Economics: Focus on Africa: The Sudan:


Empowerment: An Important Factor in Aggravating Poverty, Inequality & Injustices in Sudan: 1989-2015 – Part I


by Professor Ali Abdalla Ali

Omdurman Ahlia University



The story begins like this…


 “A conference on Urban Planning was held in Paris. A top Sudanese official was sent to represent the Sudan in that conference. On his left happened to sit a French lady engineer. She greeted the Sudanese representative and asked him about his position in Sudan. The Sudanese proudly answered that he was the Head of the Sudan Farmers’ Union, a member of the  Board of the Central Bank of Sudan, member of the Board of the Telecommunication  Corporation, Head of the Human Rights Organization, the CEO of the Gum Arabic Company and a member of the Transitional Authority of Darfur. The French lady asked him with surprise as to his original occupation. He answered that he was a Medical Consultant. The lady stood up and walked to the organizers to find her a seat away from this crazy Sudanese participant.”(!).



In a very interesting lecture given by the Managing Director of the IMF, Christine Lagarde at the London School of Economics (Friday 8 June 2014), on Empowerment, the Amartya K. Sen lecture,  Lagarde tried to elaborate on the issue of empowerment which Sen has been thinking about for so many years. In fact she made a very sharp presentation on the question of empowerment; first of “the individual  –  and what that means for economic policy. Second, what is needed to help individual empowerment  –  the empowerment of the institutions. Third, what is needed in turn to help national economies flourish  –  empowerment of multilateralism.”(Lagarde).  Then in the end she tried to show how the institution she heads (the IMF) has applied the idea of empowerment and provided some cases. In fact I was attracted by the presentation such that I thought it worthwhile since it reflects a high degree of human morality,  justice, sanity and wisdom to venture and see how it has been applied in a less developed country such as Sudan (my home) between 1989 and 2015.


On the question of the individual Lagarde states that there are many obstacles to empowerment  –  obstacles based on income disparities and obstacles based on gender. She then goes on to say that “the gap between the haves and have-nots has risen substantially in recent years. In many countries the wealthy are taking home a greater share of the rewards today than at any time in the postwar era” (Lagarde 2014). According to her, Professor Sen would argue that we should look beyond income inequality and worry about a wider set of disparities  –  such as health, education, unemployment, and social exclusion.” She goes on to say that “for some decades now, Professor Sen has developed an approach  to inequality based less on income and more on capability. This approach judges people’s advantage by their capability to do the things they value. It is opportunity, about giving a person the means to live.” (Lagarde 2014). She goes on to say that “in more unequal societies, many people lack the basic tools to get ahead  –  decent nutrition, healthcare, education, skills ,and finance. This can create a vicious circle, whereby economic insecurity causes people to invest too little in skills and education.” (Lagarde 2014). Then she goes on to say that “This is why I believe that policies [devised in order] to tame excessive income inequality are win-win  –  if carefully chosen and calibrated, they can spur empowerment and advancement. Think of policies like boosting spending on health, education, active labor market policies, and  in-work benefits.” (Lagarde 2014).


As regards obstacles related to gender, Lagarde says, ”Globally, women earn only three-quarters as much as men, even with same job and same education. They are underrepresented in the formal sector and overrepresented in the informal sector. They spend twice as much time on the household chores as men, and four times as much on childcare. They make up to 70 percent of the billion people living on less than a dollar a day, and are the first to be submerged by economic crisis.” She goes on to say that “Bottom line is that women are underutilized, underpaid, under-appreciated and over-exploited.” (Lagarde 2014).


As regards the empowerment of institutions she goes on to say, ”As people strive to achieve their potential, they are not striving in a vacuum. They are navigating the dense of thicket of institutions and governance structures that run through the economy.” (Lagarde 2014). Then she says that “Good institutions are founded on principles of accountability, transparency and impartiality. They facilitate empowerment by letting success depend on competence rather than connections, participation rather than patronage  –  by offering an open hand rather than a closed fist.” This statement is followed by Lagarde mentioning, “a narrow subset of institutions  –  ones that contribute directly to economic wellbeing by providing strong frameworks for fiscal policy, monetary policy, and financial sector oversight. Without good institutions in these areas, and without capable people behind them, policies will be ineffective, and avenues for empowerment will be blocked.” Then she says, “To use Amartya’s language: if we want better capability, then we need better capacity.” (Lagarde 2014).


