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Watching the Bubble Burst: Political Implications of Sudan's Economic Implosion

By Eric Reeves

Executive Summary

September 17, 2014 (SSNA) -- Despite very considerable evidence that the economy of Sudan is collapsing under the weight of numerous unsustainable pressures, there is no full extant account of these pressures at this critical moment in the political history of Sudan.  Understanding the human and political consequences of economic collapse in Sudan is also critical in making sense of the future of now independent South Sudan. Nominally tasked with monitoring the Sudanese economy, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and to a lesser degree the World Bank, have failed to present a full or accurate picture—too often dancing around difficult issues and simply accepting at face value figures provided by the Government of Sudan. Every one of the eight key charts in the IMF'sJuly 2014 reportindicates as its source of data: "Sudanese authorities and staff estimates and projections."

Most conspicuously, the two organizations have failed to provide anything approaching realistic figures concerning military and security expenditures.  There is in the July 2014 IMF report not a single line item—not one—reflecting or indicating the scale of military and security expenditures.  We may learn about "Regulatory capital to risk-weighted assets"; but we will learn nothing about investments in weapons acquisitions from abroad or the growing domestic armaments production.  We learn nothing of salaries and logistical expenditures for the Sudan Armed Forces or the militias the government supports.  Since the Government of Sudan—essentially the National Congress Party (formerly the National Islamic Front)—is deeply threatened by a fuller understanding of the dire straits in which the economy currently lies, it has an obvious interest in doing what it can to minimize popular understanding of growing economic threats, and in particular the excessive budgetary commitments to the Sudan Armed Forces, various security forces, and militias.

Certainly there is no dearth of studies, statistics, or analyses of the economy (see Bibliography).  But none does enough to assess the impact of Sudan's growing economic distress on various crises within Sudan itself and the region as a whole, most particularly in South Sudan.  Continued serious fighting in Darfur, the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan, and Blue Nile mean that the Government of Sudan is obliged to spend inordinate amounts of annual revenues on armaments, soldiers' salaries, logistics, and the security services that are an integral part of the military power wielded by the government.

Estimates vary widely, but the consensus is that significantly more than fifty percent of budgetary expenditures are directed to the military and security services.  Moreover, the oil revenues that fueled the decade of economic growth following the first oil exports (August 1999) are now only a fraction of what they have been.  This augurs extreme difficulties in negotiating with South Sudan over final boundaries, since many of the contested areas—including Abyei—have significant oil reserves.

In all the regions where fighting is occurring, agricultural production has declined precipitously, creating extraordinary ongoing humanitarian needs.  The government has made provision of relief assistance impossible in the most affected areas of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, and for more than a decade has harassed, impeded, expelled, and threatened humanitarian organizations operating in Darfur, where security has become so bad that further withdrawals by organizations are inevitable.

It is in the domestic political arena, however, that the economy is most worrisome for the NCP government.  Inflation remains extremely high—and likely a good deal higher than suggested by the figures coming from the Central Bank of Sudan—and the Sudanese Pound continues a rapid decline in value against the dollar.  There is exceedingly little foreign exchange currency (Forex), which has led to acute difficulties in financing imports of all kinds, even food and refined fuel for cooking (Sudan's refining capacity is not sufficient to meet very large demand).  Bread shortages earlier in 2013 and 2014 were a direct result of a lack of Forex for purchases of wheat abroad, exacerbated by the increased cost to bakeries of cooking fuel.  Looming over the entire economy is the massive external debt, which in August stood at US46.9 billion according to the IMF; the government can neither repay nor service this debt without reforms—economic and political—it has shown itself unwilling to make.

