolution.

Their hypocrisy is almost unbelievable.

The divisions in Sudan have been fanned, financed and fabricated in the murderous competition to exploit the resources of Sudan and Africa for the profit of a few.

In recent decades, Sudan has been the focus of unbridled neo-liberal policies demanding the production of export crops to pay off billions of dollars in foreign debt.

When over-production of these crops contributed to a crash in prices, cutbacks in public spending, privatisation and labour flexibility have been imposed.

In five short years, real wages in Sudan have fallen by 70 percent.

Meanwhile, production of crops aimed at export markets has reduced the food supply, creating repeated famines.

The conflict in Darfur also has its roots in the scramble for land, grazing, water and food between farmers and herders.

Here, ethnic and religious divisions have been promoted to help the growth of capitalism and the market.

This is one of the legacies of Britain’s long history of “humanitarian intervention” in Sudan.

For the British and later the US ruling classes, Sudan was an entry point to the Suez Canal and the Middle East.

It was also a vital staging post into sub-Saharan Africa. That is why it was one of the biggest recipients of US aid until the 1980s.

But it came at a price—the four biggest African recipients of US aid are all now in the grip of war and social collapse.

But as devastated as it has become, Sudan is still a part of the global system.

Sudanese governments continue to be central to the alliances and conflicts between imperialism and local ruling classes right across east and central Africa.

This is reciprocated by identical interventions in Sudan by other African ruling classes.

And now there is the oil find in Sudan fuelling the murderous competitive interests of external powers.

Mark Thatcher’s efforts in Equatorial Guinea might appear feeble in comparison with the grand designs of the US.

But the role of the Sandline mercenary company in Sierra Leone should remind us that, even on the cheap, British interests in Africa are no less deadly.

All of this is directly relevant to Darfur in two respects.

Firstly, the talk about foreign intervention, through superpowers, the UN or even would-be African regional powers, is to give renewed strength and legitimacy to the great powers.

But it is their web of interests that has spawned the relatively puny militia on horseback (“Janjaweed” is the word for “armed horseman”) in Darfur.

Without imperialism, multinational companies, African ruling classes and Sudan’s own warlords—without these real horsemen of the apocalypse—the light cavalry of the Janjaweed would not exist.

The logic for ordinary British people is that, if they did not fall for the lies over Iraq, they must not fall for them over Africa.

Secondly, accepting that the solution lies with the great powers takes from the people of Sudan the chance to become the authors of their own liberation.

Sudan has a remarkable history of resistance from below. It has united peoples of different cultures, ethnic backgrounds and religions in Sudan—toppling previous governments, every bit as cynical and murderous as the current one.

Every phase of resistance in Sudan has drawn strength from an internationalism that developed in opposition to imperialism. The radicalisation of Arab workers in the 1950s directly contributed to the birth of the Sudanese trade union movement in 1951 and the Sudanese left (including the biggest ever Communist Party in Africa).

The militancy of the African working classes against neo-liberalism continues to find some resonance in Sudan.

After the glorious 15 February anti-war demonstrations in London and elsewhere, demonstrations in Sudan began to burst the limits imposed by the Islamist government.

It will be a massive setback, even in the face of the moving humanitarian disaster in Darfur, to give in to despair and let in the dogs of war deployed by the likes of Tony Blair through Darfur’s back door.

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Sat 4 Sep 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1917
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