The third dimension is empowerment of multilateralism. She says that “In a very basic way, today’s challenges are increasingly global challenges. Empowerment today depends not just on what is happening in your country, but what is happening in the wider world.  We live in a world that is simultaneously coming together and drifting further apart. Coming together due to the dense and intricate web of interconnections that run through our global economy  –  in trade, finance, technology,  communications. Coming apart due to the increasing diffusion of  power across the world  –  towards more diverse geographical regions and more global stakeholders, a more tribal mentality.” (Lagarde 2014).


Then Lagarde ends her interesting lecture by saying, “Let me conclude with some wisdom from Charlotte Bronte: ‘Liberty lends us her wings, and hope guides us by the star.’ This is really what economic empowerment is all about  –  freedom, dignity, opportunity. We must do whatever we can to help people help themselves, to let people lift themselves up  –  through enabling policies, enabling institutions, and enabling modes of international cooperation.” (Lagarde 2014).



In fact through all the recent history of modern Sudan the country went through a series of changes in governance alternating between military governments and civilian rule from 1956 until 1989 when the present government took over rule with the help of the military collaborating with the National Islamic Front  –  NIF (a Sudanese political group whose original version of Islamic ideology was greatly influenced by Sheikh Hassan Al Bana’s Muslim Brothers of Egypt). In 1969 a similar military coup took place with the help of the  Sudanese Communist Party  (SCP). They tried in 1971 to topple ex-President Nimeiri (1969-1985) but his supporters were able to end them in a move which did not last long, only a few days! The present  government lasted for more than a quarter-century simply because it was able to play on the very strong sentiment of Islam which most of the population believe in. In other words it is now 60 years since Sudan obtained independence from the British rule. Then the Sudanese had a choice between remaining within the Commonwealth or join with Egypt, the decision was to become independent of both. Because of the frequent alternation between military regimes and democratic governments, for 51 years Sudan remained under dictatorial regimes with democratic governments not exceeding nine years. These 51 years of comprehensive rule had deprived the Sudanese people from deepening the concepts of democracy, transparency, accountability, justice and social cohesion and the absolute rule of the law. Moreover, with  each change, those who took over  –  whether military or democratic parties  –  such  changes were automatically followed by another serious wave which constituted removal of many qualified cadres  –  whether from the military or from the civilians  –  who were managing the State machinery, either as being not faithful to the regimes that took over or they are just not liked or potentially trusted by those who took power. Gradually the country was siphoned off from those qualified Sudanese who were  managing the country. They had, therefore, immigrated outside Sudan as we will see helping in developing countries other than their own specially the Gulf countries. Many still laud and reminisce with great admiration the civil service system that was left by the British administration before they left as being  the best civil service  in Africa. It had its own imperial logic. It was a good system for what it was designed.  


The degree of such changes was not that tense during the years following the independence of the country in 1956, as the British heritage was deeply rooted and was strictly followed. The changes were mainly in the top of many institutions. In addition to migration after the seventies and mid-eighties when Nimeiri’s  regime  faced various economic difficulties coupled with the Arab-Israeli war in 1973 in which oil was used as a weapon by the oil rich Gulf countries. This resulted in such countries acquiring windfall gains in foreign exchange from oil. This also necessitated the starting of huge development   plans in the Gulf countries. Such development activity created a golden opportunity for the Sudanese as well as others from Asia, the Arab and African countries from all walks of life to emigrate with the aim of improving their welfare. The Sudanese were largely trusted and liked by people in the Gulf countries as well as in a place such as UK where the Sudanese medics are highly respected and needed to serve in the British National Health Service (NHS).


