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Blocks 1, 2, 4, and 5A and 5B: Oil Geography The main area of oil exploration and production in Sudan to date, the Muglad Basin, stretches southeast down across the midsection of the country into the south. The Muglad Basin extends from El Muglad in Western Kordofan through Bentiu and Western Upper Nile, known by the government as Unity (al Wihda) State,57 to just north of Juba on the White Nile River.58 Oil exploitation in southern Sudan began north of Bentiu, in Western Upper Nile/Unity State—in Blocks 1 and 2, the sites of Unity and Heglig oilfields. (See Maps B and C) This report first outlines the 1978-98 phases related to the oil companies, Chevron Oil Co. and Arakis Energy Inc., that successively owned the exploration rights to Blocks 1, 2, and 4, the three blocks which are the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC) concession. It highlights the waves of Baggara militia and government soldiers who displaced the pastoral Dinka and Nuer living there over several years, looting their cattle and leaving them without land and without resources, forcing them to escape southward from the 50,500 square kilometer concession.
57 Western Upper Nile is the name by which this part of Upper Nile province or region has been called in the twentieth century. It is roughly the same area as Unity State (al Wihda), created by the Sudanese government in 1994. Liech state is the name given to the area by the forces of Riek Machar, but originally that name applied only to the central portion of the Jagei and Dok Nuer areas, centered on Kot-Liech, the tree where the Nuer were supposed to have originated. Douglas H. Johnson, email to Human Rights Watch, April 30, 2001. In this report it is referred to as Western Upper Nile/Unity State.
58 Some oil had been pumped before 1999, near El Muglad in Western Kordofan (in the north) and from the Melut area east of the White Nile in Upper Nile (in the south). The Melut oil, about 10,000 barrells per day, was barged down the Nile (north) and refined for domestic use in a refinery at El Obeid (Northern Kordofan). The Melut Basin (including Blocks 3 and 7), running north and south of Malakal, west to the Muglad Basin, and east to the Ethiopian border, remains less developed than the Muglad Basin and is not covered in this report, although there are plans to bring in other investors and pump oil sufficient to justify a pipeline.
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The oil history and development of Block 5A, operated by Lundin Oil AB (until 2003) and then Petronas Carigali Overseas Sdn Bhd, have been determined by the developments in the GNPOC area, as it is a continuation of the Muglad Basin to the south east of the GNPOC blocks. The physical and human topography of Blocks 5A and 5B—and their military and political history—are different from the GNPOC blocks, however. Blocks 5A and 5B straddle the White Nile and Zeraf island, are swampy, more densely populated, and were in rebel hands from 1984 to 1999, after which significant parts were captured by government forces, who forcibly and without compensation displaced the population so that international oil companies could be brought in to develop the oil.
Blocks 5A and 5B and the rest of the vast Sudanese oil areas to the south and east are part of the flood plain, a basin in southern Sudan into which the rivers of Congo, Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia drain off
from an ironstone plateau that belts the regions of Bahr El Ghazal and Upper Nile in southern Sudan:
[T]he flood region covers most of what is now administratively called Upper Nile and Bahr el-Ghazal. Here the land is flat, heavy clay soil, of high fertility, and with only a few outcroppings of slightly higher, sandier soil.... [T]his area is subjected to severe seasonal river and rain flooding which limits its use for cultivation... The variety of grasslands... provide modern pastoralists with different types of grazing throughout the dry season, but this requires constant movement to take advantage of [it].... Those areas which have consistently been able to support the largest populations have been those which combine large stretches of permanently habitable land with access to floodfed seasonal grazing.59 Blocks 5A and 5B are discussed in the next part of this report, which also continues the story of development and displacement in the GNPOC blocks.
59 Douglas H. Johnson, Nuer Prophets: A History of Prophecy from the Upper Nile in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), pp. 37-38.
Despite geographical differences among the GNPOC blocks and Blocks 5A and 5B concessions, a common characteristic is the radical difference between dry season and wet season. In the dry season, the area of “permanent habitation” is hot and parched and most of the population moves the cattle to be nearer to water sources such as a river or seasonally flooded toic.60 In the wet season, as the lower lands flood, the population returns with the cattle to higher grounds—sometimes no more than a meter higher.
