India makes strategic moves in distant Sudan
By Tarun Basu, Indo-Asian News Service
Khartoum, Dec 25 (IANS) Indian made Tata buses, Maruti Suzuki cars, Mahindra
and Mahindra jeeps and Bajaj autorickshaws have a highly visible presence in
the chaotic traffic of Sudan's capital city.
But what has really stamped Indian presence in Africa's largest nation is
the visionary decision of the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC),
India's oil and gas major whose tentacles are spreading globally, to buy a
25 percent stake in the Greater Nile Oil Project (GNOP) - a venture that is
fuelling poor Sudan's dream of becoming a major oil-exporting power.
India is getting three million tonnes of crude from Sudan through the
project - in which Chinese and Malaysian oil companies also have substantial
stake - and is looking at building on its current investment of $670 million
in this country to obtain around eight million tonnes of oil annually.
ONGC's overseas arm OVL (ONGC Videsh Ltd.) bought the stake from Canada's
Talisman in the multinational consortium after the latter had to pull out
following criticism from church groups and human rights organisations, who
accused it of supporting the country's ruling establishment in the
suppression of southern rebels in the decades-old civil war that has claimed
over two million lives.
At that time the ONGC's decision was criticised back home as a decision
driven in haste since Sudan, embroiled as it was in its fratricidal
conflict, was not seen as a country that could guarantee the security of
Indian investment - the largest foreign investment in any country.
But with peace moves afoot between the country's rival factions and
President George W. Bush himself offering to preside over a conciliation
ceremony at the White House, India's strategic stake in Sudan may not have
come at a better time.
"Oil is emerging as an instrument of determining frontiers in international
relations and for India to have taken equity in a Sudan oilfield shows great
foresight," said Abdal Mahmood Abdalhaleem Mohammmad, the country's
ambassador to India.
"It is a turning point in the history of Sudan," says Ashok Kumar, India's
ambassador here, about the ongoing peace talks in the Kenyan city of
"If the peace process succeeds, it will unleash the floodgates of
development in the country and that will present a huge opportunity for
India," Kumar told IANS here.
"And given the tremendous goodwill that India enjoys in Sudan, Indian
companies will have a better chance."
India and Sudan have not only old historical linkages but also strong
political bonds, going back to the days of India's first prime minister
Jawaharlal Nehru who, along with Sudan's first prime minister Ismail
al-Azhari, was a founder member of the Non-Aligned Movement.
Since then Sudanese students have preferred India as a higher education
destination and many among this multi-ethnic country's ruling elite are
alumni of Indian universities, especially Aligarh Muslim University.
But it was oil and India's participation in its prospecting that really gave
the ties a larger strategic dimension. It was a historic moment for both
countries when the first shipment of 80,000 tonnes of crude was received by
India's Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani at Mangalore port last summer.
The oil had come all the way from Port Sudan, whose historic significance
for India lay in the fact that Mahatma Gandhi had halted there in the 1930s
on his way to Britain.
Now India is seeking to enhance its stake in Sudan by not only picking up
newer oil exploration blocks but investing another $750 million in the
modernisation of the country's state-owned refinery and building a pipeline
from the Khartoum Refinery to Port Sudan on the Red Sea.
Complementing its equity investment in oil, ONGC is seeking to demonstrate
its philosophy of social responsibility through a series of community
participation programmes in health, agriculture, information technology and
Appropriately called ONGC Nile Ganga BV, the wholly owned Sudanese
subsidiary has earned tremendous local goodwill by sponsoring the highly
popular Merreikh football club, a project that is being hailed as an
"unprecedented partnership" between a sports club and an oil company.
With three top Sudanese ministers, including the defence and energy
ministers, visiting India this month and an Indian ministerial and
parliamentary delegation due to visit this country in the next four weeks,
bilateral ties reflect what the Sudanese envoy says is "India's political
and economic investment in the strategic gateway of Africa".
Sudan is located in the Horn of Africa with common borders with as many as
"With its presence in Sudan, India can promote cooperation in diverse fields
like petroleum, agriculture, railways and sugar industry not just with Sudan
but with its neighbours as well," says Rajen Harshe, political science
professor at the University of Hyderabad who was here to attend an
India-Sudan seminar organised by the University of Khartoum.
"It could open up large untapped markets for India in north and sub-Saharan
Africa, besides giving the country a strategic foothold in an important
Indo-Asian News Service