However, it is only after this present  government which took over in June 1989, that  a real and intense degree of  empowerment whether on the individual, the institutions or empowerment of multilateralism as stated above, took place manned only and on all levels of the state machinery with the cadres of the Islamic Front, thereby excluding those who are not members or who do not see eye to eye with them or considered secular, communist or traditionalists or even non-believers. Even if they were the most learned or qualified Sudanese, one had no chance except to leave the country. This kind of bias (within political parties) took place during the years immediately after independence, but not with a high  intensity as was the case after this present Islamic government took over. The present government, which has been led by the Islamic Front, decided to adopt Islamic Sharia in Sudan as compared to the unclear, erratic and secular behavior of previous governments which governed Sudan since independence. However, it must be noticed that during the years of governance until the present government took over, the policies adopted were primarily done with a top down approach affecting mainly the management on the top i.e. ministers, undersecretaries, governors of the Central Bank of Sudan as well as some heads of the various government corporations, on the strict belief that the rest of the government machinery will automatically be taken care of. In the case of the present Islamic government, the approach was still the same, i.e. top down, but this time the changes went deeper to the roots, filling posts even with smallest jobs as we shall see. In addition to this, the present government was quick enough to exercise intelligent control over all the organized trade unions which existed since independence and who were the prime movers of any political protests against any government, as can be seen in Sudan’s recent history. For example the trade union of Sudan Railways, that was the longest in Africa at the time of independence in 1956, consisted of a labor force more than 44000 strong, well-organized  and comprised of both skilled and semi-skilled workers. In order to be fair, such an exercise was started by the late President Nimeiri when an attempted coup was launched against him by a section of the SCP in 1971 as mentioned earlier.


In fact in the mid seventies ex-President Nimeiri was approached by Prince Mohamed al Faisal of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to allow him start a bank that would adopt Islamic Sharia (at a time when the Kingdom itself had no banks operating along Sharia basis until now!). Such a bank was later known as Faisal Islamic Bank (FIB) and was given the license to operate from the Presidency rather than the Central Bank of Sudan (CBS), which operated on traditional lines and was the only authority charged with the responsibility of  establishing commercial banks. This bank gradually gave those members of the IF the chance to prepare their cadres and train them for some hidden future objective. In fact  it was  some of the members of the IF who convinced Prince Faisal to start such a bank. Other Islamic banks followed and were allowed to operate vide a license from the CBS and not from the Presidency as was the case with FIB. This is because these new Islamic banks became very successful, specially with customers who do not accept interest as in the traditional banks. Between the mid-seventies and early 1980, these banks gained real presence in the Sudanese banking system .With such success, these banks and those who operate them gradually acquired experience and knowledge on the Sudan’s economy and this gradually gave them a sort of hidden political power since money means power. Therefore, in 1983  Nimeiri, largely influenced by the performance of these Islamic banks (as well as the collaboration of the  IF members with Nimeiri ), declared  the adoption and application of Sharia. In 1984 an Act was declared (the Civil Transactions Act) prohibiting interest (as usury) in all financial transactions in the whole economy.



