Sudan: Canadian oil firm Talisman is an economic ally of a brutal regime


In this Los Angeles Times editorial Eric Reeves outlines how the destructive war effort raging in the Sudan, in which casualties are estimated at 2 million—more than 90% of which may be civilian—is being fueled by a singular North American corporate presence—Talisman Energy, Inc. (Calgary, Alberta).

One of the key tactics in bringing change to South Africa in the 1980s and early 1990s, and ending the hateful system of apartheid, was divestment — the decision by large institutional investors to terminate their share holdings in companies culpably doing business in South Africa. But given the difficulty of determining culpability, divestment was controversial in some quarters. Such a policy, it was argued, forced companies to withdraw from South Africa, thereby ending their chances of working to improve, if only incrementally, economic and social practices. People argued in good faith on both sides of the issue.

The world of Western investment faces a much less ambiguous situation in contemporary Sudan, geographically the largest nation in Africa. Here there is a fierce moral clarity and urgency to the need for a rapid divestment from the singular North American corporate presence of significance —Talisman Energy, Inc. (Calgary, Alberta). For Talisman, one of Canada's largest corporations and its largest oil and energy concern, has allowed itself to become partner with the National Islamic Front regime, which dominates the government of Sudan.

What this means is that Talisman is an economic ally of a radical Islamic regime that is engaged in a brutally destructive civil war with the people of the south, who are largely African racially and animist or Christian in religion. This is the same regime that the U.S. Congress recently declared to be “genocidal” in its conduct in the long-running civil war, a war in which the NIF has targeted with relentless ferocity the Dinka and other ethnic groups in the south and center of Sudan. This war, exemplifying a truly terrifying inhumanity, has seen 2 million human beings perish, the vast majority civilians in the south. It is a conflict that has created almost 5 million refugees, the largest crisis of its sort in the world. It is a war that as recently as last summer's famine brought more than 2 million people, mostly children, to the edge of starvation.

The Khartoum regime—which came to power by coup in 1989—has systematically used humanitarian food aid as a weapon of war, regularly orders the bombing of civilian hospitals, has encouraged a merciless trade in human slavery, and has recently accelerated an intense scorched-earth campaign to clear the oil fields and oil pipeline areas—this last effort in evident service of Talisman's billion-dollar capital investment in the oil project, and Khartoum's hopes for revenues from the impending flow of oil.

Talisman has, along with its investment partners China and Malaysia, agreed to send [40%] of its revenues to Khartoum. Estimates of the amount of oil that will flow now range up to more than 250,000 barrels per day. This is extraordinarily significant income for the cash-strapped Khartoum regime, which spends about $1 million per day on the war; much of this money has been borrowed against anticipated oil revenues.

How will these new revenues be spent? One answer was provided recently by Parliament Speaker Hassan Turabi, the most influential member of the NIF regime. He declared publicly that oil revenues would be used to build factories for missiles and tanks — which of course would better effect a final military solution to the racially and religiously driven conflict with the people of the south.

This destructive war effort, in which casualties could be more than 90% civilian, will be fueled by Talisman-generated oil. Indeed, the bombers that frequently target clearly marked civilian hospitals will fly because of the oil that Talisman has provided. The tanks that destroy villages throughout the south will run on oil that flows because of Talisman.

What is Talisman's response to the numerous and painfully consistent accounts of the human destruction that come from the press as well as the most respected humanitarian and human rights organizations working on the ground in the south of Sudan? In the main, Talisman doesn't respond or responds only to snippets of news or responds dismissively. Most shamelessly, Talisman declares itself to be a beacon of benign Western influence, investing for the economic development of all of Sudan.

But this self-serving claim ignores Talisman's role in the oil-driven devastation concentrated in the south. There exists nothing like a sustained rebuttal or response to the enormous and rapidly growing body of reports on the desperate situation in these southern regions.

But Talisman's disingenuous and distorting pronouncements on the greatest humanitarian crisis of the last half-century must not obscure the terrible spectacle of human suffering that is before American, Canadian — indeed all — Talisman shareholders. Only by refusing to own shares in a corporation that has so clearly revealed its willingness to trade in genocidal oil can investors be free of complicity in Sudan's agony.

South Africa demonstrated the power of divestment. Sudan demonstrates a human suffering that gives to divestment the force of an unambiguous moral imperative.


Eric Reeves, “Sudan: Canadian oil firm Talisman is an economic ally of a brutal regime. Divest from it,” The Los Angeles Times , 30 August, 1999.

Reprinted with permission of the The Los Angeles Times and Eric Reeves


Eric Reeves is Professor of English at Smith College in Northampton, Mass.

Copyright © 1999 Los Angeles Times

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