For two years, since 1999, Dr Eric Reeves, an English teacher at Smith College in Massachusetts, has been active in seeking to disrupt the Sudanese oil project, focusing particularly upon Western involvement in that industry. A specific target of his has been the only Western company involved, Talisman Energy of Canada: Reeves is seeking to force the company to leave Sudan. In the course of this campaign Dr Reeves has written dozens of articles making serious allegations about events within Sudan, and especially the Sudanese oil industry. On examination many of these claims have fallen apart at the seams, in some instances appearing to be nothing more than the disinformation so often associated with war, and particularly civil war. This clearly reflects on his research skills, and his reputation therefore as an academic. Dr Reeves' obvious shortcomings also reflect badly on the reputation of Smith College, an institution previously noted for the high caliber of its staff, research and teaching. Of even more concern perhaps has been the abusiveness and ungentlemanly coarseness he has shown in responding to measured criticisms of his activity. These also reflect badly on Smith College, particularly as he has used Smith College as an address and they have been published by Smith College's own email facilities.
Dr Reeves' arrogance is immediately apparent. Sudan is one of the poorest countries in the developing world, a country wracked with famine, disease and civil conflict. Sudan's oil revenues, which are closely monitored by the IMF, offer a way out of all three of these difficulties. Yet Dr Reeves, a well-fed, middle-class white American believes that the black and brown people of Sudan should not be able to benefit from their own natural resources, and that their oil industry should be smothered, inaccurately claiming its revenues are paying for the war. In so doing he has single-handedly managed to revive the image of the "Ugly American" within the developing world. (1) His long distance commentaries, and the demands he makes within them, are in stark contrast to the reality of events and attitudes within Sudan and the region.
Firstly, his main allegation, that the Sudanese government has displaced all the population around the oil fields, "orchestrating a ferocious scorched-earth policy in the area of the oil fields and pipelines" (2) and that "[h]uge swaths of land around the oil fields and pipelines are presently cleared of all human life and sustenance" (3) has been comprehensively refuted by a detailed analysis of satellite pictures taken over a number of years of the very areas of Sudan about which Dr Reeves makes his assertions. Presumably at least in part in response to these claims, Talisman Energy commissioned a leading British satellite imagery analysis company, Kalagate Imagery Bureau, to study a series of satellite photographs taken of oil concession areas in Sudan. The images analysed by the Kalagate Imagery Bureau included military and civilian satellite images collected over several years. Ground resolution in the images varied between about three feet and 10 feet. (4) The images were analysed by Geoffrey Oxlee, a former head of the United Kingdom Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre and Britain's leading expert in the field. (5) Mr Oxlee stated: "there is no evidence of appreciable human migration from any of the seven sites examined." (6) On the contrary, he further stated that analysis revealed that "once the sites were developed, then people did come into the area, and in fact it looked as if people developed around the oil sites rather than going away from it." (7) He further stated that he is prepared to stand by his conclusions in court, if needed. It is inconceivable that massive "scorched earth" displacement on the scale repeatedly claimed by Reeves would not have been immediately noticeable in the satellite pictures studied. Responding to Dr Reeves' somewhat lame suggestions that the images may have been tampered with, Mr Oxlee stated that the satellite photographs examined "are genuine pictures. Having looked at hundreds of thousands of satellite pictures, there's no way these pictures have been doctored. Absolutely none. We check these things out." (8)
Secondly, Dr Reeves' claims that oil revenues are buying weapons spending has been contradicted by, amongst others, the British government, which has publicly stated that they did not "have any evidence of such expenditure". (9)
In his attempts to undermine the Sudanese oil industry, and particularly to force the withdrawal of the Canadian company, Dr Reeves is demonstrably out of step with opposition opinion within Sudan itself. In June 2001, for example, The Washington Post reported in an article entitled 'Activists in Sudan Fear Loss of Western Oil Firms' Influence' that human rights activists within Sudan "emphasize that as long as the companies involved are Western, their concerns about corporate citizenship provide valuable leverage to ...many critics. Talisman Energy, the Canadian firm...has quietly pressed human rights concerns on a Sudanese government over which the West has little other influence, the opposition figures say." The paper quoted key Sudanese human rights and opposition activist Ghazi Suleiman: "If Talisman were to pull out of Sudan, this doesn't mean the oil business will come to an end. Talisman will be replaced by some company". Suleiman said that any replacement company will be less interested than Talisman in the Sudanese people. The Washington Post also reported that Suleiman credited Talisman's presence with some of the freedoms now enjoyed by opposition parties in Sudan. Another voice on the issue has been that of Alfred Taban, himself from southern Sudan. Taban, the publisher of Sudan's only independent English language newspaper, stated that Talisman has acknowledged some of the difficulties the oil project has brought with it: "The way forward is not to take away companies that admit some of this is going on and have been working to try to end some of that abuse." (10) It should be noted that both Suleiman and Taban have been held in prison for periods of time, and are infinitely closer to the reality of events within Sudan than Dr Reeves will ever be, writing as he does from a comfortable office thousands of miles away.
