Uprising in Sudan: What we know now (November 4, 2013)

Economic Realities: The engine of discontent (Part 2)

By Eric Reeves

November 4, 2013 (SSNA) — Over the past month the fierce uprising that began in Sudan in late September has largely been quelled by the Khartoum regime’s brutal security forces.  Ruthless intimidation by these forces makes it difficult to imagine a moment of similar explosiveness in the near future, though it is certainly possible.  The “shoot to kill” orders given by the regime—resulting in as many as 300 civilians killed and several times that many wounded or injured—were quickly recognized as such by demonstrators, who responded with well-justified caution subsequently.  Estimates of those arrested range as high as 2,000.  Those thought to be potential leaders were targeted most aggressively.  International news coverage—which lasted for only about a week following the regime’s lifting of fuel subsidies—disappeared.  Politically significant and personally courageous efforts at essential reform in Sudan where either invisible or quickly dismissed.  The regime also ensured that there was a shut-down of all domestic news sources that might be useful to those seeking to depose them.

Should there be another uprising, it is likely to move very quickly with a much clearer sense of strategy and a well-articulated, unifying platform.  Social media were under-utilized by Sudanese, despite early indications that it might be a potent means of sustaining the uprising; this will likely change as well, following the savage suppression that made so much of Khartoum, Omdurman, and other cities danger zones.  At the same time, we may be equally sure that the effort to put down any new actions will be just as bloody and heartless.  Recent statements by National Islamic Front/ National Congress Party President Omar al-Bashir have strongly suggested that demonstrators were and are an extension of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF)—the armed rebel coalition seeking regime change.  By extension, al-Bashir made it clear that demonstrators would be treated as would enemies on the military battlefield, where “shoot to kill” is the norm:

The Sudanese president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir has pledged to beat off those whom he described as saboteurs, arms bearers, bandits and infiltrators before the end of this year and accused them of leaking information to the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutors. (Sudan Tribune, October 26, 2013) (all emphases in cited passages have been added)

The mood in Khartoum and elsewhere in Sudan seems to many to be sullen, resentful, angry—and wary.  This of course is not an adequate characterization of Darfur, where active rebellion continues and human security remains in free-fall; violence affects the entire region, bringing humanitarian operations to the point of precipitous withdrawal.  Yet another aid worker, the fourth this year, was killed on October 23 (Agence France-Presse [Khartoum], October 31, 2013).  Chaos now prevails, leaving those in the displaced persons camps most vulnerable.  Rape, murder, violent land appropriation, arson, brutal extortion schemes, and savage banditry are the order of the day.  The Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) continue their relentless campaign of aerial bombardment against civilian targets, primarily in the Jebel Marra region (see September 2013 update to “‘They Bombed Everything that Moved: Aerial Attacks on Civilians and Humanitarians in Sudan, 1999 – 2013,"  www.sudanbombing.org).  The UN/African Union “hybrid” mission (UNAMID) remains completely impotent, both as a protection and reporting force.  It is presently little more than the international fig-leaf for the terrible and precedent-setting failure in Darfur of the notional “responsibility to protect” endangered civilians, regardless of claims of national sovereignty (§138, §139, UN World Summit Outcome Document, September 2005).

South Kordofan and Blue Nile also remain victims of Khartoum’s ruthless aerial campaign of civilian destruction, a campaign that continues without meaningful challenge from the international community.  The humanitarian embargo on aid humanitarian assistance to civilians in rebel-held territories in the two states continues, and the number of people facing dangerous levels of malnutrition rises ominously.  Nuba Reports continues to report with great regularity and detail on the consequences of indiscriminate aerial attacks as well as deliberate attacks on civilians in the Nuba Mountains.

As they have for years, humanitarian conditions in eastern Sudan continue to be appalling, though rarely discussed by the international community, in part because of Khartoum’s severe restrictions on access to both news organizations and humanitarian relief operations.  Seven international organizations were expelled without meaningful explanation in May 2012).  Unsurprisingly, a rebel group from the eastern states (Red Sea, Kassala, and Gedaref) recently joined the SRF.