Last September and October, there was a serious, sustained, and occasionally violent public uprising to protest the price increases resulting from the government's lifting of subsidies for fuel (including cooking fuel).  The government response was swift and brutal, with "shoot to kill" orders in place from the beginning of the uprising according to Amnesty International.  More than 200 demonstrators were shot to death, and many more wounded; some 800 people were arrested.  The figures are likely much higher.  Despite the normalcy of IMF accounts of Sudan's economy, there can be little doubt that it has reached the breaking point; and continued inflation, which may reach to hyperinflation, will—as it has before in Sudanese political history—be the economic force that brings down the government.

The emergence of the National Consensus Forces as a coalition of smaller northern political parties committed to "regime change" is but one sign of growing determination to end the 25-year rule of the NIF/NCP.  The "Paris Declaration" between the National Umma Party (NUP) and the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) is another such sign.  The NUP, led by Sadiq al-Mahdi, is one of the two traditional sectarian parties that have long had significant political support.  The SRF is a coalition of armed rebel groups from Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile that is also committed to regime change, by force if necessary.

The current Government of Sudan has no way to respond to both increasing political pressures and the consequences of a rapidly deteriorating economy.  As a result, it will almost certainly resist change, with violent repression, for as long as possible; for many of its leaders have been or will be the subject of arrest warrants for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court, and will have no recourse or avenue of escape once the government falls.  They are as a consequence especially dangerous, and the fall of the regime may well be very bloody.  The international community should plan now how to assist in the creation of a democratic, inclusive, and secular Government of Sudan, and should be prepared to address some of the most immediate problems, including widespread food insecurity.

Full text, including text, charts, graphs, and bibliography |http://www.enoughproject.org/reports/enough-forum-watching-bubble-burst

Eric Reeves' book-length study of greater Sudan (Compromising With Evil: An archival history of greater Sudan, 2007 - 2012; www.CompromisingWithEvil.org; review commentary at: http://wp.me/p45rOG-15S)

Throwing Children into Burning Houses: The Newest Tactic of Khartoum's Imported Janjaweed

By Eric Reeves

September 16, 2014 (SSNA) -- These two dispatches from Radio Dabanga speak for themselves; the foreign Janjaweed referred to may be from Chad, Niger, possibly even Mali.  This unspeakable barbarism---not without precedent---becomes yet another demonstration of the complete impotence of the UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID).  The Khartoum regime denies UNAMID access to East Jebel Marra; the UN and African Union acquiesce:

*****

Mother of girl "thrown into the fire" dies in East Jebel Marra, Darfur

(Radio Dabanga [EAST JEBEL MARRA / SHANGIL TOBAYA] 16 September 2014)                                                                                https://www.radiodabanga.org/node/80393

The mother of a five year-old girl who burned to death in an attack by militiamen on Dobo El Jadida village in East Jebel Marra, died on Monday. Um El Kheir Saleh Hamed died on Monday, after entering into a shock, when she witnessed her five year-old daughter being thrown into a burning house by militiamen.

On Saturday, a group of gunmen “with foreign appearances” had attacked the village. They torched the houses, raped young women, killed three elderly villagers, and threw four children into the burning houses. The children all burned to death. The entire village was destroyed. A villager told Radio Dabanga that seven people sustained injuries, some of them seriously:

El Sheikh Ibrahim Khater (75)
Yousef Saleh Musa (52)
Fatima Haroun (50)
Hussein Ishag Omar (48),
Hawa Abdel Razeg (45)
Aisha Yahya (35)
Abakar Hamid Adam (35)

Displaced from the Naivasha camp near Shangil Tobaya, over the border with North Darfur reported to Radio Dabanga that the militiamen have been continuing their attacks. “The residents of Naivasha and Shadad camps do no dare to leave the camps anymore to collect firewood or go out to work. The traffic on the roads between Shangil Tobaya, Landa, Sharfa, and El Fasher, as well as other roads where animals are used as a means of transport, has come to a standstill.”