At the time of independence in January 1956, the population of the Sudan was about 10.2 million people distributed unevenly among the various regions of the Sudan. There was a very striking imbalance between the various regions of the Sudan which was under the rule of both Egypt and Britain from 1898 and under the sole responsibility of the British after the incidents of 1924. The Sudan was under the Home Office, in contrast to other British colonies which were run under the Colonial Office. Its administrators were mainly drawn of from the British diplomatic service who were also drawn from the well-educated British cadres from Oxford and Cambridge, etc. In spite of this unbalanced state of affairs, the British were very keen to provide the necessary social services to almost all of what was considered as Sudan. Education was free, as well as healthcare. Education was even compulsory to every child above seven years. Some used to be pulled from their families in order to be enrolled in an elementary school irrespective of their tribes or ethnic group. Schools were furnished with all necessary books and pencils. Religious schools called ‘Kalwa’ were  allowed before entering the elementary stage. This helped children to be competent in Arabic before becoming well versed  in English which used to be taught from the Intermediate level. Hospitals gave free medical care whether as out-patients or inside the hospitals. Patients were provided with free medicines and free meals, a kind of treatment which people cannot dream off after so many national governments that came after independence. Gordon Memorial College, which was established in memory of Governor Charles Gordon and later became Khartoum University, the students even some years after independence enjoyed free lodging and free  meals. At that stage students were very well versed in both Arabic (their  mother tongue) and English. The latter was cancelled during the regime of late Nimeiri and completely disappearing after 1989 when the present government decided on Arabization of teaching in schools and institutions of higher learning,  thus depriving  many generations of the ability of commanding a second language in which the Sudanese were so good. Even before the rainy season starts in Sudan the British companies operating in Sudan as well as the British administration used to stock all necessities up-country so that such towns and villages would not experience shortages during the rainy season, during which the rail system used to experience wash outs as a result of heavy floods.


Such treatment by the British was not without its own legacy and rationale which subsequent national governments failed to understand, and tried to realign such legacy and logic to the needs of the newly independent country. Since the type of empowerment that had taken place been in Sudan since 1989 is so vast in coverage, and so deep and intricate than was the case before taking power, one would like to provide the significant examples that took place in the three mentioned areas above, leaving the remaining more detailed cases for a future research. However, one important matter was done by the British Administration which had future implications for the whole Sudan, i.e. the complete exclusion of South Sudan from getting equal development with the other parts of the country. This was done on the basis that the South is different from the rest of the Sudan. The intention was to have the South as part of  a Greater East Africa which did not materialize. Moreover, the rest of the country was governed by the Closed District Ordinance of 1925 which prohibited the people from moving from the countryside to the centre where the major activity of producing cotton was not to be disturbed. This kind of colonial legacy needs to be fathomed and studied afresh. 



A few days after the military took over the political authority on 30 June 1989 it gradually became clear that the people behind the coup were primarily from the IF. As mentioned earlier, they were able to institute Islamization of the economy, specially banks, in the mid-seventies which culminated in the Transaction Act of 1984 which was intended to apply Islamic Sharia on all financial and economic transactions in the whole economy as mentioned earlier. Through this achievement they were able  to train many of their cadres in banking, insurance etc. Thus when they took over 1989, they were able in a short while to man the various high positions whether in ministries or government corporations as well as the press media. These cadres  were moved from one post to another just as in a chess game! This was carried out immediately after holding two conferences, one on politics and the other on the economic problems of the country.


This was the first indication that such posts shall go only to those individuals who were members of the IF and not to non-members of the IF. The obvious remark on such appointments as will be seen later, the criteria was not only being a qualified member of the party, but even without necessarily having the required qualification. This was started in two directions: First by ending the service of those who were in key posts manning the government machinery and replacing them with the cadres of the IF. The second direction was in ending the service of qualified cadres who manned the various ministries and institutions. For example, the writer happened to see a decision  by the President ending the service of 16 most trusted and most experienced Sudanese ambassadors before it was officially declared .The IF government also started to call back many of its members who had been forced by late President Nimeiri to live in exile in Arab and some Western European countries. A good number of the IF cadres who are in key positions enjoy dual nationality (US, Canada, UK etc.). In fact a number of ministers and their families have two nationalities. After independence no Sudanese could dream to enter the foreign service if one is related to any foreigner whether in terms of  nationality, passport or a wife. This is so because a good number of the IF cadres were discriminated against by a previous regime. That is why many sought asylum in Western Europe, in USA and UK and were able to acquire residence and nationality. A number of this cadre has their families in the USA or UK. A good example is that Sudan’s ambassador in Geneva, which is home to a number of international agencies, holds a British passport in addition to his Sudanese nationality!