This is hardly a country at peace with itself, or lacking in the volatile elements of uprising, armed or otherwise.

There have been a number of commentaries on the situation over the past month, a few of them useful.  Those that are most cogent and persuasive put at the center of their argument a basic fact: the Sudanese economy continues to implode, and there is nothing to halt that implosion.  This is already translating into terms that are felt on a daily basis by average citizens of Khartoum and riverine Sudan: inflation continues to grow, despite official figures; food and fuel are especially affected by recent developments, including the lifting of fuel subsidies by the regime, which sparked the late September uprising.  Foreign investment is drying up, and that process is likely to accelerate in the wake of the revelation by India’s ONGV that Khartoum has defaulted on four payments due for oil production investment, most recently in December 2012 (Sudan Tribune, November 2, 2013).

Frequently it seems that those assessing the Sudanese economy have failed to connect important dots.  Perhaps the pattern is clearest if we look first at the sharp deterioration in the agricultural sector under the NIF/NCP; this has led to the need for massive imports of food, particularly wheat; 200 million tons of wheat will alone cost the regime some US$900 million this year.  With a rapidly dwindling supply of foreign exchange currency (Forex), purchases of all sorts have become more difficult, and frequently impossible; fertilizer imports may soon become a casualty.  At the same time, the NIF/NCP is mortgaging Sudan’s future by selling agricultural land and land rights to Arab and Asian companies seeking to ensure their own food security.  There could hardly be a more short-sighted agricultural policy.  Given the enormous agricultural potential the country possessed at the time of the NIF coup in June 1989, this severe decline may be the single most consequential legacy of economic mismanagement by the regime.  And its consequences are part of what energizes a popular uprising that if temporarily quiet, will certainly burst out again.

It is too rarely mentioned that Khartoum contributes virtually nothing to the vast amounts of food needed for humanitarian operations in Darfur, whose people are all Sudanese.  Indeed, al-Bashir recently gave a particularly pungent assessment of the response he expects to be given to Western relief organizations, this during a speech in North Kordofan: “If a white man brings you relief, don’t take it and whip him on his back” (Sudan Tribune, October 25, 2013). The fact that so many millions of people in Sudan depend to a greater or lesser extent on this “white man’s relief” seems of no concern to al-Bashir.  Perhaps this explains why last year his regime expelled seven “white man’s relief” organizations from eastern Sudan, where malnutrition levels are chronically extremely high—over the past decade—perhaps the highest in all of Sudan. A more global picture of Sudan as a whole is captured all too well in the UN’s Work Plan for Sudan (2013):

Even during periods of stabilized prices and steady supplies, and not counting those affected directly by conflict, more than 3 million people in various regions of Sudan have neither sufficient productive resources, nor the purchasing power and ability to acquire food through traditional coping mechanisms, nor access to safety net programmes. (“Sudan: United Nations and Partners Work Plan, 2013“)

These are the fruits of twenty-four years of NIF/NCP gross economic mismanagement of a nation rich in natural resources.  When will these desperate realities re-ignite the uprising?  When will remembering that so many were deliberately killed and wounded as security forces followed lethal “shoot to kill” orders become intolerable?  When will there be no “security” sufficient to deter larger, more determined, and better organized popular efforts?  Will the move to support the SRF become more pronounced, as violence comes to seem the only way to remove the brutal tyrants?  Will there be a mutiny within the middle officer ranks of the SAF, many deeply unhappy with recent events and the persistence of the generals in pursuing war in three regions of the country?  Will there be riots over food shortages?  This past week reports of a lack of bread in the capital made their way rapidly through the streets.  We may be sure that there will be no secrets about the impact of past economic policies on current food prices and the general cost of living.

