Quiet as it’s been kept in much of the press—and all of the television news, so far as I know—a new divestment campaign is gathering momentum. It targets American pension and mutual funds and cities that invest in a huge oil company, Talisman Energy, that is a partner of the National Islamic Front, the government of Sudan.
This authoritarian government, based in the north of the country, encourages slave raiders to invade black Christian and animist villages in the south. Many of the men are killed. Women and girls are abducted to become concubines and house slaves, bought by owners in the north. The kidnapped boys are forced into the Muslim faith.
The driving force in the Talisman Energy divestment campaign is the Boston-based American Anti-Slavery Group, headed by Dr. Charles Jacobs. He is trying to achieve what Randall Robinson, Jesse Jackson, and others did during the 1980s in their divestment campaign against American companies and cities investing in apartheid South Africa.
This time, the focus is on Canada’s largest independent oil and gas company, which is also one of the biggest oil firms in the world. As Charles Jacobs points out, “Talisman Energy has invested hundreds of millions of dollars” in a huge Sudanese government oil project. It involves drilling for oil and a pipeline vital to the economy of the north.
New York City comptroller Alan Hevesi has written to James Buckee, president of Talisman, noting that this city’s pension funds include 135,000 shares—worth between $4 million and $6 million—of Talisman Energy common stock. Hevesi has not yet moved to recommend divestment, but he is very concerned, as he wrote in that letter, about reports that “Talisman is a source of vital fuel to a Sudanese air force base for bombing missions.”
The missions are fueled by the government’s “economic interests,” Hevesi added, “in the removal of indigenous people [black Christians and animists] from lands in which the country’s richest oil fields are located.”
Hevesi has also written letters to the Coca-Cola and Pepsi companies, in which this city’s pension funds are also invested. Hevesi asked them to stop buying one of their soft-drink ingredients—gum arabic—from suppliers in Sudan.
Charlie Gillis, a reporter for the National Post of Canada, wrote on November 29 of a demonstration by black Christians “who had been driven out of southern Sudan’s oil fields by the continuing assault on them by the government in Khartoum and its army.”
Already, because of these raids and the massive slavery resulting from them, the Texas Teachers Retirement Fund has sold all of its 100,000 shares—worth several million dollars—in Talisman Energy.
Then, after pressure from college student groups, the world’s largest pension fund, TIAA-CREF—which covers college professors and administrators, along with school teachers—has divested from Talisman. That move involved approximately 302,000 shares, worth about $9 million.
Most recently, on January 27, the state of New Jersey revealed that it has sold all of its 680,000 shares of Talisman, worth some $20 million.
As Jacobs emphasizes, “many Americans are unknowingly supporting slavery and slaughter in Sudan because their mutual and pension funds contain Talisman stock. If, for example, you own Fidelity or Vanguard [managers of mutual funds], or if you are a New York City worker, you may be helping someone own a slave.”
Now Hillary Clinton has finally officially declared her candidacy for the United States Senate. Jacobs says:
“Bill Clinton has been silent on Sudan. What will Hillary say about New York’s ‘slave-stocks’? February was Black History Month, but black slavery is not only past history. Surely, reporters will ask Hillary Clinton if New York City and the state should sell their stock in slaves. It does take a village to raise a child, but what if the village children have been taken away as slaves?”
Will someone in the horde of reporters trailing Hillary ask her that question?
Last September, Charles Jacobs met with Madeleine Albright in the State Department. He said to the secretary of state:
“Madame Secretary, 60 years ago, people in power met in rooms like this and decided not to tell the world of mass murder—and decided not to save the victims. Why is there such unspoken genocide in Sudan?”
Albright turned to her legal adviser and said, “Explain to Dr. Jacobs why we haven’t said the word genocide.”
The adviser’s answer was: “According to international covenants, if that word is used, it would obligate us to undertake ways in which we are not prepared to act.”
But on November 9, Albright issued a statement that was read at a Washington, D.C., summit on Sudan organized by a number of faith-based organizations. In it, she spoke, sideways, on the subject: “I know some of you are engaged in a campaign to encourage divestment from companies invested in Sudan. . . . We share your concerns about the role foreign investment plays in buttressing the Khartoum regime’s capacity to intensify its brutal war in the South.”
However, as Jacobs says, “When will the president speak with the voice of an abolitionist nation, which he leads? We cannot tolerate the enslavement of black women and children. He should tell the UN and the Organization of African Unity to protect those villages—or we will give them the wherewithal to defend themselves against slavery and slaughter.”
You speak to him too, Hillary.
And what does our compassionate conservative mayor have to say about slavery in Sudan?