No economic prosperity in Sudan without political settlement

Published March 19th, 2012 - 12:39 GMT
Sudan has been on the U.S. economic sanctions list for more than a decade over allegations of supporting terrorism as well as human right abuses
Sudan has been on the U.S. economic sanctions list for more than a decade over allegations of supporting terrorism as well as human right abuses

A comprehensive political settlement in Sudan is a crucial prerequisite to resolve the current economic crisis, an opposition figure said. Mubarak al-Fadil, head of the disbanded Umma Renewal and Reform Party (AP), who led the self-disbanded Umma Reform and Renewal Party (URRP), stressed that the regime led by president Omer Hassan al-Bashir since 1989 must realize that ruling by force is "useless". "There is no economic solution without a political solution.

The solution starts with cutting government expenditure which [is now] at 74% of the budget spent on the army and security," al-Fadil said according to the transcript of an interview with the UAE-based Al-Bayan newspaper obtained by Sudan Tribune. Sudan's economy has been reeling since South Sudan gained independence in mind-2011, taking with it most of the country's oil production which was formerly Khartoum's main source of revenue and foreign currency. While Sudanese officials insist that they will quickly find alternative sources of income to make up for the lost oil, analysts expressed doubt that this can be done in the short term. Prices soared in recent months while the currency fell in value as ordinary citizens and corporations flocked to the black market to purchase hard currency. Worried about depleting its foreign reserves, which are needed to buy basic food items abroad, the government imposed restrictions a large number of imported items.

Sudan is also battling rebels on multiples fronts namely Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan. "To have a reduction in [security and army expenses] there has to be a political settlement and there must be an internal reconciliation so that the army's job doesn't become guarding the security-threatened government," al-Fadil said. "If reconciliation is achieved there will be no enemies and as such there will be no need for the heavily armed armies and [the money] can go to education, health and services," he added. The political figure suggested that a negotiated political settlement will also pave the way for relieving Sudan's hefty $38 billion external debt. "When reconciliation happens everybody can declare an end to confrontation with the international community and then Sudan's debt can be cancelled after which the international funding institutions could open its doors to Sudan," al-Fadil explained.

Sudan has been on the U.S. economic sanctions list for more than a decade over allegations of supporting terrorism as well as human right abuses. Washington says that lifting sanctions is contingent on Khartoum ending its internal wars, ceasing support to terrorist groups and concluding post-secession talks with South Sudan. The two neighboring nations have been at loggerheads over issues including the position of their borders, control of the disputed Abyei territory, and what transit fees South Sudan pays Khartoum to export oil from Port Sudan, splitting external debt and citizenship among other things. South Sudan suspended its oil production in protest at Khartoum's seizure of crude it said was to make up for unpaid transit fees. Al-Fadil said that bolstering economic ties with the south is both lucrative and very rewarding. "Sudan can integrate economically with the south and avoid short-sighted [policies] of the government today. If they paid attention they would realize that the money that can be derived from trade with the South is far more than oil revenue" said al-Fadil who was also a commerce minister in the late 80's. This would include sectors of education, healthcare, transportation, communications, marketing and seaports, he said. "Thus the oil money would have been an extra benefit" al-Fadil added.

The former URRP chief warned that the recent armed conflicts in the border states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan can be ended only in the context of a holistic settlement that "ends totalitarian rule and establishes a democratic-federal system". "Partial solutions will not work" he emphasized. He also dismissed the drafting process of a new constitution saying that the hegemony of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) on judicial bodies "makes it pointless". "Should I sit down with the Ingaz [government] to discuss the constitution to put in a framework and then declare that it was made with the consent of everybody only to step on it and do whatever it likes?" he posed the question. "There is no existence of a constitution under a totalitarian regime so am not interested in discussing it with them," he added. Asked about why Sudan has not witnessed an 'Arab Spring' Al-Fadil said that the situation is different and that since 1989 the regime has transformed itself five times in face of opposition pressure. "This is the result of the [opposition] scoring points [against the regime] and the knockout has yet to come. The Ingaz backtracked and accepted peace with the South and its separation and the struggle continues" he said. "Countries where [Arab] spring took place were suppressed and went off all at once but we [in Sudan] had our October and April [revolutions] and the struggle of the Sudanese led to the defeat of their civilization project. But I say that spring came in the Sudan prior to the Arab spring" al-Fadil added.

Al-Fadil is the cousin of former Prime Minister al-Sadiq al-Mahdi who is also head of the National Umma Party (NUP). He left the NUP after differing with the ex-PM on the issue of participating in the government NCP. Al-Mahdi rejected the idea of joining a “non-democratically elected government”. Al-Fadil was appointed by president Bashir as a presidential adviser for economic affairs in 2002 before being removed in October 2004. He has became one of the fiercest critics of the NCP ever since. He was arrested in 2007 after being accused of plotting a coup but was released after the information possessed by the government proved to be false. Last year, the opposition figure announced dissolution of the URRP to join the NUP but integration efforts were met with difficulties over disagreements on taking in the former defectors.

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