Why All The “Howling” About Sudan’s Debt?
Mr. Badawi in his recent post “Indebted to the Save Darfur Coalition?“ plays loose with the numbers and the definition of Sudan’s “odious” debt. In addition, he mischaracterizes the objectives of the Save Darfur Coalition’s position related to how the international community should deal with Sudan’s debt crisis and ignores the coalition’s support thus far of the Obama Administration’s engagement strategy with Khartoum. We have repeatedly called for the U.S. to offer Sudan’s leaders with a choice between earned incentives for durable peace and escalating costs to those who obstruct efforts to resolve Sudan’s interlocking crises. It is necessary, as Mr. Badawi argues, for the international community to rid the Sudanese people of this burdensome and “odious” debt accumulated by multiple regimes in Khartoum – but the burden of proof first lies with Sudan’s leaders to demonstrate that they have finally committed to extinguishing the flames of decades of conflict in Sudan.
To begin with the facts, Mr. Badawi is just plain wrong when he states that the “explosion [in debt] has been almost solely [due] to a build-up of repayment arrears to bilateral and multilateral creditors.” From 1989 until today, the Sudanese government has received an estimated $4 billion in new public medium and long-term loans and an estimated $5 billion in new private medium and long-term loans (information via Economist Intelligence Unit, a past employer of Mr. Badawi). Much of this new debt is even more recent. Sudan accumulated over $2 billion in new loans from international lenders (almost half of it from non-Paris Club bilateral loans) between 2001 and 2006 when it was still waging war in south Sudan and orchestrating its campaign of death and destruction in Darfur. In 2007 and 2008 alone, Sudan contracted another $1.444 billion in more loans mostly from Arab multilateral and non-Paris club creditors, as well as from China and India.
This data reveals that many in the international community continued to give to the Sudanese regime while it was waging war and genocide against its own people. Sudan’s arrears certainly did balloon during this period by $12 billion to bring its total arrears to $18 billion (half of its estimated debt load of $36 billion), but NIF/NCP leaders also contracted new irresponsible loans to finance their destructive policies. From their own reporting, Sudan imported weapons worth $76.3 million between 2004 and 2006, not including fighter jets and combat aircraft. The cost of Sudan’s purchase of 20 MiG-29s and 26 attack helicopters from 2004 to 2008 is unknown but most experts conservatively estimate the price-tag at hundreds of millions of dollars. Recent reports, furthermore, allege that this advanced military buildup continues.
These figures lead me to Mr. Badawi’s second slight of hand. While designating the Nimeiri regime’s debt as “odious,” he shows absolutely no willingness to apply the same standards to President Bashir’s twenty-year old regime. Any amount of intellectual honesty should have led him to consider this $9 billion in new loans as “odious” as well. This financing certainly did not go to improve the lot of the war-battered Southern Sudanese and Darfuris over the last two decades. In making the case for immediate debt-relief for Sudan, Mr. Badawi argues that “the pattern of inequitable development in Darfur, south Sudan, and other areas of the “˜periphery’… lies at the heart of Sudan’s history of instability.” With that said, his argumentation implies that such marginalization was a product purely of the Nimeiri regime – certainly an absurd historical account given that the civil war with the SPLA escalated in the years after the 1989 coup and such marginalization was a chief motivation of the Beja rebellion that began in the late 1990s and the Darfuri rebellion in 2003.
It is also questionable whether the vast majority of northern Sudanese have seen their conditions improve. Their political rights, as consistently protested by northern opposition parties and democracy and human rights activists, continue to be severely curtailed. Last week, in fact, the Mo Ibrahim Index of Governance ranked Sudan 49th out of 54 countries, noting that Sudan “scored well below the continental average in the categories of Safety and Rule of Law, Participation and Human Rights and Sustainable Economic Opportunity.” And even on strictly economic grounds, Sudan has not yet met the pre-conditions for the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative. Most notably, the Sudanese Government has yet to complete its National Poverty Reduction Strategy paper in consultation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Given its track record, the current Sudanese government should not be surprised that advocates for peace and human rights in Sudan fail to take their argument about being unfairly burdened with Nimeiri’s debt and the related arrears seriously. President Bashir and Hassan al-Turabi took direct ownership of this debt when they carried out their unconstitutional coup in 1989 and usurped all vestiges of state power. Flouting the international community, they ignored the arrears that piled up as they instituted their reign of terror in the 1990s. Bashir and the NCP then, as shown above, have used billions in new loans this decade to finance not only crucial infrastructure for the new oil economy – but continuing repression, civil war, and even genocide.