It should be noted in this context that we have no way of knowing the extent to which the financial fruits of decades of graft and theft have been moved out of Sudan by those senior regime officials able to do so.  The son of oil minister Awad al-Jaz was widely reported to have been stopped in Dubai Airport with bags of $10 million in cash.  No doubt some of this cash found its way into the pockets of Dubai officials, who allowed al-Jaz to proceed, thus encouraging more officials to use this small country as an exit portal for wealth, some of staggering proportion.  Associated Press reports from Khartoum (October 6, 2013): “U.S. diplomatic cables revealed by Wikileaks, the anti-secrecy website, said al-Bashir has stashed $9 billion in London banks.”  One would think this might be of considerable concern to British authorities, given the indictment of al-Bashir by the International Criminal Court on multiple charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Once the flight of wealth begins, it will prompt others to move their wealth abroad by any means possible; it is unlikely these movements will be apparent, and may be accelerating even now.  For the shambles that is the Sudanese economy will only deteriorate further.  I analyzed in some detail the causes of the economic wreckage (October 9, 2013), but even in the intervening weeks we have learned much of significance beyond the revelation that Khartoum defaulted on payments due to India’s ONGV.

External Debt

Presidential advisor and long-time NIF/NCP survivor Nafie Ali Nafie, representing Sudan at a development conference in Azerbaijan, an appropriately repressive country in its own right (see Human Rights Report for 2012), revealed Khartoum’s frustration at the world’s unwillingness to help the regime deal with its crushing punishing debt load, now (according to the IMF) up to US$45.6 billion: “Sudan’s presidential assistant, Nafie Ali Nafie, has accused unnamed western countries of using its influence within the World Bank to prevent Sudan from obtaining its rights and pressing other countries to not cooperate with Sudan” (Sudan Tribune, November 2, 2013).

Given the regime’s continuing and highly profligate military expenditures, its manifest incompetence in managing the economy, the extent to which the agricultural sector has declined during the same time this debt was being accrued, Nafie’s frustration seems thoroughly misplaced.  Certainly Khartoum has no “rights,” as Nafie would have it; they have obligations, none of which they have lived up to.  To be sure, the International Monetary Fund has always been a soft touch for the regime (see October 12, 2013 analysis of this perversely enabling relationship); but the reality is that the Paris Club members who could provide the debt relief the regime seeks are under considerable political pressure not to assist a ruthless gang of génocidaires, leaving aside the inclinations of the IMF.

It would be of considerable political significance if those members of the Paris Club with most power declared collectively that debt relief for Sudan will not be considered until there is a dramatic opening and democratization of political space in Sudan, and the wars of attrition against civilians in Darfur, Blue Nile, and South Kordofan are ended completely.  All bombing of civilian targets—and thus all use of the highly indiscriminate Antonov “bombers”—must cease.

Simply to enumerate these basis conditions should signal to Khartoum that it has no hope of debt relief, even as such a declaration would place—visibly—a fully appropriate opprobrium on this criminal regime.

In this context it is particularly dismaying to hear from Washington sources confirmation of a story in Sudan Vision (October 24, 2013):

A delegation from a U.S. company met on Tuesday with officials in Sudan’s Gezira state to discuss investment opportunities in the field of agriculture. According to Sudan official news agency (SUNA) the U.S. company identified as “Treasure Resource” expressed particular interest in cultivating new varieties of wheat over an area 1,000 acres in the first stage as well as establishing new mills.”

And Sudan Tribune reports (October 10, 2013) that Foreign Minister Ali Karti, after his meetings with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, “pointed out that several US companies which applied for licenses to operate in Sudan were granted, which he said is an indicator that investments and commercial relations could overcome political difficulties.”

This would seem to be borne out by a development reported by the Sudan Tribune on November 3, 2013:

White Nile Sugar Company announced on Sunday (November 3, 2013) that it has signed an agreement with the US-based General Electric (GE) by which it will receive parts and services for its billion-dollar sugar plant. 

