The Challenges Facing Sudan in 2005
Sudan is a country in turmoil, a country in crisis and a country on the move. It is a place of extraordinary contrasts. In some parts of the country food is so scarce that women feed leaves to their children to prevent starvation while here in the capital, work is underway on a colossal construction project that will transform the city centre into a futuristic, sky-scraping metropolis. The government, led by President Omar el-Bashir, has had its share of bad publicity and is certainly not a shining beacon of virtue by any means. Yet it is felt, even among those most marginalized, that the regime is far more tolerable than those of the past. Looking forward to the future, there are certainly grounds for the hope so keenly felt in the hearts of the people but there are many challenges to be overcome first.
For thirty years, civil war has raged in the South. That war ended with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in January of this year but two challenges remain: a new constitution must be drawn up and agreed by the government and the SPLA (Sudanese People’s Liberation Army) and a referendum must be held to determine whether or not the South of the country will separate from the North. In the meantime, food shortages are an enormous problem and necessary aid has been diverted to Darfur.
In Darfur, the situation remains unchanged. About 180,000 people have died in Darfur through violence, hunger and disease since the rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated government in February 2003. UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan has just concluded another visit to Sudan which included a visit to Darfur’s largest camp, Kalma. About 2,300 African Union troops and hundreds of police are monitoring a shaky ceasefire in Darfur but many areas remain inaccessible to development organizations seeking to distribute aid.
Sporadic outbreaks of violence in the East, in the North and in Khartoum itself remain an issue. Just last month, seventeen people were killed in clashes between IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) and the police because of forced resettlement. Analysts fear eastern Sudan could be the next boiling point if Khartoum fails to curb the Darfur rebellion, built on claims similar to those of the easterners.
The Consequences of Conflict
There are 622,499 Sudanese refugees living in the Central African Republic, Chad, the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. A further 4,367,000 internally displaced people remain in Sudan itself. The challenge of meeting the basic needs of these people in terms of food, shelter and basic services such as healthcare and education has yet to be seriously tackled by this government. The government actually destroyed IDP camps in Khartoum itself because they were unplanned, increasing the suffering of the displaced and causing consternation within the aid community here as well as internationally. A year and a half later, the new camps are incomplete and the people do not replace their sack huts with more secure mud brick structures because there is every chance that the same thing will happen again.
Voluntary repatriation is also challenging. Now that the war in the South is coming to an end, the displaced wish to return home. Many cannot afford the journey and public transport cannot keep up with demand. We met with one boy eager to return home but unable to do so. Even if he could make the trip, it is uncertain if his family would be there to meet him. When the displaced do get home, they face enormous obstacles. The land at home is often littered with landmines, their crops and livestock are lost and basic services and amenities have been destroyed.
Food supplies for millions of families across Sudan are running critically low, and many will face severe shortages. According to Jean-Jacques Graisse of the UN’s World Food Program, pockets of severe malnutrition have already been identified, as well as areas where households have exhausted their food stocks. Food security throughout Sudan has sharply deteriorated because of a poor agricultural season, high retail prices of cereals and marginal survival strategies in most communities as a result of years of conflict and lack of rural development. The WFP estimates that more than six million people require food aid across Sudan.
The human rights situation in Sudan is extremely poor. Severe limitations by the government on the political and religious freedoms of the Sudanese people continue despite promises of improvement. Over the years, the government has been accused by various human rights watch agencies of extrajudicial killings and of causing disappearances. Government security forces have been accused of beating, harassing, arbitrarily arresting, and detaining opponents of the Government. One friend of ours was arrested over ten times for speaking out against the government. He showed us his hand, broken in three places during his incarceration.
The Economy and the Distribution of Wealth
US and UN sanctions against Sudan have been half-hearted to say the least. The government here is eagerly seeking foreign investment to develop the capital. We saw plans for the stunning new development of the Mogran area at the confluence of the Blue and White Niles. Construction has already begun. However, the government has a duty to ensure that the wealth generated from the export of Sudan’s national resources, primarily oil, are distributed fairly. It seems that at present, this is not the case. Driving through Sudan, it is hard not to be shocked by the stark contrast existing between Khartoum and the countryside. Until resources are equally distributed in Sudan, conflict will continue to erupt, crippling the country and causing further suffering to a people who have without doubt, already suffered enough.
– Written by Niamh O Riordan and published in The Imokilly People