Many of those IF cadres who came back to fill  important  posts were highly differentiated from other civil service members in respect to wages and salaries and additional privileges. These cadres used to get the same allowed salaries and wages. At the same time, those who were requested to come back got under the table the same high salaries that they used to get outside the Sudan! This created an unusual gap in the salary structure of  the civil service. Considerable resentment started to accumulate among other members of the civil service who were not political animals. In addition to such differentiated wages, they had had under their authority funds to be used as incentives and other purposes. Such   funds were rarely subject  to scrutiny or auditing. A number of this cadre also were able to do their own private business side by side with the official posts ignoring any sort of conflict of interest. In fact, these gaps widened further as years passed and became a major factor in the exodus of many qualified  personnel to the Gulf countries and Europe. A report by the agency responsible for Sudanese Working Abroad, cited that between 1975 and 2009, 10 million Sudanese left the country, 85% of them during the period of the present regime.


 Each minister is entitled to have five vehicles for himself and his family. In addition to that, he is allowed many allowances such as travel allowance outside Sudan, free medical treatment outside Sudan, allowance for dress, etc.etc. The case in many public sector corporations is even more intense where some heads used to get their wages in foreign exchange instead of local currency. When an official fails in his job, he is appointed to another post without questioning the causes of his failure in his previous job. Loyalty to the party was the essential factor. In fact such treatment created a rich class of civil servants not known before in the country and elsewhere. Some reports indicate to the fact that the government employees are considered a one of the richest groups of people in the country. An estimate ( indicated that 46% of the rich Sudanese are civil servants. In addition to 625 ministers and state ministers as well as 5000 members of the Parliament (National Assembly  –  the members of which are given salaries more than double that of a professor, plus a car) and other constitutional appointees, plus the cost of the administration of the National Congress (NC), all financed from public funds.  Have and have not is not exclusive to businessmen and tycoons. When one talks about an individual one has to differentiate between an individual who belongs to the IF and an  individual who is just a simple Sudanese without any political background. One basic result from such an empowerment was that those IF members who are mostly ignorant of the rules of the civil service, which was basically British in origin, never abided by such regulations and behaved as if these funds were God-sent and not collected from the Sudanese tax payers!


In fact the party strong hand, which is called the NC, was not only a political arm of the regime, but it was de facto a very strong parallel and competitor to the Civil Service operating behind the scenes. In fact the borders between the Party and the government is not sharply laid out.


When simple citizens cannot stand against the tyranny and insecurity they quietly leave the country. This state of affairs had its impact on the productivity of the civil service as well as the unfair distribution of the budget resources on unjustified priorities. In other words the budget resources were disbursed in accordance with the desire of the Head of the State in the direction of mainly defense and security, leaving  nothing for production or for that the social services, specially for those in the rural areas where more than 65% live on agriculture and allied activities. In fact, as result of the outright liberalization policy started in February 1992 and a devaluation of about 500%, there were many losers and winners. The result was the gradual disappearance of what was known in Sudan as the middle class (consisting of government civil servants, petty traders, private sector employees in general, the self employed etc.).These were phased out by the cadre of the IF. These were the segment of the Sudanese society that suffered most because of losing their incomes, and the privilege of getting free education and free health care.


The farmers in the countryside suffered most because of lack of support to their activities. Government funds which were meant to be spent on developing agriculture after the disappearance of oil and the departure of the South in 2011, were ill-directed to other than agriculture (such as renovating the house of the State Governor and purchasing a new car, etc.) thus making it difficult for the small farmers to find financing for their activities. No one in a responsible post is taken to task (no accountability). On the contrary that might be a promotion to another higher post(!).  Moreover, the major development scheme (Gezira) went into shambles and all its assets sold out thus putting the farmers in an area of 2 million  feddans (one feddan is equal to 4500sqm) in real difficulties including poverty. The government intention, instead of helping these farmers and empowering them by giving a new life to the project to contribute to production, toys with the idea of leasing and selling land to foreign governments, e.g. China and Egypt maybe in return for past debts in the case of China. Therefore, empowering other than the Sudanese individuals and creating a potential social time bomb, to the extent that the new foreign owners of land refuse to employ locals in farming. Those responsible seem to have more confidence in the foreigners than the locals.


