Friday, November 23, 2012

Sudan: a state In debt, a people in debt

Published @
I have noticed that many people in Sudan from taxi-drivers to teachers know that Sudan's external debt is over $40 billion. It seems that the country's debt worries them: it is an amount they their children and grandchildren will still be paying off for years to come, an amount supposedly deducted from their health care and education expenditure. 
To be exact, Sudan's debt will reach $43.7 billion this year.
But the population has other things to worry about: their own personal debts. A few years ago, my uncle who is an English teacher was assigned to a school in Al-Rahad in Northern Kordofan state. In Al-Rahad, he didn't get paid for 6 months at a time and along with friends, they bought food items from the grocery shop and borrowed money from him promising to pay back when "things got better". 
When they received their very late salaries, or at least part of it, they were so indebted, almost all of their pay went to the owner of the grocery shop. This continued until he decided to leave Sudan and teach abroad.
Last month at a Sudanese organization I'm working at, a colleague bought skirts, jeans and tops to market them to the young fashion-crazed girls at the office.I was examining one of the skirts when I was told, "you take it now, you pay the first installment after pay-day at the beginning of the month and the rest mid-month or next month." 
This seemed like a good deal, but I'm too scared of installments. Everything has an interest rate and if you don't pay on time, as the Sudanese state and most of the population have discovered, the price goes up.
Sudan's debt is expected to go up to $45.6 billion in 2013, making 83% of its 2011 GDP.  
ُIn the 1970s, Sudan's former military dictatorship, led by Gaafer Nimeri bought buses from Brazil that came to be known in Sudan as Abu-Rejela, the money was never completely paid and it rose up to a $40 million debt  this year.
Early this month, Sudan's foreign minister said that the Brazilian parliament has banned the government or even Brazilian companies from investing in Sudan or giving us any grants because of Sudan's debt to Brazil. It’s scary, but the Brazilian debt dates back to the 1970s and this too keeps haunting Sudan.
On a monthly basis, Sudan pays $300 million in debt repayments. But the debt just keep on piling up. 
Debt in Sudanese society is a vicious cycle. Its the most normal thing for someone to tell you that they have borrowed money for rent or to pay their debt to the grocery shop. Debt becomes doubled or tripled as you borrow money to pay the money you borrowed and you become indebted once again.
The government, if it acted seriously to end conflicts and human rights violations in Sudan, could maybe get debt relief. Meanwhile, normal citizens have no choice but to try and pay back their mounting debts.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Kids Found the Oldest Industry In the World

In a poor school in Khartoum North, a teacher who is a single mother struggling to make ends meet, told me she gives two girls in third grade breakfast money. 

I was very surprised, knowing the daily struggle she faces with her low salary and low child-support money she receives, why would she even consider supporting the twin girls.

"I found out that they  go to the shop near the school everyday and the shopkeeper does whatever he wants with them for 50 cents each," she finally told me.

I was shocked, why are girls in third grade doing this and do they even understand what he is doing to their bodies?

The girls come from a poverty-stricken household and poverty is becoming more grinding in Sudan as the economy continues to deteriorate.

My family, who are middle-class, are affected by the alarming price increase, I'm sure this family is even more affected, the working class makes very little money , most families are in debt to supermarkets , work or relatives. This reminds me of a famous "joke"-a man makes 400 pounds a month at work and pays 400 pounds a month for rent. When asked what he eats. He says , he eats the rent.

Another girl, also in primary school, sells her body (unknowingly) to a banana-seller in exchange of bananas. She does that out of hunger, she comes from a poor and large family. Her mother works all day , but barely provides enough food for the large family.

A few years ago, my dad's friend told us a story. He found out that one of his acquaintances knows that his daughter engages in prostitution. When he asked him if he agrees with this, he said " I am too old to work and I know what she is doing is wrong, but she is sacrificing for her younger sisters."

Monday, November 5, 2012

Sudan: Who is Responsible

A week after Israel allegedly bombed an arms factory in Sudan, one thing is clear; there is more public anger towards the government than Israel.

First published @

At about midnight on October 23, I was sitting on my bed with my cousin deciding which movie to watch. The windows were wide open to allow some fresh air when all of a sudden, the sky turned red. It caught our attention at the same time and we rushed to the window to close it, expecting this to be a typical angry Sudanese sandstorm.  

A few minutes later, I received a text message saying "plane crashes into Al-Yarmuk arms factory". I was confused and our national television channel, Sudan TV, naturally, was airing a music show. I logged into twitter and began making phone calls to understand what had just happened.

Not far from the factory, a fellow journalist and newlywed had no more idea than I. She heard the sound of planes followed by the loudest noise she had ever heard. Her building shook, and in panic the young couple struggled to gather their important documents and flee the house. In the street, they found women wrapped in bedsheets covering their nightgowns. My friend told me people were trying to run towards the Nile, thinking it the safest refuge from whatever it was that was happening.

The cynical ones said this was our introduction to judgment day. 

Shortly after the airstrike and explosion, government officials announced on TV and radio that this was an internal explosion due to maintenance. They denied the airstrike; it was a figment of imagination on the part of thousands of people living there who insisted that they had seen and heard planes.

For years, the Sudanese government successfully rallied people around it in times of crisis, from the International Criminal Court's arrest warrant to the 2008 Darfur rebels invading Khartoum state and the recent conflict with South Sudan.

However, this time, the public felt disconnected from the government's convoluted relations with other countries, and frustrated about the unnecessary loss of life and property damage. Although Israel has yet to confirm or deny this particular airstrike, since 2009, Israel has bombed Eastern Sudan for alleged arms smuggling to Gaza. 

Emerging details remain confusing; we were told that the airstrikes were because the factory made weapons for Iran. The government, naturally, denied those allegations, and instead what happened was that they prohibited newspapers from writing about this issue. In fact, two years earlier, they temporarily suspended a newspaper for writing about a Khartoum-based factory that made weapons for Iran. So much for treating Sudanese people like adults.

So it was a sad Eid this year in Khartoum. A few days before the airstrike, sewage water exploded in Khartoum North, flooding houses. Just days later, it was the turn of people in Southern Khartoum who had a few sleepless nights when houses collapsed due to the airstrikes and subsequent explosion. Fires burst out again twice after the explosion, spreading fear and anger towards a government that had failed to take responsibility for what had happened.

Commenting on the ongoing fire at the factory, the spokesperson of the Sudanese army said that the firemen couldn't reach some trees the first time. Nobody really believes anything they are told.