We began our canvassing of the miseries in Africa yesterday with a piece titled “How much is that coffin in the window” [title borrowed from the old song, "How much is that doggie in the window"] which was all about Zimbabwe. Today, we travel north to the Sudan.
Zimbabwe is quite small compared to Sudan. Zimbabwe is smaller than California but Sudan is about 1/4 the size of all the USA. It has Egypt to its north, the Red Sea, Ethiopia and Eritrea on its east border, and Chad, and the Central Africa Republic to the west and finally, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Kenya on the south. It is almost landlocked except for the small portion of its Red Sea shores.
Sudan, especially its Darfur region, has been the scene of incredible violence almost second to none. It was embroiled in two prolonged civil wars during most of the last few decades of the 20th century. These conflicts were rooted in northern economic, political, and social domination of largely non-Muslim, non-Arab southern Sudanese. The first civil war ended in 1972 but broke out again in 1983. The second war and famine-related effects resulted in more than four million people displaced and, according to rebel estimates, more than two million deaths over a period of two decades.
A new conflict, which broke out in the western region of Darfur in 2003, has displaced nearly two million people and caused an estimated 200,000 to 400,000 deaths. The UN took command of the Darfur peacekeeping operation from the African Union on 31 December 2007. As of early 2009, peacekeeping troops were struggling to stabilize the situation but no lasting peace is yet in sight. Armed conflict, poor transport infrastructure, and lack of government support have chronically obstructed the provision of humanitarian assistance to affected populations.
Arable land is almost nonexistent but 80% of the people work in agriculture. and the petroleum reserves are plentiful but mainly underutlized. The environment features inadequate supplies of potable water; wildlife populations threatened by excessive hunting; soil erosion; desertification; and periodic drought. Only 40 million people live in Sudan so that, with better distribution, crowding in this immense country would not have to be the problem it is. But thanks to poverty, it is. Accompanying poverty are the usual suspects: food or waterborne diseases: bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever.
vectorborne diseases: malaria, dengue fever, African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness).
water contact disease: schistosomiasis.
respiratory disease: meningococcal meningitis.
Consequently, the average life span is about 50 years and getting lower.
Blacks are the largest ethnic group – 52% and Arabs are next with 39%. Sunni Moslems make up 70% of religions and English and Arabic are the official languages although a trillion others are commonplace. The country puts out the propaganda that 61% of the population can read and write.
The official GDP is $2200 per capita which, if accurate, puts it light years ahead of Zimbabwe. However, this figure distorts the fact that millions are well under that and a lucky few are far above it. Sudan exports $14 billion worth of good and 80% of that goes to China.
Sudan life is dominated by warfare: Sudan’s almost constant ethnic and rebel militia fighting since the mid-20th century have penetrated all of the neighboring states; as of 2006, Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Uganda provided shelter for over half a million Sudanese refugees, which includes 240,000 Darfur residents driven from their homes by Janjawid armed militia and the Sudanese military forces; Sudan, in turn, hosted about 116,000 Eritreans, 20,000 Chadians, and smaller numbers of Ethiopians, Ugandans, Central Africans, and Congolese as refugees. Officially it has about 6 million displaced persons and we have all seen videos or photos of huddled masses living in camps in the Darfur region that stretch endless miles. There is nothing like this in the MidEast, of course, and it is almost unparalleled even in other ravaged areas of Africa.
In addition to all its other woes, Sudan is racked with vicious warlords and outright cheap thugs. Sudan is a source country for men, women, and children trafficked internally for the purposes of forced labor and sexual exploitation; Sudan is also a transit and destination country for Ethiopian women trafficked abroad for domestic servitude; Sudanese women and girls are trafficked within the country, as well as possibly to Middle Eastern countries for domestic servitude; the terrorist rebel organization, Lord’s Resistance Army, continues to harbor small numbers of Sudanese and Ugandan children in the southern part of the country for use as cooks, porters, and combatants; some of these children are also trafficked across borders into Uganda or the Democratic Republic of the Congo; militia groups in Darfur, some of which are linked to the government, abduct women for short periods of forced labor and to perpetrate sexual violence; during the two decades-long north-south civil war, thousands of Dinka women and children were abducted and subsequently enslaved by members of the Missiriya and Rezeigat tribes; while there have been no known new abductions of Dinka by members of Baggara tribes in the last few years, inter-tribal abductions continue in southern Sudan. Sudan is not making significant efforts to combat crime. As a result, western nations are so discouraged that they feel that giving Sudan meaningful assistance is impossible.
What will the new USA administration do? As with Zimbabwe, a good shot of economic aid might help if it is not carried off by corrupt officials. Since Sudan is much larger than Zimbabwe, the suggested amount of $75 billion that might be useful for Zimbabwe would be a pittance for the Sudan. Can the USA afford that? What about 20 other nations that also seem zones of disaster? Would the aid go to the right places? How much largesse can we afford? As the saying goes, “I wouldn’t want to be in the president’s shoes.”