Therefore , it could be said that those who belonged to the IF were able to acquire a share of wealth much greater than the ordinary Sudanese, and that is why whoever was able to run out of the country did so. Those who were unable to emigrate remained behind living under difficult conditions, unable to find decent healthcare or any degree of education for their children.


Another crucial aspect was the new policy brought up by the Minister of Higher Education. When the present IF government took over in 1989, there were many Sudanese youth who were sent abroad by their families to obtain a better education at their expense. The new policy called upon all those who were studying abroad to return to Sudan since the financial authorities were short of foreign exchange. This created considerable inconvenience to the families of those students. While this was  being done, the children of the members of the IF continued to remain outside doing their education in foreign universities(!).  One positive aspect is that when the present  regime took over, there were only five universities in Sudan, while presently there are more than 60 universities, but poorly staffed and with very limited resources. Moreover, the government shed off its responsibility of free education, which had been the general rule up until that time. If 60-80% of the Sudanese budget is utilized for Defense and Security what is then left for social services such as education, health. etc.?  Higher education in Sudan is at present only for those who are financially able. More than 46% of the 30 million Sudanese are below the poverty line.


The same applies to health services, which used to be free before the advent of the present IF regime. Since little is given to health services, many private hospitals and clinics were opened and run on pure commercial grounds and mostly owned and operated by influential members of IF or their allies. Therefore, it could only be afforded by those who are rich. If a normal citizen dies in a private hospital his/her body will not be given to their families unless  hospital fees was fully paid. The same with operations: no sick person can hope to get operated upon unless the cost of the operation is fully settled in advance. The government-owned hospital system has been drawn down in favor of private hospitals and clinics. As for the officials and their families, they have the privilege to travel abroad at the expense of the taxpayer no matter how much it costs in foreign exchange. In line with the expansion of private hospitals, a good number of medical schools were established, mostly owned and run by those related to the ruling party.


Yet another factor which led to reducing chances for the majority to continue obtain decent employment is the fact that major projects in the Sudan were actually put out of business, e.g. the Great Gezira Scheme (two million Feddans) which used to produce cotton and had sustained the Sudan for decades, the Sudan Railways that used to be the longest in Africa with more that 44,000 workers, the Sudan Line (sold out), and Sudan Air, which was famous long before Ethiopian Airline or Saudi came into existence.  Instead of empowering those operating these institutions through new ways and modern technology, they were pushed into a state of pauperization.


The logic behind these destructive attitudes, i.e. of dismantling institutions in order to lay off labor which were organized into very strong trade unions, is unfortunate. Every government that came put a careful eye on such unions. Since nationhood was not fully established since independence in 1956, these unions were very strong political groups, guarding the politics of the country as well as their interests.  Most had socialist tendencies, such as the Railway Union, since some of their cadres were of the famous Sudan Communist Party. In fact, since the advent of the present government, they assigned the responsibility of controlling these unions to a dental surgeon,  a job in which he achieved considerable success.


The present government was even very wary about the Sudanese middle-class, which used to embrace the most educated of the Sudanese people and were politically more aware. The present government was able, through gradual and subtle policies, to eliminate the middle-class which used to be the safety valve between governments and the general public. They were also a source of resistance to governments.


Moreover, instead of supporting the creation of strong political parties in order to have a strong opposition, the general tendency was to infiltrate and weaken the traditional parties. The IF holds no belief in democracy and democratic practices, thus it was able to dilute the impact of traditional political parties and trade unions that used to be very alive in creating problems for governments. In addition, they operated using the cover of religion, and were thus able to survive for more than a quarter century. 


