“When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it–always.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Sudan is coming unraveled. Because of its social, political, and economic shortcomings, it ranks third on Foreign Policy’s index of failed states. Basic freedoms are minimal; women are oppressed and activists, journalists, and politicians are regularly arrested pursuant to laws that further state oppression. Sudan’s Human Development Index is the lowest of all MENA countries – 169 out of 187 – and poverty, estimated at 46.5% overall and 57.6% in rural areas, grows more acute by the day. Most Sudanese would gladly swap their current plight for that present within Arab Spring nations prior to their uprisings.
With conflicts in every corner of the country, the South may not be the last part of the country to secede. Corruption is pervasive in Sudan, making the country the sixth worst on the Corruption Perception Index. South Sudan recently announced a program giving amnesty to officials suspected of corruption in exchange for their return of embezzled funds. If Sudan were to implement such a program, it would have a GDP commensurate with a middle-income country. In the meantime, we remain stratified with an economic meltdown on the horizon.
While Sudan is a failed state, does the fact that we continue to do nothing make us a failed nation? Why are we so reluctant to take a stand?
Some say the answer is hopelessness – convinced that change will never come, the Sudanese have acquiesced to the current situation, hoping at most for “reform”, while searching for solace by broadening their definition of political and economic “silver linings”. Others wait for the opposition to mobilize – in itself a hopeless prospect. Even a strong opposition (lacking in Sudan) would struggle for traction. In Sudanese history, revolutions have been started by students, the youth, trade unionist etc, with the opposition joining only once direct momentum has been built. Others fear the prospect of revolution, believing there is no better, viable alternative to the current regime. This fear is disconnected with reality – for it is hard to see how the situation in Sudan can become much worse than it already is.
I believe our inability to rise up is based in feelings of helplessness, a fear-induced passiveness often confused for apathy. Overwhelming oppression has made us feel powerless, unable to confront the dominant political system. Appraising the task as too daunting or too dangerous, the majority settle for uninspired goals that are within reach and plod on day in and day out, looking to survive and relying heavily on a durable social fabric, communal financing, and conciliatory community customs to make up for the state’s failures.
While our resilience is admirable, how long can it hold? The country’s economic outlook is dire. The IMF projects 7.2% contraction in 2012 and a 13% decrease in GDP over the next three years, assuming the country pursues a modest policy response to its current circumstances. Inflation has reached 30.4% and is still considered underestimated. The national budget prospect for 2012, which projected 28% of revenues from oil transit fees, has not been realized and will be replaced by one that forecasts sobering increases in fuel prices and taxes. Adding to this, there will be inevitable negative effects on the price of imports and import-competing goods, such as food (24% of imports), from the currency devaluation associated with the country’s new exchange rate policy, which was announced on May 17, 2010 .
While the coming economic shocks will disproportionately affect the poor, what will happen when the rest of us can no longer “live as best we can”? How much longer will we be able to rely on societal customs to make up for the country’s economic failures?
Will we rise to the occasion and stake our claim to a state that provides for our basic rights? Or will we continue to be intimidated and paralyzed, like a deer caught in headlights, until the decision is made for us? The answers to these questions will determine whether we are indeed a failed nation.
The recent wave of protests, which began on Saturday June 16, 2012, may be the first significant step in demonstrating to ourselves that we, the Sudanese people, are a nation that will succeed and prosper at all costs.
*Yousif ElMahdi is a Sudanese economist and activist. Follow him on Twitter at @Usiful_ME.