Whether people are driven from their dry season or wet season homes, however, they are displaced, as the two areas are economically linked and equally necessary for agro-pastoralists’ survival in the harsh environment.
Southern Sudan has been described as “a large basin gently sloping northward,” through which flow the rivers Bahr el Jebel River (White Nile),61 the Bahr el Ghazal (Nam) River and its tributaries, and the Sobat, all merging into a vast barrier swamp.62 (Map A) Southern Sudan may be divided into five subzones, the floodplain being the one which suppports Dinka, Nuer, Shilluk, and others in much of the
Muglad and Melut oil basins. The floodplain is divided into four land classes:
The highlands, higher than the surrounding plains by only a few centimeters, are the sites for “permanent settlements.” Vegetation consists of open thorn woodland and/or open mixed woodland with grasses.
The intermediate lands lie slightly below the highlands, and there the “creeping flow” of river water from heavy rainfall in the Ethiopian and East and Central African highlands 60 The Nuer and the Dinka call the seasonally river-flooded grasslands in the White Nile basin of southern Sudan the toic. Exposed late in the dry season as the floodwaters recede, the toic provides excellent pastureland.
61 Bahr is Arabic for river. For the convenience of non-Arabic speakers this report refers to the rivers with their names followed by the English “River,” i.e., Bahr El Ghazal River. Otherwise, Bahr El Ghazal refers to a region of southern Sudan.
62 Aggrey Ayuen Majok and Calvin W. Schwabe, Development Among Africa’s Migratory Pastoralists (Westport, Conn.: Bergin & Garvey, 1996), pp. 22-25.
is common. Vegetation is mostly open perennial grassland with some acacia woodland and other sparsely distributed trees, such as balanites aegyptiaca, or heglig.63 The toic is land seasonally inundated or saturated by the main rivers and inland watercourses, retaining enough moisture throughout the dry season to support cattle grazing.
The sudd is permanent swampland below the level of the toic, and covers a substantial part of the floodplain. It provides good fishing but is not available for livestock.64 Historically it has been a physical barrier to outsiders’ penetration.65 The ecology of the large basin and the societies of its peoples are almost unique in the world. Until recently, wild animals and birds flourished, hunted rarely by the agro-pastoralists. The names of rivers and towns in various Nilotic languages66 suggest this variety, for instance, Ghazal (gazelle), Jeraf (giraffe), and Mankien (mother egret).
Southern pastoralists in the floodplain live in different areas during a single year, and, depending on the season, family members will live apart according to their economic roles. One report accuses some past “experts” on southern Sudan of mistakenly basing their opinions and perceptions on observations of the Nuer or Dinka during only one season, the dry season. These experts usually left during the rainy season 63 Also spelled hijlij and anglicized as heglig. This is a colloquial Arabic name for the balanite tree; another colloquial Arabic name is laloub. The Dinka call the tree aling and Nuer call it thou or pan thou.
64 Majok and Schwabe, Development Among Africa’s Migratory Pastoralists, pp. 22-25.
65 Prior to the twentieth century, “the Sudd” referred to large dams of aquatic vegetation blocking the channels of the swamps in the White Nile of southern Sudan. Sudd came from the Arabic sadd meaning barrier or obstacle. “When in flood, the Sudd covers an area of 80,000 square kilometers, and this has been a critical factor in the prevention of Arab penetration of South Sudan.” S.L. Laki, “The Impact of the Jonglei Canal on the Economy of the Local People,” International Journal of Sustainable Development and World Ecology 1 (1994), p. 90.
66 Nilotic is the language group to which the Dinka, Nuer, Anyuak, Luo, Meban, and Shilluk people of Sudan belong. Nuer and Anuak also live in western Ethiopia.
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to avoid being stranded for months at a time,67 although that is the time when most of the population moves back into their permanent habitations, above the flood level. When determining whether people “live” in a given area, therefore, it is important to note the season of the year under observation. An area considered “empty” in the dry season would not be empty in the wet season.