Is there any attention to the rest of the ordinary Sudanese, whether in the urban centers or in the countryside?  Are there any methods through which they could be empowered in order to develop themselves?  Such attention is supposed to be carried out as part of the responsibility of the union ministries and the state governments, and carried out through the national budget and the encouragement of private initiative. In fact, the country’s strategy gave the private sector was given more than 72% of the production in the whole country, yet it was loaded with heavy taxes and wrong macroeconomic policies so that a good number of them ran off to invest in neighboring countries, specially Ethiopia where the investment environment is more conducive. There was also differentiation between those in the private sector who belong to the IF and others who have no political affiliation,  i.e. members of the NC who do not belong to that political clan, particularly in the area of custom and tax exemptions. There are even indications of discrimination among traders, i.e. those who are members of the IF and others who do not belong its major political party, i.e. the NC.


For most of the quarter-century in which the IF ruled the Sudan, the country was in constant turmoil, in the South, the Western part (the Blue Nile, Darfur and Kordofan) as well as the rest of the country. In addition to some external activities related to the political objective of the party, which themselves were part of current problems, leading to a country such as the USA to impose boycott on Sudan in 1997 as harboring terrorism (a boycott which still holds and renewed every year by the American President). Therefore, what is needed of just and proper empowerment was mainly for the members of the IF and those who are fellow travelers who could no longer resist low incomes and  poverty. The rich and highly paid in the Civil service are those who are members of the IF. In the private sector, it is those who were able  to enter with no business experience except that they belong to the ruling party and receive special treatment. As a result, many traditional Sudanese became marginalized and many went out of business or fled the country to thriving neighboring countries such as Ethiopia and Egypt as well as to Chad. The same happened to qualified Sudanese such as medics (males and females), engineers, university lecturers and teachers (both males and females). Although those responsible underestimated such exodus of qualified cadres are now complaining about lack of  qualified  personnel in various professions, specially in Sudanese universities and hospitals and other government agencies. One striking feature, as regards the individual, is that law and justice are applied with clear bias to those who are members of the IF and its political institutions.



As stated above Sudan was a unfortunate country because it had never enjoyed more than eight years of democratic rule since it obtained it independence in 1956. The remainder of 60 years since independence the Sudan was under military rule, alternating between various ideologies and schools of thought. This led to similar changes in the structures that managed institutions and the economy as well as the affairs of the Sudanese population in general. The administrative setup and the laws and rules left by the colonial authority had worked well during their presence, since it was meant to be a very effective, and sound services structure following their imperial objectives. In fact the system continued being used long after the Sudan attained independence. For example, the Companies Act of 1925 has been resorted to until it was recently amended by the present government. It could be said that the rules and regulations left by the colonial authority have been adhered to in the process of taking care of the population and amended from time to time in a positive manner. Moreover, the choice of various cadres were done to a great  extent on the basis of competence and experience, specially during the early years of independence and also during the years 1969-1985 (during the era of late president Nimeiri, who attracted many technocrats from various professions).


 But since the present government took over, the system was greatly changed and even distorted to a great degree which rendered the management system ineffective and without providing a decent alternative.  According to Lagarde,  “…good institutions are founded and formed on principles of accountability, transparency and impartiality…They facilitate empowerment by letting success depend on competence rather than connections, participation rather than patronage  –  by offering an open hand rather than a closed fist.” She goes on to say, “a narrow subset of institutions  –  ones that contribute directly to economic wellbeing by providing strong framework for fiscal, monetary policy and financial sector oversight  –  without good institutions in these and without capable people behind, these policies will be ineffective and areas of empowerment will be blocked.”


Now let us see to what extent the words of Lagarde apply in the case of the Sudan during the period mentioned.


The government machinery, the private sector, the banking system and monetary policy, fiscal aspect and fiscal policy and development policy and international trade shall be some of the major points which will be discussed .


