Rapacious Instincts in Sudan
Though massively reduced from its original target of $10 billion, the "PetroChina" IPO was still set to fail in realizing even $3 billion in proceeds when British oil giant BP Amoco entered the scene. Enticed by lucrative natural gas concessions and retailing possibilities in China, BP Amoco agreed to commit up to $1 billion. BP Amoco management disingenuously continues to deny that it has helped to capitalize oil development in Sudan, but the financial realities of its investment clearly prove otherwise.
Nor does corporate complicity end there. Other European oil companies not part of the Greater Nile project have invested vast amounts of money in various of the other concession areas in southern Sudan; some have begun exploration work. Seismic information is not yet definitive, but the potential of the Muglad basin, which stretches across the entire southern girth of Sudan from eastern Chad to the Red Sea, may reach to billions of barrels of reserves. This has proved more than temptation enough for the likes of Lundin Oil of Sweden and OMV of Austria. But the concession areas that appear so enticing will become viable only if security is established by Khartoum's forces. The Europeans have in effect invested in the military success of the regime in expanding its cordon sanitaire, which will entail destroying the lives and livelihood of additional tens of thousands of southern Sudanese.
As a consequence, many people feel there can be no neutral shareholding in these companies. American economic sanctions against Sudan (imposed by the Clinton Administration mainly in response to Sudan's support for world terrorism) should be construed to include capital market sanctions. Talisman Energy, which trades on the New York Stock Exchange, should be delisted, as should China National Petroleum Corporation's contrived "PetroChina" and Lundin Oil, which trades on the Nasdaq. But despairing of useful action, a grassroots coalition of Sudan advocates has taken matters into its own hands with a divestment campaign modeled on the efforts undertaken during apartheid-era South Africa.
The campaign has successfully targeted the largest and most influential pension plans and public holdings of Talisman Energy, including TIAA-CREF and all major US public institutional shareholders, among them the states of New Jersey, Wisconsin, New York and California, and the City of New York.
Divestment efforts have now turned to high-profile mutual funds that own Talisman Energy. The campaign has singled out Fidelity Investments (which manages the Fidelity mutual funds, holders of 3.2 million shares of Talisman Energy, one of the largest US institutional shareholders) and mutual funds of Royal Bank in Canada. Still-emerging divestment efforts in Canada are also focusing on prominent public pension plans, including those for Ontario municipal employees. The Ontario Teachers Federation has actively called on its pension board to divest.
Sudan marks a defining moment for human rights organizations and advocacy efforts. If such a brutally destructive venture cannot be stopped, if a "line in the sand" cannot be drawn for Sudan, other efforts at rapacious exploitation in Africa will be encouraged, and the consequences will often be heightened conflict. But a successful divestment campaign against the participants, direct and indirect, in Sudan's oil project will go a great distance toward discouraging corporate indifference to human suffering and destruction. A decade ago South Africa demonstrated the power of divestment. Sudan's agony gives to divestment the force of another unambiguous moral imperative.