“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Martin Luther King, Jr

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Why Is Sudan Starving It's Own?

Here in the bone dry desert, where donkey skeletons line the road, there arises almost as a mirage, huge green fields. Beans. Wheat. Sorghum. Melons. Pumpkins. Eggplant. It is all grown here, an ambitious undertaking from the Sudanese government, a plan for self sufficiency that is creating giant mechanized farms rising out of the sand. Yet we are hearing the horror stories of the starving refugees of Darfur. How much of this bonanza is getting back to the hungry Sudanese, like the 2.5 million driven into camps in Darfur? Why is a country that exports so many of its own crops receiving more free food than anyplace else in the world, especially when the Sudanese government is being blamed for creating the crisis in the first place?

African countries that cannot normally produce enough on their own rely on donated food. Somalia, Ethiopia, Niger and Zimbabwe are examples of how natural disasters, gross mismanagement or war can cut right into the heart of food production, pushing millions to the brink of starvation.

But right here in Sudan there seems to be plenty to go around. The country is growing wheat for Saudi Arabia, sorghum for camels in the United Arab Emirates and vine ripened tomatoes for the Jordanian army.
The government is putting $5 billion into new agribusiness projects, many of them to produce food for export.

Sorghum is a staple of the Sudanese diet, typically eaten in a flat spongy bread. Last year, the US government in its response to the emergency in Darfur, shipped in 283,000 tons of sorghum, at high cost, from as far away as Houston. Strangely enough, that is about the same amount that Sudan exported, according to United Nations officials. This year, Sudanese companies, including many that are linked to the government in Khartoum, are on track to ship out twice that amount, even as the UN is being forced to cut rations to Darfur.

A professor at Smith College, in the United States, Eric Reeves is an outspoken activist and has written frequently on the Darfur crisis. He called this anomaly “one of the least reported and most scandalous features of the Khartoum regime’s domestic policies” It was problematic, he said, of the Sudanese government’s strategy to manipulate “ national wealth and power to further enrich itself and it’s cronies, while the marginalized regions of the country suffer from terrible poverty.”

Long ago aid groups gave up on the Sudanese government’s helping the people of Darfur. After all, the nation’s president, Omar Hassan al- Bashir, has been accused of masterminding genocide in Darfur. UN officials said if they do not bring in food to the region, the Sudanese government surely will not.

This leaves the United Nations and the Western aid groups trying to feed more than 3 million residents of Darfur. But the lifeline grows thin. Security is deteriorating. Trucks with aid are getting hijacked almost daily, and deliveries are being made less and less frequently.

This is resulting in less food and a soaring malnutrition rate, especially among the children. Combined with the broader problem of trying to find affordable grains on the world market when prices are higher than they have been in decades.

UN officials say the fact that they have to import some of the same commodities that Sudan not only produces but exports, results in constant frustration. “Sudan could be self sufficient,” said Kenro Oshidari, the director of the World Food Program in Sudan.”It does have the potential to be the breadbasket of Africa.”

Sudanes officials deny that Sudanese agribusiness is being built at the expense of their own people. They reject accusations that they are neglecting far -flung areas like Darfur, much less waging a war of hunger and deprivation against them. Sudanese officials say they are simply trying to build up their economy.

It could get worse, with Bashir facing genocide charges at the International Criminal Court in connection with the massacres in Darfur

1 comment:

Relax Max said...

It doesn't make sense does it That Sudan should get food aid and then export it's own produce. But, would you agree to giving them more money to buy things they need, in addition to giving them food. I was thinking probably yes. And if so, then you couldn't begrudge them making the same money you would have been willing to just give them, by selling stuff. Ok, pretty backwards reasoning, I know. :)


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