(Radio Dabanga [EAST JEBEL MARRA] 14 September 2014)                                https://www.radiodabanga.org/node/80283

A group of militiamen attacked Dobo El Jadida village in East Jebel Marra on Saturday. The next morning they continued their attacks on villages in the area. Speaking to Radio Dabanga from a neighbouring village in East Jebel Marra, a listener reported that “militiamen in four Land Cruisers and others on about 45 camels attacked Dobo El Jadida village on Saturday.” “They clearly did not come from the area. They looked quite alien, as if they came from far away,” he noted. “The attackers surrounded the village, and began igniting the houses. While the villagers tried to flee, they seized some young women and girls, and raped them.”

“They also grabbed four children among the fleeing people, and threw them into the burning houses. Hawa Abakar Eisa (6), Maryam Adam Omar (5), Suleiman Haroun (4), and Mohamed Adam Ishag (3) burned to death.”  They also killed three elderly, who did not manage to escape on time: Abakar Ismail Ishag (80), Saber Salah Ishag, and Adam Abdel Rahman Yahya. After the entire village was destroyed, the assailants left, taking all the livestock in the area with them. The villager added that “on Sunday morning, these militiamen continued their attacks “northwards.”

Sources from Shangil Tobaya confirmed to Radio Dabanga that “a large group of militiamen in Land Cruisers and on camels attacked the area of Jebel Tara, the villages of Landa, Abu Hamra, Seira Kandarawa, and the area of the Tagali and Magali hills, north of Shangil Tobaya.”

“The Janjaweed assaulted the villagers in these areas, and stole their property and livestock. They also ambushed four commercial vehicles, and robbed the passengers of their all belongings, even their shoes,” one of the sources reported. The passengers were mostly displaced from the Shangil Tobaya camps, who returned from the market in El Fasher, capital of North Darfur.

Eric Reeves' book-length study of greater Sudan (Compromising With Evil: An archival history of greater Sudan, 2007 - 2012; www.CompromisingWithEvil.org; review commentary at: http://wp.me/p45rOG-15S)

An Internal UNICEF Malnutrition Report on Sudan and Darfur

By Eric Reeves

September 5, 2014 (SSNA) -- New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof, one of the first to sound the alarm about genocide in Darfur, has today posted a scanned UN document with his commentary. It comes from UNICEF, one of the organizations most responsible for the UN's refusal to release critical malnutrition data for Darfur.  The document is a compilation of various charts and graphs, key points of definition, as well as a vague sketch of something called "The Strategic Response Plan."  But the actual data presented are shocking, utterly shocking, and I will largely let them speak for themselves.

What I have done below is transcribe the data from Kristof's posting of the imperfectly scanned document.  Except for straightforward descriptions of format, all comments and figures are taken directly from the UNICEF report; any editorial clarification or additional remarks are indicated with [italics in brackets], with my initials [—ER]  following.

The report was evidently prepared in 2013 or 2014; the date on the document Kristof has posted is 9 June 2014 and has as its title:

"Malnutrition Defined"

•  Sudan has very high numbers of malnourished children; malnutrition exists in both acute and chronic form

Under-nutrition

Acute (wasting)

Chronic (stunting)

Severe

Moderate

•  (Global Acute Malnutrition) [GAM]

Arm muscle wasted to a circumference < 11.5cm

[A graph is presented at this point, bisected by the World Health Organization emergency threshold for acute malnutrition: > =15 percent [the report indicates in a subsequent section that this figure drops to a 10 percent threshold in areas of armed conflict such as Darfur; particular results for Darfur include—ER]:

Acute malnutrition rates for children in Sudan among the highest in the world:

North Darfur: 28 percent acute malnutrition among children

South Darfur: 18 percent acute malnutrition among children

East Darfur: 15 percent acute malnutrition among children

South Darfur: 13 percent acute malnutrition among children

West Darfur: 8 percent acute malnutrition among children

Other notable acute malnutrition rates among children:

Red Sea State:

20 percent

Blue Nile: 19 percent

Kassala:15 percent

South Kordofan:        

10 percent

Source: S3m Survey, 2013   [This date suggests that much of the malnutrition that has developed since the violence began in South Kordofan and Blue Nile is not reflected in these numbers—ER]

•  Chronic malnutrition among children is widespread and pervasive

A second graph reports the following figures for chronic malnutrition among children in Sudan:

Central Darfur: 45 percent

East Darfur: 40 percent

West Darfur: 35 percent

North Darfur: 35 percent

South Darfur: 26 percent

The report indicates that the World Health Organization cutoff point for "high" prevalence of chronic malnutrition is 30 percent, and for "very high" prevalence > = 40 percent.