Dr Reeves' demands also bring him into direct conflict with the other countries within the Horn of Africa region. Although he has never visited Sudan, his arrogance apparently leads him to believe that he knows not only what is in the best interests of the Sudanese people, but that he also knows what is in the best interests of peoples of the Horn of Africa. His campaign to stop Sudanese oil production would not only destabilise Sudan economically but also several of its neighbours. Ethiopia and Kenya are but two examples. Sudan is to provide Ethiopia with 85 percent of its oil requirements, saving the weak Ethiopian economy millions of dollars which would otherwise have been paid for imports from outside Africa. Ethiopia intends to build a fuel depot inside Sudan to ensure a steady supply of oil and kerosene by road. (11) Ethiopia, recovering from its devastating war with Eritrea, has built up ever closer economic links with Sudan. (12) Kenya, is also set to import
crude oil from Sudan. (13)
Several measured, scholarly criticisms of Dr Reeves' approach, methodology and especially the sources he has relied upon for his claims have been published and republished. (14) Quite simply, anyone examining Reeves' material on Sudan hoping to find the calibre of work one would expect from a professor of English at a reputable institution such as Smith College will be disappointed. It is the standard of work one would expect from a naive and excitable undergraduate. Dr Reeves' choice of sources has been particularly poor. Far from demonstrating the objectivity, discernment and research skills one would have expected from a Smith College professor, he has embraced very questionable sources. He has, for example, unreservedly relied upon claims made by one side to the Sudanese conflict, namely, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA). The New York Times, a vigorous critic of the Sudanese government, has said of the SPLA that they "have behaved like an
occupying army, killing, raping and pillaging." (15) The New York Times has also described the SPLA leader John Garang as one of Sudan's "pre-eminent war criminals". (16) It would be akin to unreservedly relying on Slobodan Milosevic as the source on events in Yugoslavia and Kosovo. With regard to the SPLA's reliability as a source of information, Dr Peter Nyaba, a SPLA national executive council member, has described the SPLA's "sub-culture of lies, misinformation, cheap propaganda and exhibitionism" vividly: "Much of what filtered out of the SPLM/A propaganda machinery...was about 90% disinformation or things concerned with the military combat, mainly news about the fighting which were always efficaciously exaggerated." (17)
Dr Reeves has also on several occasions cited South African Derek Hammond as one of his sources on events in Sudan. (18) Hammond heads the South African-based 'Faith-in-Action' organisation, and can only but be described as a Christian fundamentalist Islamophobe. At one stage his website overtly championed the "Christian" fight against "the evil of Islam", referring to the "anti-Christian religion of Islam." (19) And. more recently, in one of his publications Dr Reeves posted material published by a British magazine calling itself Searchlight. He chose to refer to Searchlight as a "British investigative publication". A British Magistrate in a court of law preferred to describe Searchlight as "scurrilous and disreputable" and denounced its attempts to incite "racial violence", "disorder and public violence". (20)
Dr Reeves' questionable choice of sources was also demonstrated in his seeming acceptance of the outlandish London Sunday Telegraph newspaper story that China was deploying 700,000 soldiers to Sudan to protect Chinese interests in the Sudanese oil project. (21) Reeves called it an "explosive report" stating "it is highly doubtful that the report comes from thin air, or that important sources are not behind it." (22) When asked about this allegation, however, the British government stated that "We have no evidence of the presence of any Chinese soldiers in Sudan, let alone the figure of 700,000 alleged in one press report". (23) Even the Clinton Administration, as hostile as it was to the Sudanese authorities, dismissed the claims, stating that even "the figure of tens of thousands of troops is just not credible based on information available to us". (24) Dr Reeves' judgement with regard to sources was once again clear for all to see. These above cited are just a few of the questionable sources upon which Dr Reeves has based his campaign which has in turn misled others.
