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Sudan’s transition needs to unpick the army from the economy

By Nicholas Norbrook
Posted on Monday, 27 May 2019 12:55

Sudanese Rapid Support Forces (RSF) display gold bars seized from a plane that landed at Khartoum Airport in an investigation into possible smuggling in Khartoum on 9 May, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

Sudan's army is deeply embedded in the economy.

Just as the price of bread sparked the Sudan protests, writes Africa Confidential (paywall), the political economy will remain at the heart of reform efforts for the transitional government.

  • “At stake will be the military’s domination of the economy. Over 60% of state spending goes on military and security spending, according to IMF and World Bank estimates.”
  • “Official budgetary allocations put security spending at five times the level of health spending and 35 times the budget for education.”

There are similarities to the military-industrial complex in Egypt. Sudan’s military was attempting to enter manufacturing beyond weapons, too.

  • “With the start of oil exports in 1999 as well as a sharp increase in gold production, Beshir’s regime financed a war economy and stepped up political patronage. It financed wars in the marginalised areas such as Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and Kordofan while boosting investment in the north and central regions.”

Bechir balanced rival politico-security interests, using state funds to gain influence in the army throughout the 2000s.

  • “State funds sponsored armed groups, the most notorious of which was the Janjaweed in Darfur, eventually rebranded as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) with a leading role in the security apparatus and autonomous funding.”
  • “We hear from banking sources that the RSF controls gold mines in Darfur which export directly to the United Arab Emirates.”

This started to collapse when South Sudan seceded, taking 2/3 of oil revenues. Austerity politics followed:

  • “The resulting rise in the price of bread and fuel shortages hit the economic heart of the country, its central and northern regions, places such as Atbara, Gedaref, Port Sudan and Gezirah with trade unions and civic activists organising protests.”
  • “Local businesses, at first cautious, became enthusiastic backers. Some of the bolder ones supplied food and water, along with free medical treatment, to the mass sit-in outside Alqiyida al Amaah, the military headquarters in Khartoum, when it started on 6 April.”

Bottom line: “How the alliances between the activists and local companies develop as the new government tries to reform the faltering economy will be critical. They have a common foe in the shape of the military’s economic dominance but they differ radically on issues such as privatisation, trade and monetary policy as well as social spending.”

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