The nexus between oil and violent conflict: Sudan Case #1

The development of the Sudanese oil sector has been intertwined with violent conflicts.

Summarizing the argument of the preceding paragraphs (extract from the report of Elke Grawert and Christine Andrä, “Oil Investment and Conflict in Upper Nile State”), on the national level, oil development had a three-fold impact on the violent-prone relations between the two parts of the country.


  1. From the outset, the Government of Sudan (GoS) sought to use the oil for developing Sudan’s central regions—at the expense of the peripheral regions in the south, west, east, and north of the country (Johnson, 2011, p. 46; Shinn, 2005, pp. 248–49). The “deliberate neglect of the South’s socio-economic development” there upon became one of the grievances that, in 1983, ushered in Sudan’s second civil war (Johnson, 2011, p. 64).
  2. Whereas the prospects of future oil revenues repeatedly re-ignited the civil war, the tangible oil revenues accruing in the early 2000s enabled the GoS to upgrade its army with helicopter gunships, high altitude bombers and other weapons, and thereby increased its leverage vis-à-vis the south (ECOS, 2008, p. 7; Gagnon and Ryle, 2011, p. 4).
  3. Finally, under the pretext of economic considerations, almost the entire infrastructure necessary for oil exportation, such as pipelines, refineries and processing facilities, were built in northern Sudan. This furthered the strategic asymmetry between the north and the south (ECOS, 2010, p. 13; Johnson, 2011, p. 46; Moro, 2008, p. 100).

The biased investment enhanced the perception among the southern Sudanese political leaders that they were marginalized compared to northern Sudan. This added to the violent conflict.

On the local level, “forced removal of inhabitants in and around oilfields in Southern Sudan has been standard practice during the 1983-2005 war” (ECOS, 2008, p. 31).

Displacement of and aggression against the local population by the GoS made way for the development of oil infrastructure, which enabled the boom of the Sudanese oil industry (ibid.). Some authors have commented on the actions of the GoS as part of a strategy of “division and displacement” to gain control over the oil areas (Human Rights Watch, 2003, pp. 50–59; cf. ECOS, 2006, p. 14). After the CPA, the GoNU in Khartoum continued to disregard the detrimental impact of oil production, as did the GoSS.

Both failed to address the social and environmental damage in the vicinity of the oil plants and the continuing lack of local social development. As the remainder of the chapter demonstrates, the national and the local level linkages between oil production and violence became important, as Patey had warned:

The tendency for oil fields in Sudan to be numerous and small rather than few and large translates into multiple targets for armed groups discouraged by oil development or mobilized by a possible renewed North–South conflict (2010, p. 631).

Other Impacts:

Source: BICC