The economic sanctions put in place by previous administrations and the Congress seem to have become irrelevant by means of “technical adjustments” to the restrictions supposedly enforced by the U.S. of Foreign Assets Control.  The Obama administration has sold its soul in dealing with a regime that candidate and President Obama had previously accused of “genocide” in Darfur, where of course terribly destructive ethnic violence continues to this day, having escalated significantly during the time since senior officials of the Obama administration simply “de-coupled” Darfur from the main bilateral issue between Washington and Khartoum (November 2010). We begin to see more clearly that U.S. investment interests—despite a raft of Congressional and presidential sanctions—are now being put in service of cultivating a more prolific counter-terrorism intelligence relationship.  Perhaps this stealth rapprochement also explains the bland nature of U.S. comments on continuing, deliberate aerial attacks on civilians, as well as the brutally cruel humanitarian embargo imposed on the people in rebel-held territories of Blue Nile and South Kordofan. If we had any doubt, there can be little now that the Obama administration Sudan policy is sailing without a moral compass (see “U.S. Counter-terrorism in Lieu of Foreign Policy: the Case of Sudan,” 29 October 2013, Sudan Tribunehttp://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article48616).

What is clear is that Khartoum’s annual balance of trade deficit continues to be enormous and—without greater revenue from transit fees for oil from South Sudan—will only grow.  Remittances from Sudanese workers abroad provide over US$1 billion per year (see discussion of emigration below); but Reuters reports that the annual goods and services trade deficit is estimated by the IMF (no doubt conservatively) at US$6.7 billion (Khartoum, May 15, 2013).  This is completely unsustainable, even if a great deal more of the export gold the NIF/NCP lusts after could be extracted.

Food Shortages

If people are without food, they soon lose fear as well.  Sudan Tribune  (October 23, 2013) reports:

Large parts of the Sudanese capital, Khartoum have been witnessing a shortage in bread over the past few days apparently due to an increase in the  cost of production following removal of government subsidies on cooking gas cylinders. Last September, violent clashes erupted between demonstrators and security forces in different parts of the country following Khartoum’s decision to lift fuel subsidies leading to at least 70 deaths according to official figures and more than a 200 according to activists, human rights groups, and opposition. Cooking gas cylinders are now priced at 25 pounds ($5.68) from 15 pounds ($3.40)…. [Khartoum residents] also complained that several flour mills have cut production while some bakeries are selling their flour quotas into the black market.

We may be sure these price increases have not yet made their way fully into either the regime’s or the IMF’s calculations of inflation for the country. Moreover such market distortions as have been introduced with the precipitous increase in fuel prices—part of the IMF’s “austerity plan” for Sudan—can have highly unpredictable and destructive economic consequences.

Khartoum’s response when food crises become inescapably obvious is to blame others.  In a particularly vehement outburst, the regime’s Secretary General of the General Administration for Protection of Plantation, Khidir Gibreel, declared revealingly:

[The UN Food and Agriculture Organization] FAO is plagued with politics. He singled out FAO’s Executive Secretary of the Commission for Controlling the Desert Locust in the Central Region Mamoon Alalawi, whom he said is leading the conspiracy. Gibreel said that Sudan will seek to have Alalawi removed from his post over his hostile stance against Sudan. He said that his position is backed by the federal agricultural minister and the president. He claimed that Alalawi blocked a $25 million grant from Saudi Arabia in the form of vehicles and other equipments.  Furthermore, the FAO official sent a spying device to Sudan that is disguised as one used for locust control.

Locusts swarmed across Sudan from the East and moved into Egypt and Israel since last month prompting emergency measures from farmers and governments alike. The head of the pro-government Sudanese Journalists Union Moyideen Titawi suggested in an op-ed last month that Israel is behind the locusts which attacked the country. ”I don’t rule out much that the first and last enemy of our country and our people and our products Israel and its agents [had a hand] in the launch of this scourge on our country in order to impoverish us and strike our production of food, especially wheat, beans, pulses and dates.”  (Sudan Tribune, March 10, 2013)

Rabid ideology will not feed people, and here only makes the regime look powerless to address problems that are of longstanding and may be expected again in the future.

