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Critical surgery in Khartoum - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Last week, the Sudanese President announced a set of economic austerity plans to confront the consequences of secession from the South, which will be legally established with the declaration of the “State of Southern Sudan” on the 9th July 2011. In a speech he delivered before the ruling National Congress Party, al-Bashir admitted that secession from the south will have negative economic impacts on the north, saying “We will lose a portion of the south’s oil, and this will have an impact on the balance of our foreign trade, because oil revenues constitute a significant portion of our exports.”

Following his admission of the upcoming economic crisis, al-Bashir provided a further shock when he announced an increase in taxes and reduced public spending. What al-Bashir failed to say about such plans was instead expressed by the Khartoum Governor Dr. Abdul-Rahman al-Khedr, who termed them as “critical surgery”. In statements to Asharq al-Awsat published on Wednesday, al-Khedr said that the plans incorporate the partial removal of subsidies on basic commodities such as gasoline and sugar, as well as ceasing the imports of some “unnecessary” items, as the country’s revenues of hard currency will decline dramatically. The reason for this is that the government will lose 60 – 85 percent of its share of oil revenues, which will subsequently be owned by the South.

Interestingly, President al-Bashir had said in a speech at the beginning of February, justifying the first stage of price increases for gasoline and sugar that had raised public objections at the beginning of the year, that the per capita sugar consumption in the country is considered high because the rich “need to drink a soft drink more than once per day, and eat desert after meals.” According to such a simplified economic analysis of the crisis, the government may have to rename the traditional Sudanese drink entitled “Hulu-Mur” [sweet] to “Kuz-Mur” [bitter], so that it is in line with the new austerity plans. Such plans regard even a “spoonful of sugar” as too much for the Sudanese.

Retuning to the Khartoum Governor’s statements, regarding the Salvation Government’s plan to confront the “negative impacts” of secession from the South, Dr. al-Khedr emphasized that the government will seek to explore oil in the North so as to restore what it lost in the South. He said that the northern government will pay more attention to natural resources such as metals, saying that “now we can see gold in our country on the surface of the ground.” This suggests that in the north the ground now glitters under the burning rays of the sun, and that all the helpless Sudanese people have to do is go out and collect gold from the ground, in order to buy the sugar, gasoline and other unnecessary commodities they may require. Even if we believed such words, the following question arises: What were you doing for the past 22 years? Why didn’t you pay attention to metals, and why did you leave gold unattended on the surface of the ground? Most importantly, why did you neglect agriculture, which is Sudan’s real gold and its strategic wealth?

This topic takes us to another relevant issue of arable land, which the government forcibly bought from its rightful owners for extremely low prices, and then sold on to foreign investors for higher prices, so that the ruling party’s brokers could derive benefits. These days, farmers participating in the Gezira project – one of the largest agricultural projects in Sudan – are encountering problems and staging demonstrations in protest against the government seizure of their land, without paying proper compensation. If the government is indeed searching for alternatives, then instead of neglecting Sudan’s land, wouldn’t it have been better to have endeavored towards agricultural wealth, and used part of Sudan’s previous oil revenues in investments in order to activate the slogan: “Sudan is the breadbasket of the world”? This is a slogan we have long heard and chanted with others across the world ever since we were children.

In statements given to Hurriyet newspaper last month, former Governor of the Central Bank of Sudan Saber Mohamed al-Hassan admitted that the Sudanese economy suffers greatly as a result of reliance on oil alone, as well as negligence of other economic resources, especially agriculture.

Saber also warned of “the shock” the Sudanese economy will suffer following the official secession from the South, and of the sudden subsequent decline in the state’s income of hard currency. Speaking of the magnitude of foreign debt, estimated at around 37 billion US dollars, the Central Bank Governor said that Sudan is among the most indebted African countries.

Apart from these problems, the Sudanese consider corruption to be a major concern. [Over the years] it became widespread and exhausted the country’s potential, and as a result, commercial and economic activities are centered mainly in the hands of those affiliated to the regime. Several younger members of the ruling National Congress Party warned al-Bashir of the dangers of the prevailing corruption during a recent assembly, as it is no longer an individual phenomenon. Having been sponsored by the government, corruption spread across different institutions, of course for the benefit of the inner circle, the President’s associates, and whoever hid behind the cover of the Islamic regime. Corruption is no longer secret, and has shifted into a topic of conversation among the Sudanese people, and this issue will be further aggravated during the upcoming economic crisis that will come with secession.

The economic crisis has now become a fact before the eyes of everyone, and there is no way that it can be denied or considered a figment of the opposition’s imagination, as some of the regime’s adherers may describe it.

Therefore, several members of the regime’s leadership has begun to acknowledge the crisis, as well as the negative impacts of secession from the south, although they previously denied any negative impacts, and even regarded the national division as a common good. The “critical surgery”, which the Khartoum Governor spoke of when describing the economic measures the government is intending to take, may become more dangerous in view of the prevailing domestic climate of unease, as well as the tension in areas adjacent to the new state of the south, let alone the aggravation in Darfur and the highly flammable situation in South Kordofan. If people’s attention is currently drawn to the popular uprisings and revolutions in Yemen, Syria and Libya, then the situation in Sudan is approaching a difficult stage in which anything is possible.

Osman Mirghani

Osman Mirghani

Osman Mirghani is Asharq Al-Awsat's former deputy editor and senior editor-at-large.

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