Sunday, August 19, 2007

Oil boom, oil curse

As companies and even states across the US and a few European countries divest from Sudan, as President Bush tightens decade-old sanctions against Sudan, Sudan’s Interior Minister Zubair Bashir Taha says Sudan is “not afraid of sanctions”. Indeed, Sudan’s already booming economy is expected to grow another 13% this year, thanks to over $4 billion in oil exports and heavy investments from China and other Asian nations. Such investments have quadrupled since 1996, amounting to almost $2.3 billion in 2006. For example, two-thirds of Sudan’s oil goes to China, which has invested $7 billion in oil and infrastructure projects. For the elite in Khartoum, the boom means fancy hotels with swimming pools and weekend brunches, and outdoor cafes with water misters à la Palm Springs to make the 100-degree heat more bearable. Meanwhile, 15 minutes away, both electricity and the paved road stop at the outer edge of a poor district, where people like Bakri Habi, a government employee, live 12 persons to a 1-room house. “We can’t help but suffer psychologically” he says, noticing daily the difference between home and Khartoum. Economist Abda Yahia El Mahdi says Sudan is “heading directly into the oil curse”: spending and becoming a consuming society, but not investing in its own development. Many want to see American investors return, for reasons of “credibility, honesty, science and technology”. Perhaps if the Dream for Darfur campaign succeeds, China will use its investor status to convince Khartoum to put an end to the violence ravaging Darfur and, thus, to the sanctions. And how could it not, with Mia Farrow participating in the Kigali (Rwanda) leg of the torch relay that began in Chad August 9?

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