The Long-term Future of Agriculture Looks Grim

If the regime continues to sell or lease or “allocate” prime arable land to non-Sudanese investors, the consequences will be dire.  The money gained now—enriching regime officials and only secondarily helping a crumbling economy—works to mortgage Sudan’s economic future and ensures that food shortages will become endemic. Reuters recently reported (October 26, 2013; translation from the Egypt Independent):

Sudan’s Investment Authority has allocated an area of approximately two million acres for agricultural projects run by Arabs investors, namely from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Qatar and Lebanon. Sudani Investment Minister Sadiq Muhammad Ali said in a Friday statement on Friday that the authority granted investment holdings in the states of River Nile and Kassala, Shamaliya, Kordofan and Sennar.

There are other telling reports.  Some of the worst problems in the agricultural sector are a function of the attitudes of a regime that simply doesn’t care about its people, or the investments required to provide sufficient food.  One telling example:

The Strategic Reserves department at the Agricultural Bank of Sudan (ABS) has acknowledged that the lack of storage capacity in the country has resulted in losing a quarter of grain production in the country. The department’s director at the ABS Fadul Hassan Mohamed, disclosed that 25% of grain production was damaged due to poor storage. (May 11, 2013, Sudan Tribune)

A lengthy dispatch by the Sudan Tribune (March 11, 2013) on the failing Gezira agricultural project depicts especially well how the broader agricultural sector has been betrayed by this self-enriching, profoundly corrupt regime:

The governor of Sudan’s Gezira state al-Zubair Bashir Taha slammed a government law adopted in 2005, saying it has done nothing to improve productivity of the country’s largest agricultural scheme that contains one of the world’s biggest irrigation projects. The Gezira project, which includes over 2 million feddans of land by the Blue and White Nile rivers and employs 130,000 farmers, traces its origins to British colonial times. It initially developed land for cotton through a system of canals. There has long been a struggle between farmers and the government over ownership of the land, as Khartoum wants to ensure it has control over the project in order to make it subject to its economic and agricultural policies.

The Gezira governor, who addressed a committee tasked with evaluating the project, said that seven years after the law was enacted there has been no improvement in productivity, which has led to increased unemployment and displacement of entire families due to the closure of textile mills and other factories that were benefiting from the project. He urged the government to either annul or amend the law, which he said hit production of cotton and other crops compared to the pre-law period. Taha also criticised the fact that the Gezira project’s administrators are not accountable to a higher body, as well as the non-existence of a general assembly to govern it. He proposed giving his state a stake in the project in terms of administration and overseeing it and noted that the scheme has not benefited from development loans received by the country over the years.

The Sudanese government has long pledged to bring about a turnaround  in the project in order to make it the breadbasket of the country and beyond. But farmers say none of that has come to pass due to spiralling production costs which have eaten into their margins, with many were jailed over outstanding debt. Observers say that the eroding value of the Sudanese pound has also raised the cost of imports such as fertilisers and other materials.

“There has long been a struggle between farmers and the government over ownership of the land as Khartoum wants to ensure it has control over the project in order to make it subject to its economic and agricultural policies.”  What this really means is that the regime wants to retain control of revenues and to be able to use the Gezira project, indeed all agricultural projects, as a means of rewarding its legion of business and political cronies.

Macroeconomic Trends

There are larger developments that will govern the particular economic issues discussed above.  For example, the IMF, despite being a soft touch for Khartoum, has decided to use as a small stick public acknowledgement that Sudan’s external debt as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will have increased from 82.2 per cent in 2012 to 87.6 per cent in 2013—a very hefty increase indeed. Generally, however, the IMF seems determined to do whatever it takes to secure debt relief for Khartoum, even if it means misrepresenting Sudan’s past economic performance.  Edward Gemayel, the IMF’s Mission Chief for Sudan, declared recently that “Sudan has a long track record of implementing sustainable economic policies” (IMF – International Monetary Fund: Press Release: Sudan—Meeting of the Technical Working Group on External Debt, 10/12/2013, Press Release No. 13/404).  This absurd assessment is dangerous on many levels—not least as a characterization of the “economic policies” that, in fact, generated US$45.6 billion in external debt.  One may only surmise that a politicized IMF can no longer serve as a neutral arbiter in cases such as Sudan, or even speak the truth.

