By now, tens of millions of people or more know who Joseph Kony and his murderous Lord’s Resistance Army are after a YouTube video called “Kony 2012” went viral. But there’s another Kony in Central Africa that has been committing depredations for just as long: China.
Since the early 1990s, messianic madman Joseph Kony has led his LRA on a reign of terror, first in Uganda, and then through the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan. He’s currently believed to be in the Central African Republic. Kony and the LRA live off the land by stealing from villages and terrorizing its inhabitants deep in the jungle. They are infamous for chopping off the limbs, lips, noses and ears of its victims and for kidnapping tens of thousands of children to serve as “child soldiers.” Estimates suggest that the LRA has killed tens of thousands, displaced more than 1 million and kidnapped more than 30,000 children in the past 20 years.
Thanks largely to the efforts of U.S. Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma (disclaimer: I work in the senator’s office) a law was passed in 2010 that directed the Obama administration to draft a plan to “apprehend or remove” Kony and his LRA, and reintegrate those child soldiers back into their communities, if possible. And last December, President Barack Obama deployed approximately 100 U.S. soldiers to train and equip the Ugandan Army to track down Kony and his LRA lieutenants and bring them to justice. Hopefully, Kony’s reign of terror will end this year.
Yet in this same period, China has pursued a less murderous, but no less destabilizing path in Sudan, a State Sponsor of Terrorism, according to the U.S. State Department, since 1993, and the recipient of U.S. economic sanctions in 1997 and 1998. In fact, China is the single most important political, economic and military ally of President Omar al-Bashir since he took power in Khartoum via a coup in 1989.
Beijing officially has a policy of “non-interference” in African nations, but it has acted quite the opposite in Sudan. China actively sided with Bashir and his National Islamic Front against the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) rebels in the south. This lasted from the 1990s through the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, and only changed when it was clear that the rebels would succeed in gaining independence from the north, which they did last July. This diplomatic outreach to the new South Sudan was done purely for practical reasons, as a large part of China’s oil imports in Africa come from this new country (second only to Angola).
Economically, China has underwritten billions of dollars worth of infrastructure projects and provided further assistance in the form of low to no interest loans that are in large part later forgiven. But no other example better illustrates the close economic engagement by China in Sudan than in the energy sector.
Sudan is China’s gas pump. It imports 67 percent of Sudan’s crude oil, accounting for 10 percent of Beijing’s foreign oil imports. Since the 1990s, it has developed Sudan’s oil fields, which are now mostly located in South Sudan, and built the two pipelines that transport the crude through Sudan to Port Sudan in the north. This was all done amid the violence of civil war between Bashir and the SPLM/A. While there were several Western oil companies competing in the region early on, all sold their stakes because of the violence and bowed to criticism that they were “oil exploiters” in the midst of war. No such criticism troubled the communist-run Chinese petroleum industry.