Severely affected by the global financial crisis, the Sudanese government currently seeks assistance from the international community to avoid a financial meltdown. Recent hubris underpinned by the Khartoum-boom now makes way for urgent appeals for debt-relief. Save Darfur’s campaign intends to remind the international community of the odious character of this debt contracted by a regime that remains in power and continues to obstruct peacemaking efforts in Darfur and the democratic transformation set forth in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. International financiers should not subsidize the continuation of such policies, orchestrated by a government with an indicted war criminal at its head, that are leading the country toward even further chaos and ruin.
Save Darfur has also begun educating American policymakers and Sudan’s other major creditors on the real opportunity that debt-relief provides to incentivize peacemaking in Sudan in a multilateral, coordinated manner. Of course, it’s useful for those defending the Sudanese government, in the name of “ordinary” Sudanese people, to treat Save Darfur’s advocacy (for this specific initiative and in general) as a simplistic campaign to punish those in power in Khartoum. It’s also useful for these writers to conflate activist campaigns like “Fast the Eid” – to which Save Darfur had no relation – with the serious policy proposals put forward by the organization.
Mr. Badawi’s description of Save Darfur fundamentally mischaracterizes the coalition’s approach to the Obama Administration’s engagement strategy. Up until now, we have supported the active efforts of the U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan General Scott Gration to revive the constantly-adrift Darfur peace process and to help facilitate the ongoing negotiations surrounding the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. In fact, we have urged Gration to do even more to help create space, opportunities, and incentives for Sudanese to solve their own problems, such as sponsoring civil society mechanisms for non-combatants to participate in the Darfur negotiations.
With Sudan at a dangerous crossroads, we have consistently called for President Obama to present those in power in Khartoum with a choice between earned incentives or serious consequences. To that end, the U.S. should put forward a clear but conditioned process toward normalization of relations with Sudan if, and only if, the government of Sudan provably: permits unrestricted humanitarian access; secures peace in Darfur; fully implements the Comprehensive Peace Agreement; ensures free and fair elections throughout Sudan; and removes the president who is a fugitive from justice. On the other hand, the U.S. should make clear to President Bashir and his party that if they renege on humanitarian commitments and continue to undermine efforts at peace, escalating costs will ensue.
With this strategic approach to providing incentives and disincentives to those in power in Khartoum, the Obama Administration should utilize the ready-made multilateral stick/carrot of debt-relief. Mr. Badawi chose to ignore the political conditions that Save Darfur has set out for the provision of debt-relief to Sudan. In our public statements, we have said that if the government demonstrably changes its behavior to the benefit of all of Sudan’s people, the U.S. should lead the way in facilitating a debt-relief package for Sudan with the international community. On the other hand, if the Sudanese government fails to match its rhetoric for peace with proven action, then the U.S. should make it clear to Sudan that it will use its role at the IMF, as well as its position in the Paris Club, to block any potential debt-relief package. The American message should be simple: the international community will not help Sudan with its economic crisis unless the Sudanese regime takes concrete and lasting steps to resolve Darfur, implement the CPA, and enact true reform to the benefit of its citizens.
These are the internal political solutions – outlined most recently by a cross-section of Sudanese political parties in the Juba Declaration – which the Obama Administration must support in its engagement with the Sudanese government. Indeed, these should be the parameters for – as Alex de Waal writes – “a more constructive political and economic engagement with Sudan, precisely because that will help shift the political centre of gravity in Sudan away from the sterile military/militaristic polarization to a civil-political process that nurtures democracy.” Without first achieving these political solutions and implementing these reforms, debt-relief now for Sudan would give unearned incentives to a regime that has shown no clear and demonstrable signs of finally kicking its murderous and odious ways.
The author is a senior member of the policy and government relations team at the Save Darfur Coalition.