International

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Alfred de Montesquiou/AP
World Food Program (WFP) workers offload sacks of rice donated by the U.S. Agency for
International Development (AP)

Sudanese Food Exports Hard to Swallow

August 12, 2008 06:59 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
Sudan is drawing criticism for exporting food while Darfur starves, but the situation is nothing new and Burmese people have faced a similar plight.

Sudan’s Ultimate Injustice

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Despite having “the potential to be the breadbasket of Africa,” according to United Nations World Food Program director Kenro Oshidari, Sudan fails to feed its own people, particularly in Darfur.

The New York Times reports that the Sudanese government has been “capitalizing on high global food prices” by exporting crops en masse, while at the same time receiving more food donations than any other country in the world.

Sudan is often thought of as a vast desert, but has a great deal of arable land, aided by the Nile River and its tributaries flowing throughout the country. The northeast African nation is currently “growing wheat for Saudi Arabia, sorghum for camels in the United Arab Emirates and vine-ripened tomatoes for the Jordanian Army.” Furthermore, the government is investing five billion dollars into programs that will increase production and enable even more food to be exported.

Meanwhile, the UN and Western aid groups are struggling to feed millions of starving Darfurians, particularly malnourished children, but efforts are constantly hampered by lack of security and truck hijackings. The Sudanese government is of little help. President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s regime is accused of orchestrating the genocide in Darfur, and many people feel that without outside help, Darfurians would not receive any food at all.
Abhorrent as they are, Sudan’s food tactics do not receive much press attention, according to Smith College professor Eric Reeves, an activist who also writes on Darfur. The Sudanese government’s strategy is to exploit its own wealth and power “to further enrich itself and its cronies, while the marginalized regions of the country suffer from terrible poverty,” Reeves said.

Sudanese officials have defended their actions by saying “they are simply trying to build up their economy,” and do not seem bothered by international scorn. “They say they know what it is like to be vilified, having been squeezed by American sanctions for more than a decade,” The New York Times reports.

The U.S. has responded to Darfur’s crisis by shipping hundreds of tons of food aid “from as far away as Houston,” but the New York Times indicates that Sudan might have exported the entire American donation, and will probably export even more this year.

Background: Crisis in Darfur

Sudan’s troubles are deeply rooted. President al-Bashir has held his position since 1989, when he took over during an Islamist-backed coup. According to CNN, in 2003, al-Bahir’s government organized Arab militia fighters to ward off black African rebels. The rebels claimed they’d been marginalized in favor of ethnic Arabs, and violent fighting ensued, resulting in thousands of deaths and millions of displaced people.

At that time, the international community caught wind of the war, but the scope of the genocide was hugely underestimated, and the Sudanese government denied any involvement.

However, in July 2008, the International Criminal Court charged President al-Bashir with multiple crimes connected to his role in the Darfur crisis over the past five years, making him the first sitting president indicted by the ICC for genocide. Now, the three-judge panel must decide if the charges justify an arrest warrant. While some activists welcome al-Bashir’s arrest, others are concerned that it could lead to even more violence.

Sudan, meanwhile, seems indifferent. “We don’t recognize whatever comes out from the ICC, to us it is non-existent,” said Sudan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Ali al-Sadig.

Opinion & Analysis: ‘Food, Farms and Power in Sudan’

The Social Science Research Council blog “Making Sense of Darfur” outlines Sudan’s past agricultural practices, including efforts to export food to the Middle East, “even while it failed to tackle” malnutrition at home. According to the blog, the 1984 famine in western Sudan and the Red Sea Hills happened while Sudanese grain merchants were exporting food to the Middle East. The situation repeated itself in 1988 and throughout the 1990s.

Related Topic: Food hoarding in Myanmar

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