Khartoum’s Forex problems will not go away anytime soon; indeed, what Forex remains is rapidly diminishing and the only question is how many weeks are left before it exhausts this small reserve (the IMF estimated four weeks ago (October 7) that the Central Bank of Sudan had only eight weeks of Forex in reserve.  When the Forex is exhausted, and Khartoum has no hard currency with which to pay creditors or to buy imported goods or products, the Pound will plummet and inflation will skyrocket.  Qatar reportedly deposited US$1 billion in the Central Bank of Sudan in early October in an effort to stabilize exchange rates; we should remember, however, that Qatar has reneged on its financial commitments to Sudan in the past: this present helpful gesture may be truly only for show.  The Sudanese Pound continues its relentless decline, compounding a number of problems, including inflation and the ability to import (no one wants to be paid in a currency in free-fall, and the “Qatar stratagem” was probably irresistible).  But as the Sudan Tribune reports (October 7, 2013):

Some observers accuse the government of deliberately feeding false news on Forex receipts in a bid to scare the black market into selling its Forex holdings to ease pressure on the local currency. The Sudanese pound is now trading at 7.8 to the dollar on the black market which sharply contrasts the official exchange rate of 4.4 but still lower than 8.2 reached over the last few weeks.

Notably, the IMF is urging even stricter fiscal policies on the regime (what it calls “adjustment efforts”); and this means that, in addition to ending fuel and other subsidies, there must be deep spending cuts (“most of the adjustment efforts will need to focus on reducing expenditures”).  Yet one Sudanese economist estimates that expenditures in 2013 have actually increased by 18 percent over 2012.  This is not entirely surprising given the commitment exactly a year ago, made by the Khartoum Parliament at the direction of regime officials and senior military figures:

The Sudanese parliament revealed on Sunday that the country’s military budget will be increased next year to strengthen the army’s defense capabilities as criticism grows over the failure to respond to an Israeli airstrike that allegedly destroyed an arms factory in the capital Khartoum last month. (Sudan Tribune, November 5, 2013)

This translated into the purchase of a number—perhaps a dozen—Sukhoi SU-24 ground attack planes, with advanced guidance systems, as well as a number of other expensive weapons systems, both air and ground.  It is not clear how this comports with the IMF’s Gemayel in his assessment that “Sudan has a long track record of implementing sustainable economic policies.” 

Gemayel’s account, disingenuously benign and deeply expedient, seems content to ignore the more pressing problems confronting Sudan’s economy.  Having squandered more than a decade of large-scale oil revenues (1999 – 2011)—all petroleum exports were paid for in hard currency or in kind—the regime is now without the Forex to facilitate even critical purchases (the IMF was supposedly monitoring Khartoum’s economic performance as oil revenues came on line; it failed miserably—see October 12, 2013 analysis).  In March of this year, suggesting how relentless the problem has become, “Sudan’s largest flour company has been forced to cut its production by 50% because of foreign currency shortage,” according to research by Sudan Tribune:

Sayga Flour Mills, which is part of DAL Group, relies on Byblos Bank, Abu Dhabi National Bank and Saudi Sudanese Bank to provide Guarantee Letters for the purposes of importing wheat and other production items. Those banks informed Sayga that the Bank of Sudan did not inject the needed Forex supply in their accounts to issue new Guarantee Letters. (Sudan TribuneMarch 10, 2013)

This bespeaks mismanagement and a desperate currency shuffling that seem to have no part in the IMF narrative about Sudan.

The Near-term Future

In the near term, inflation will take an ever-increasing toll on average Sudanese people; the poor will suffer particularly.  The Sudanese pound, backed by no Forex, may soon become worthless in the international monetary system, with unpredictable and severe consequences for domestic inflation (as measured in January 2013, for example, year-over-year inflation for meat was 83.8 percent and 70.2 percent for transportSudan Tribune, January 2, 2013).  Real inflation is already over 50 percent according to economists not associated with the regime or the IMF, and given the additional inflationary pressures which are only now working their way fully into prices of basic commodities, hyper-inflation remains distinctly possible—destroying the currency completely, and the economy along with it.