Human Population Two key human rights questions have been raised about developments in Blocks 1, 2, and 4 (GNPOC) and in Blocks 5A and 5B: did people ever live there? And if so, were they forcibly displaced by the government to make way for oil development? The answer to both questions is yes.
Maps and Tax Records of Nuer and Dinka Presence Throughout the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium rule of Sudan (1898-1955), colonial administrators recorded ample evidence that Africans lived in the areas under consideration for an unknown number of centuries prior to 1898. During the condominium period, the government of Sudan Survey Department prepared a 1946 tribal map of Sudan (corrected in 1969),68 which showed that what later became Blocks 67 David C. Col and Richard Huntington, Between a Swamp and a Hard Place (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Institute of International Development, Harvard University Press, 1997), p. 90. These studies were carried out in the area around Abyei, in Block 4 to the west of and on similar terrain with the GNPOC oilfields.
68 Map, Sudan Survey Department, “Maslahat al-Misahah, Sudan, tribes, Sheet 3,” drawn by Abugabel, exd. by I. F., Khartoum, Corr. 1969 (U.S. Library of Congress map collection).
On the use of the word “tribe” referred to in the map: according to historian Douglas H. Johnson, in both north and south Sudan, “tribe [is] a political and administrative unit, not confined to kinship.” In the north it is a straight translation of Arabic qabila. Affiliation to a tribe is not merely a matter of birth: anyone can join a tribe. As applied to the Baggara, the Dinka, and the Nuer, Johnson says one can refer to these as “peoples” as well as to the different political “tribes” they both contain. Email, D. H. Johnson to Human Rights Watch, April 30, 2001.
Although many Sudanese freely use the term “tribe” while referring to themselves in English, African scholars urge that the word “tribe” not be used because of its negative colonial connotations. To avoid the distraction of the debate, this report for the most part refers to “ethnic group” instead of tribe, i.e., Bul Nuer are an ethnic group, the Nuer a people.
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1 and 2 were inhabited by the Bul and Leek ethnic groups of the Nuer people.69 Block 1 was also inhabited by three subgroups or sections of the Ruweng (Panaru) Dinka ethnic group: the Alor Dinka to the west; the Awet Dinka in the northern cap; and the Kwil Dinka in the east. 70 (Map D) Maps compiled in 1928 and 1937 provide even earlier evidence of Dinka living in this Ruweng (Panaru) Dinka area of Blocks 1 and 2.71 The Dinka word dugdug, or cattle camp, appears on maps of this period throughout the 69 The Nuer were first the subject of anthropological research by the father of modern anthropology, E.E Evans-Pritchard. See, The Nuer: A Description of the Modes of Livelihood and Political Institutions of a Nilotic People (New York: Oxford University Press, 1969), pp. 5, 142 (originally published in 1940). His books on the Nuer and others have since become well known and often studied by anthropologists. The Encyclopedia Britannica defines the Nuer as a cattle-raising people “who live in the marshy and savannah country on both sides of the Nile River,” spending the rainy season in permanent villages built on the higher ground and the dry season in riverside camps. Politically, they “form a cluster of autonomous communities.” “Nuer,” Encyclopedia Britannica (1999www.britannica.com/eb/article?idxref=30583 (accessed April 27, 2001).
Nuer tribes, defined by Johnson as the largest group to combine in warfare, consist of a number of primary sections, which in turn divide into smaller and smaller sections. Each section (cieng) typically corresponds to a territory of permanent settlement, to which the section gives its name. The smallest section encompasses a number of villages. Johnson, Nuer Prophets, p. 56. This report suggests that the largest Nuer group to combine in warfare is a constantly-changing entity motivated by political as well as ethnic rivalry and outside interference.
70 Others refer to the “Panaru Dinka” (Dinka Panaru) rather than the Ruweng Dinka in that region. See the report of the Canadian human rights delegation to Sudan in December 1999 led by John Harker: Harker report, p.10. Relief and medical agencies attempting to work in the area in the 1990s used the term “Panarou/Panaru Dinka” also. See “Army/Muraheleen displacement, 1992-98,” below.