Dr Reeves' responses to measured and doubtlessly sincere critiques of his claims on Sudan have been unscholarly to say the least. In April 2001, Sven Bankel, a 60 year-old Swedish IT consultant, publicly queried some of Reeves' statements. (25) In an astonishingly boorish response, entitled A Reply from Eric Reeves to a Very Foolish and Nasty Man, Sven Bankel, Reeves called Mr Bankel an "ugly soul" and stated "I must say I smell the odor of the distinctly humanly inept". (26) He also said that Mr Bankel's criticisms were "so obtuse, so illogical, so ignorant" and referred to Mr Bankel as "very foolish... exceptionally foolish and ill-informed", also describing him as a "befuddled Swede". Reeves sought to dismiss Mr Bankel's concerns about his claims as a "fatuous and mindlessly tendentious bit of mental drool". Perhaps even more boorish was Reeves' mocking of Mr Bankel's use of English. He stated that Mr Bankel's English was "execrable", that he had "a painfully difficult time with English punctuation rules", and that his English rose "only occasionally to the status of the fully serviceable". Reeves did concede that English was not Mr Bankel's native language but was "simply the one he has chosen to butcher". For someone teaching at a college such as Smith Reeves shows remarkably little finesse or polish. This coarseness has sadly been all too typical. Dr Reeves' vulgar behaviour also extends to referring to other scholarly criticisms of his research skills and methodology as "farts in the wind". (27) All in all it is hard to imagine more ungentlemanly and unacademic behaviour or a clearer example
of bad manners, all using the Smith College address and published via email@example.com , the Smith College email facility.
It is clear that Smith College has already shown some unease with criticisms of Dr Reeves' Sudan activity. In February 2001, for example, the college chose to block all European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council queries about, or critiques of, his work from reaching Dr Reeves and others at the college. Smith College's commitment to free speech is therefore in some question. Is Smith College also going to try and cover up Mr Reeves' abusive attitude towards foreigners?
It can safely be said that Dr Reeves is not the best product of the American educational system. His work on Sudan has been remarkably unscholarly. There is much, however, that can be forgiven in life. Weak research and arrogance (never a good combination) are to be found in academic life from time to time. What is far less forgivable are bad manners. Dr Reeves' boorishness and vulgarity reflect on himself, his upbringing, his alma mater and very much, of course, on Smith College's reputation as a very selective, elite teacher of young ladies. There are several questions which must be asked of Smith College, especially given the fact that Mr Reeves continues to make extensive use both of Smith College's email facilities and his office within the College.
* Does Smith College wish to continue to be associated with Mr Reeves' poorly researched campaign on Sudan?
* Does Smith College wish to continue to associate itself with the conceited view that well-fed white middle-class people living in comfortable affluence know what is in the best interests of underdeveloped countries in Africa?
* Is Smith College comfortable with the unscholarly approach taken by Dr Reeves with regard to his Sudan "work" given that the college continues to be closely identified with his work, not least of which because he continues to use the College's address and have free use of Smith College's email facilities?
* Does Smith College agree with its facilities being used to belittle foreigners because of their command of English, or to articulate uncouth responses to measured scholarly criticism of his stance?
Should Smith College not at the very least require that Dr Reeves uses e-mail facilities of his own with which to further his clearly questionable campaign and through which to send his abusive and lewd comments?
1 See, The Return of the "Ugly American": Eric Reeves and Sudan, The European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council, London, November 2000.
2 'Investors Fuel Humanitarian Crisis in Sudan', The Catholic New Times, Toronto, 31 October 1999.
