In Sudan, the two warring generals share the country's refineries. Controlling these positions is always strategic. Explanations.
Early August 2011. As Muammar Gaddafi's regime was about to fall, Libyan rebels attacked the Zawiyah refinery, west of Tripoli, and took control of it. At the time, it was a question of taking the refineries to limit the sources of supply of the regime with oil and gas, and thus asphyxiate it. A few days later, Gaddafi will leave his position, before being targeted by a wanted poster. In Libya, oil has always been at the heart of divisions.
Twelve years later, oil is once again at the heart, this time of another war, in Sudan. As Africa Intelligence indicated this Thursday morning, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) retain control of one of the country's two refineries. For the moment, the Greater Nile Oil Pipeline is spared: the pipeline, which allows oil to be imported from South Sudan to Port-Sudan, via Khartoum, could however quickly become an issue for the RSF and the regular army.
Oil, to finance Daesh
Because controlling the refineries and, more generally, the supply of oil is, in time of war, a major challenge. And not just at the turn of the century. Already in 1940, at the time of Operation Dynamo, the English General Wavell wrote in a note that “oil, shipping, air power, sea power are the keys to war, and they are interdependent. The air arm and the naval arm cannot function without oil. Petroleum, except in very limited quantities, cannot be transported to its destination other than by sea transport. Maritime transport needs naval power and air power”.
In other words, without oil, it is difficult to win the war which is no longer limited to simple clashes between two armies on the ground but which now forms part of a global strategy. And that is the case in most wars. In Ukraine, Zelensky's forces were pleased with several strategic positions, among them the oil refining enterprise Ukrtatnafta. Beyond avoiding suffocation, controlling refineries responds to a broader strategy.
Because oil also makes it possible to finance its war, for organizations in search of funds. This was the case of the Islamic State organization which, at the beginning of the 2010s, was financed mainly through oil. In 2015, despite substantial losses of oil wells, Daesh managed to secure a quarter of its income with the remaining wells, thus accumulating nearly $600 million in annual earnings.
The RSF already have their hands on the mines of Darfur
And as in every conflict, for the enemies of the holders of the oil windfall, it is difficult to fire on strategic positions: because cutting off access to oil means depriving civilians of vital resources. However, if it is possible to limit the impoverishment of the local populations a little more, bombing the refineries will be an ultimate solution. Especially since the international community, too, would take a dim view of the destruction of refineries.
In Sudan, the sharing of refineries between the forces of General Dogolo and those of al-Burhane therefore suits everyone for the moment. Because, the two generals know it: the conflict risks being long and getting bogged down. For the RSF, it is the assurance of being able to hold on, while Hemeti's forces had, in 2017, managed to get their hands on another important financial windfall of the country: the artisanal gold mines of Jebel Amer, in Darfur.