The government machinery and the private sector:

This was one of the first institutions that was targeted by the NIF. Immediately after taking over, the NIF held (end of 1989) two major conferences, one political and the other economic. These two conferences tried to invite most Sudanese irrespective of their political inclinations.  It was intended to give the impression that they took over authority to improve political and economic and social conditions of the people. The real intention was to gradually introduce some of their cadre to such selected audience and secondly to try to convince those present that they wanted real improvement of general conditions along the lines of the reasonable recommendations of the two conferences. Thereafter, a gradual cleansing of the government machinery started.  For example, the writer had seen (after five months) a letter showing the dismissal of 16 of the most experienced and respected Sudanese ambassadors. The minister who was made to sign the dismissal letter did not belong to the I.  At the beginning, non-IF cadres were appointed as cover-up. The disappearance of experienced diplomats had a lot to do with the performance of Sudanese diplomacy in later years.  Starting in 1990, when they were satisfied that no one shall stand in their way, they started to appoint their fellow IF members. Those experienced civil servants, whether ambassadors, medics, university staff,  economists or engineers started to find their way out of the country to the Gulf countries, Western Europe and as far as Australia. This cleaning exercise was applied to all the government machinery as well as public corporations.  The Electricity Corporation,  as an example, was divided into four companies and most of the old staff were dismissed, some on the charge that they belonged to the Sudan Communist Party. The irony is that a number of those engineers who were dismissed sought asylum in the USA and UK and still live there.


That is why it is not surprising to see that since 1989 about ten million Sudanese (about one third of the present population) left the country.  According to official data, 85% of them left during the years of the present regime.  The exodus still goes on until the present time with visible deterioration in the performance of the government machinery.  The point worthy of mentioning is that those who belong to IF were to a great extent not the right replacement.  The criteria was not competence but allegiance to the Party. If an IF cadre fails in his assignment he is not relieved and made accountable, but given another job even better the one in which he had failed.  Another example which showed clearly the manner in which empowerment was exercised in favor of the IF cadre was in the area of privatization of public sector entities as an instrument of economic reform.  A good number of government entities were  privatized gradually.  However, after a while the government started to establish a good number of entities side by side with the  privatization of public sector entities.  Such new entities were established in various ministries.  The number was about 810 such entities. Each entity was chaired by an IF member with staff that also belonged to the IF, financed from government resources which consist of taxes and dues paid by the Sudanese!  All these newly established companies were given preferential treatment in the form of tax exemption, etc.  They were able to compete with the traditional traders. Such companies used to even enter into government contracts thus under-cutting those who were in business long before the present IF government came in.  Even some of these new breed of entities tried to  take away  the representation of foreign companies from the older companies so that they could control all trading activities.  The establishment of private consulting or research canters was made difficult for non-IF entities so that most of the existing canters are supported by the government funding thus trying to control public opinion.  A number of previously established private canters were closed on the premise that they advocated ideas not acceptable to the government or that such canters are being supported and financed by foreign agencies and institutions. 


Fiscal aspects and fiscal policy; The banking system and monetary policy:

In addition to what was stated about the Islamization of banks, in this section what will be mentioned is about how the members of the IF were able to make use of the resources of the Islamized system.  In fact the idea of Islamic banks was introduced  by an IF member who was close to the Saudi Prince Mohamed Al Faisal.  The idea was taken up by late president Nimeiri and covered the whole economy in a few years.  Most of the banks were managed by the some of the members of IF. Therefore, the first persons who were able to take advantage of the resources of these newly Islamized banks were the members of the IF.  Many of them suddenly became rich through business and financial facilities afforded to them through breaking all the strict  rules that governed the traditional banking system. From rags to riches in a few number of years.  Moreover, these Islamized banks became a sort of incubator of cadres who were able to jump into the government machinery and the private sector after 1989 when the present Islamic government took over.  The Central bank of Sudan was headed by a member of IF.  A good number of those who were running the show were thrown out in spite of their very high qualifications and experience because they were not IF members.  The structure of wage was raised to an unusual level, enriching those on top and creating a huge gap between the Central Bank and the Civil Service. The monetary policy itself was geared in favor of those institutions owned by members of the NIF.


The system that the NIF established in 1989 was gradually destroyed without providing an Islamic alternative.  Under the strict rule of force and lack of justice, non-transparency, non-accountability, non-competence, etc. corruption became so rampant that is was officially recognized by the government and a Commission was proposed  –  but never materialized.


This is Part I of a two-part series; Part II will be featured in the July-August issue.


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