One consequence of this economic implosion is an increasing exodus of those Sudanese with the means to leave.  A recent poll suggested that 54 percent of Sudanese wish to emigrate (Sudan Tribune, June 26, 2013).  Among these people are some of Sudan’s most talented and well-trained professionals and skilled workers of all sorts—precisely the people necessary for an economic revival.  Reuters reports that for lack of professional opportunities, “more than 6,000 doctors left for Saudi Arabia alone between 2009 and 2012" (Khartoum,  May 15).  Given the desperate health needs of so many millions of Sudanese, especially for primary health care, the irony could hardly be grimmer.  Agence France-Presse reported almost contemporaneously:

Nurses and other skilled health workers are also moving abroad as part of what [Dr. Al Shaikh Badr] called “massive migratory flows” of medical personnel. “The magnitude is of real concern to the Ministry of Health,” said Badr, the ministry’s deputy director general for human resource development. Low salaries are not the only reason for the flight, said Anshu Banerjee, the World Health Organisation’s representative in Sudan. “If the drugs are not there, if the instruments are not there, if you’re trained as a doctor and you don’t have the means to perform your profession, then of course, it becomes demotivating,” he said. Nationwide there were 1.3 health workers per 1,000 people in 2011, against the WHO benchmark of 2.3. ”I think it is hard to find one person in Sudan who is not tempted to work abroad,” said Badr. (Agence France-Presse [Khartoum], March 7, 2013)

The “drugs” and “instruments” are not there because they have not been of sufficient importance to the regime, whose senior officials typically fly abroad for serious medical treatment.  Increasingly there will be no Forex with which to purchase them, and then only the very rich will have access to real medical care.

The May 2013 Reuters dispatch also offered a broader account of the disposition to leave Sudan:

Analysts estimate unemployment is running at between 20 and 30 percent, although there is no official data. [The official rate of] annual inflation topped 41 percent in April and the Sudanese pound has more than halved in value against the dollar since South Sudan’s independence, making life unbearable for many. Nearly 95,000 Sudanese, from laborers to teachers, nurses and engineers, left the country last year compared to only 10,032 in 2008, according to official data. Some analysts say the number is even higher because travel movements are hard to monitor. Net migration contrasts with some other African countries, including South Sudan, that are seeing skilled professionals return home as the continent’s economic development and increasing foreign investment create career opportunities. (Reuters [Khartoum], May 15, 2013)

The regime has trotted out one official after another to speak about new development projects, new agricultural schemes, new and glowing possibilities all around.  President al-Bashir, First Vice-President Ali Osman Taha, Second Vice-President Mohammed Haj, and others have been stumping in the hinterlands in ways we have not seen before, making preposterous claims in all quarters: Mustafa Osman Ismail, Minister at the Higher Council for Investment, claimed that Sudan has “attracted more than $30 billion dollars from across the world” as part of its effort to “boost the investment sector” (Sudan Vision, October 6, 2013).  But for many Sudanese, such obvious mendacity is simply a sign of desperation and, far from assuaging concern, only increases fears that the times are becoming truly desperate.

Al-Bashir may “renew” yet again his “government pledge to implement development projects and provide health services, water, and education in the rural areas to prevent migration to urban areas and maintain values and heritage of the rural areas.” But however much he may promise, these promises have all been heard many times before and won’t do a thing to resolve the vast economic crisis confronting Sudan, one that requires true political democratization to be addressed meaningfully.  Regime officials are simply too heavily invested in the economic status quo.

Powerfully destructive economic forces have been set in motion; their most greatest impact is yet to be felt; when this occurs, we may have a much better sense of the “weather” in Sudan, and how likely it will enter an “Arab Spring.”

Eric Reeves is author most recently of Compromising With Evil: An archival history of greater Sudan, 2007 – 2012; available without cost at www.CompromisingWithEvil.org

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