Source: S3m Survey, 2013] [See also Save the Children's Acute Malnutrition Summary Sheet—ER]

•  A third chart indicates:

 "% of under-fives moderately or severely wasted in the 10 most affected countries"

(Sudan ranked 4th from the bottom in this category in 2010ER]:

Wasting prevalence for country population under five:

Moderate or severe wasting:         16 percent

Severe wasting: 5 percent

[Emphasis added here: two percent is the "emergency" threshold for Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) among children; in developing countries, even in hospital settings, some 20 – 30 percent of all children suffering from SAM die—ER]

Number of wasted children, 2011 (moderate and severe): 817,000

Source: UNICEF Global Nutrition Database, 2012, based on MICS, DHS, and other national surveys 2007 – 2011 (except for India)]

•  The next graph shows Sudan as far "off track for meeting the MDG1 target" (the first phase of the Millennium Development Goals has as its Target 1.C: "Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger"—ER]  The MDG1 benchmark is 10 percent; various surveys included in the report show Sudan at 32 percent, 33 percent, 43 percent, 35 percent, and 35 percent;

•  The next chart represents: "Total number [of] malnourished [children]"

Total number malnourished children over a year = prevalence  x  incidence

Prevalence  =  measure at a single point in time

Incidence  =  expected new cases over a year (2.6 percent incidence rate)

2013 S3M prevalence  =  773,438 children x 2.6 (incidence rate)  =

Total malnourished annually: 2,010,939

Moderate:1,455,735

Severe: 555, 203

Global total: 2,010,939

•   [The rest of the UNICEF document is given over to "The Strategic Response Plan," which has only one statistic of significance for present purposes—ER]:

"Criteria for prioritization of the target localities" should include "Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) rates greater than 3 percent." [Again, the emergency threshold for SAM is usually regarded as 2 percent—ER]

********************************

What should we take away from this unreleased document with such shocking and extraordinarily telling data?  It must be said first that these data comport all too well with reports we have received for a number of years now from Radio Dabanga, and that there is good reason to continue using their dispatches in assessing humanitarian conditions in Darfur.

Second, we should take away a question that must be forced upon the UN humanitarian agencies at every opportunity: how can you refuse to release data showing such horrific malnutrition rates?  Among the many possible examples that might be instanced:

[1]  In North Darfur 28 percent of children suffer from acute malnutrition—almost twice the UN's "emergency" level;

[2]  Moderate or severe wasting affects some 817,000 children in Sudan;

[3] More than 2 million Sudanese children are malnourished.

[4]  The report indicates that " Severe wasting" affects five percent of the under-five population in Sudan as a whole.  Given that two percent is the "emergency" threshold for Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) among children, we need to know why more isn't being done for this large and extremely vulnerable population.

[5]  Finally, we need to ask what else the UN is refusing to disclose in the way of data bearing on our understanding of malnutrition in Darfur.  There are serious questions—and clearly considerable incentives on the part of the UN to obfuscate.  But given the number of lives at risk, particularly children, concealment seems a disastrous strategy, however much it may please Khartoum to have this UN self-censorship perpetuated.

Eric Reeves' new book-length study of greater Sudan (Compromising With Evil: An archival history of greater Sudan, 2007 - 2012; www.CompromisingWithEvil.org; review commentary at: http://wp.me/p45rOG-15S)

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