3 Eric Reeves, 'Silence on Sudan', The Chicago Tribune, 29 July 1999.
4 'Talisman Fights Back on Sudan Displacement Claims Releases Aerial Images', The Financial Post, Toronto, 19 April 2001.
5 It should be noted that Mr Oxlee retired from the Royal Air Force with the rank of Group Captain (in American terms a full Colonel). He has 45 years experience as an analyst and is the author of Aerospace Reconnaissance, (published by Brasseys in 1997). Mr Oxlee is a member of the Royal Aeronautical Society and the Institute of Expert Witnesses. He lectured at the United Kingdom School of Photographic Interpretation for six years.
6 'Talisman Energy Says Study Disproves Sudan Allegations', Dow Jones Newswire, 18 April 2001.
7 'Talisman Fights Back on Sudan Displacement Claims Releases Aerial Images', The Financial Post, Toronto, 19 April 2001.
8 'Talisman Fights Back on Sudan Displacement Claims Releases Aerial Images', The Financial Post, Toronto, 19 April 2001.
9 House of Lords Official Record, Written Answer, 22 March 2000, column WA28; also see Written Answers on 11 January 2000 and 23 March 2000.
10 'Activists in Sudan Fear Loss of Western Oil Firms' Influence', The Washington Post, 24 June 2001.
11 'Sudan Becomes Key Oil Provider', United Nations Integrated Regional Information Network, 29 June 2001. Also see 'Ethiopian-Sudanese Oil Cooperation', News Article by ArabicNews.com on 24 June 2001, and 'Ethiopia to Buy Fuel from Sudan', The Addis Tribune, 23 February 2001.
12 See, for example, 'Ethiopia Wants Economic Ties with Sudan Strengthened', News Article by the Panafrican News Agency on 28 February 2001.
13 'Kenya to Import Oil from Sudan', News Article by Xinhua News Agency on 5 July 2001.
14 See, for example, Eric Reeves' "Reporting Credibility" on Sudan Devastated by Reuters Report, European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council, London, 16 February 2001; Eric Reeves, The World Food Programme and Displacement, European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council, London, 23 February 2001; Allegations of Oil Development Displacement Assessed Against Independent Sources, European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council, London, March 2001; Eric Reeves' Credibility on Sudan Further Damaged by British Satellite Picture Analysis of Sudanese Oil Fields, Media Monitors Network, May 2001; Eric Reeves Against Africa, Media Monitors Network, May 2001; Eric Reeves, Sudan, Displacement and Double Standards, European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council, London, 15 June 2001
15 'Misguided Relief to Sudan', Editorial, The New York Times, 6 December, 1999.
16 'Misguided Relief to Sudan', Editorial, The New York Times, 6 December, 1999.
17 Peter Nyaba, The Politics of Liberation in South Sudan: An Insider's View, Fountain Publishers, Kampala, 1997.
18 Eric Reeves, 'An Up-Dated Report on the Government of Sudan Attack on the Elementary School in Upper Kaoda', 25 February 2000.
19 'African Christian Faith in Action', http://www.liaafrica.org . Hammond's exaggerations are obvious: he also claimed that "Christians make up...over 80% of Southern Sudan." (This figure should be compared with the figures of 10-15 percent carried in official American government studies, Economist Intelligence Unit briefings or Human Rights Watch material).
20 The Birmingham Evening Mail, England, 31 December 1976.
21 'China Puts "700,000 Troops" on Sudan Alert', The Sunday Telegraph, London, 26 August 2000.
22 Eric Reeves, 'China "Flexing Its Muscle" in Sudan: Its
time for SEMA!', Smith College, 30 August 2000.
23 House of Lords Hansard, Written Parliamentary Answer,
5 March 2001, column WA 10.
24 'U.S.: Reports of China's Role in Sudanese War Are Overstated', News Article by UPI on 29 August 2000.
25 Sven Bankel, Christian Aid and the Eighth Commandment, April 2001.
26 Eric Reeves, A Reply from Eric Reeves to a Very Foolish
and Nasty Man, Sven Bankel, Smith College, 10 May 2001,
27 Such was his e-mailed response to Another Reeves' 'Own
Goal': Dr David Hoile Responds to Dr Eric Reeves, The European-Sudanese
Affairs Council, London, 22 June 2001.