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Understanding Darfur: An Olympic Update

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Another dispatch on "How to Think About Darfur," by James North:

Lopez Lomong, who was chosen by his Olympic teammates to carry the
American flag at the opening ceremonies, is an extraordinary young man. He is one of the "Lost Boys" of the Sudan, who
escaped the civil war in the south 17 years ago and lived in a refugee
camp in Kenya until 2001, when he was adopted by an American family,
became a U.S. citizen, and made the Olympic team as a 1500-meter man.

Lopez Lomong is also part of Team Darfur, an unofficial group of athletes (led by Joey Cheek, who was denied entry) who are
bringing  pressure on China for its support of the Sudan regime. Along with the rest of the Darfur solidarity movement, Team Darfur contends, correctly, that Chinese investment in Sudan’s oil industry sustains
that regime and that China provides it with weapons.

But hold on, there's more to this story. China is actually a relative latecomer
to the Sudan.

The first big oil
company to set up shop in the Sudan was Chevron, the American giant; it
was succeeded in the 1990s by Talisman (formerly Anakis), a Canadian oil
company, and a Swedish enterprise called Lundin. Talisman was
instrumental in building the 670-mile, $3.7 billion pipeline from the
south that raised the Sudanese government’s oil revenues from nothing
in 1998 to 42 per cent of its budget by 2001.

All this of course was pre-Darfur. But in 2001 a small band of activists in
Canada and elsewhere in the west who were appalled at the Khartoum regime’s
atrocities in the south – in which ten times as many people died since 1983 as have died in Darfur and where the Sudan regime was using attack helicopters to clear sites for drilling – targeted
the oil companies. One tactic the activists tried was to ban
companies that did business in the Sudan from raising capital in the
U.S. or listing their stocks on U.S. markets.

The New York Times, in a July 2001 editorial, did chasten Sudan,
but said the proposed financial moves would "set a dangerous precedent." 
Still, the solidarity
movement persisted, and finally did force Talisman to sell its interest
a year later, at a profit.

I am delighted that Lopez Lomong carried our flag in Beijing. But I would forgive Chinese
officials for detecting some hypocrisy on this issue, and maybe even wondering why no one who watched
the 2000 Olympics in Sydney stumbled across any mention of western oil interests in the Sudan.

(Much more detail on oil
and human rights in Sudan is available in a 2003 report by Human Rights
Watch’s distinguished investigator, Jemera
Rone
.)

James North

James North is a Mondoweiss Editor-at-Large, and has reported from Africa, Latin America, and Asia for four decades. He lives in New York City.

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