Sudan: one country, two stories

Some 200,000 people have died during the present conflict in Darfur, in which militias loyal to the government are charged with committing genocide against the region’s black African population. An estimated 2 million have been made homeless. Starvation, fear and insecurity are an everyday reality for millions of Sudanese.

This is, of course, not the complete picture, as the New York Times reports. An economic boom is taking place in Sudan – despite western imposed sanctions. In Khartoum, 600 miles away from the epicentre of the humanitarian crisis, posh supermarkets are opening, skyscrapers are reachingupwards, the well-to-do are driving around in brand-spanking-new BMWs and relaxing at home on an evening in front of their plasma screen TVs and munching on Dubya’s favourite snack – Pringles. There is even a Coca Cola plant churning out 100,000 bottles of the tongue-tingling stuff per day - a plant set up by Sudanese investors.

Oil is rapidly turning the country into the fastest growing economy on the planet. While the US and Europe have prevented their countries from investing in Sudan, China, India and Middle Eastern oil states are ignoring Sudan’s appalling human rights record and realising there are profits to be had – investment is pouring in.

Sadly the wealth does not trickle as far as Darfur. Seventy per cent of the oil-gleaned wealth is spent on defence. President Lt-Gen Omar al-Bashir, who came to power in a military coup back in 1989, realises he cannot depend on sourcing weapons contracts outside of Sudan, so has armaments produced and stockpiled at home, less supplies are cut off.

The NYT reports:
“Despite all the new materialism, Sudan still marches to a martial tune. Army officers enjoy special status, foreign visitors must register with the police and schoolchildren are required to wear camouflage uniforms to class. But the boom is changing much about society, from the careers people pursue, to the music they listen to, even what they eat.

“The traditional meal of ful, a bean stew eaten for breakfast and lunch, is giving way to kebabs, yogurt, hamburgers and hot dogs.”
Many believed the US would lift sanctions last year when the government made peace with rebels in the south, but not so. By then the conflict in Darfur was raging and the US became only more pissed off.

The US may well cite Sudan’s human rights record as a reason for not lifting the sanctions, but this is utter hypocrisy – the US has sucked up to the worst human rights offenders around the globe for decades. What really seems to be narking the US is that an oil rich country looked elsewhere for investment and to economic competitors such as China and India.

At the moment US/UN concerns do not bother Khartoum– hence the recent expulsion by the Sudanese government of the UN envoy Jan Pronk and the refusal to allow 22,000 UN peace keepers into the Darfur region (they say it would simply be an attempt to restore colonial rule).
A pressing fear in the business community is that the US might just manage to persuade others to fall in line and also impose sanctions; which just about says it all. To hell that an area of Sudan is war ravaged; to hell that millions are homeless, living lives of utter deprivation; forget that 200,000 have been murdered because of their skin tone, there’s a whiff of profit in the air.While the Sudanese master class lives it up in fine old style and the US profit merchants fear rising economic powers will get one up on them, via their contracts with Khartoum, it is our fellow workers – the real wealth producers in society - that are left to suffer.

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