Most discussion of the food crisis in Africa is a model in which subsistence economies remain essentially intact and food insecurity is a transitory phenomenon, the result of external factors such as drought or war which temporarily upset the normal balance between sufficiency and dearth. My experience suggests that in Sudan subsistence economies have all but disappeared. Food insecurity no longer defines one or another period but is a constant condition of the market economy that has come to dominate the country.

In the north, this elimination of subsistence economies has largely come about through economic means, especially the growth of mechanized agriculture. The isolation of southern Sudan had kept the subsistence economy there relatively intact. The current war is producing a situation similar to that in the north, but in a most violent and truncated manner.

The market economy that has emerged in Sudan is extremely fragile. Standards of living have been so reduced that slight fluctuations in prices or weather easily push large numbers of people into conditions of great distress. Food insecurity becomes the norm, a tangible expression of the emergent economic and political system and its attendant growth in the level of absolute poverty.

A new and growing category of “poor” has emerged that depends on selling its labor to purchase the food necessary for survival. Food insecurity results primarily from an inability to buy sufficient food — what Amartya Sen calls an “entitlement failure.” [1] The solution can not be emergency intervention alone. An element of permanent and wide-ranging institutional reform is essential. Such issues as rights to land and dignified labor must be tackled, together with efforts to stabilize costs of food and levels of wages.

The erosion and disappearance of subsistence economies, furthermore, has major implications for conventional development strategies. If the resilience of traditional communities has been fractured, strategies that presume a return to the past can not succeed. Subsistence and community supports that no longer exist must be replaced with alternative forms of “social security,” which likely include an important role for the state.

Crisis of Subsistence in the North

Social characteristics of modern commercial development follow a broadly similar pattern in the rural areas of northern Sudan. In the more developed areas, local merchants, besides trading, may typically own a large farm, one or two trucks and possibly a tractor. These different resources are brought together and managed through the agency of the family. Different sons may take separate responsibility for trucking and farming, while a father or oldest brother maintains overall supervision. A younger son may well be at a university. Commercial success both reinforces family solidarity and is dependent upon it.

Family solidarity among the rich contrasts with the tendency toward fragmentation among the poor. Developments of this sort have affected the poor in many ways. Import trade has undermined the profitability of former craft pursuits. Agricultural expansion by the rich has confined the poor to small fixed and increasingly infertile plots. Limited local demand for labor is more than matched by a growing need for money among the poor. Declining family incomes mean parents can no longer meet their obligations towards their children; individuals, if not whole families, migrate to town. The loss of rural family labor worsens the trend toward impoverishment. In central and western Sudan during the mid-1970s, significant portions of the rural population, in some places up to half, found it increasingly difficult to maintain their households and standard of living. [2]

Subsistence economies were neither homogeneous nor egalitarian. Food security measures which did exist were neither wholly effective nor inclusive. [3] But the pursuit of subsistence, based on low-technology agro-pastoralism, had relied on the regenerative powers of nature. Farming techniques preserved soil fertility, and nomads exploited rangeland in a rational fashion. Dependence on nature required dependence on others.

New forms of social differentiation, legitimized by an ideology of modernization, stress enlightenment, independence, equality and a break with traditional servile and client relations that characterized subsistence economies. The fragile market economy is characterized by low levels of employment, remuneration and commodity availability. Sudan, like most of Africa, still reflects the earlier international division of labor based on the export of primary products, but it has not developed the political and institutional means to resolve the social problems produced by this configuration.

In north Sudan, the driving element has been the commercialization of agriculture. In the colonial period, the state had to establish the rudiments of a modern capitalist economy while simultaneously opposing its full-blown indigenous development. The Native Administration, set up in the 1920s, gave external legal support to tribal leaders, ossifying what had been a rather fluid system of tribal and ethnic identity, and playing them off against nascent nationalist leaders. [4] Even the tenancy arrangements of the vast Gezira Scheme were based on what were assumed to be pre-colonial social relations: Labor flowed in and out of this huge irrigated cotton plantation according to the rhythm of the subsistence economies of surrounding social groups.

In the 1950s, the time of political independence, numerous privately owned cotton pump schemes were established along the White and Blue Niles. By the 1960s, private interest had shifted to large-scale commercial farming of sorghum in rain-fed areas, using tractors to clear the bush and to plow while remaining dependent on manual labor for most other tasks. The process began in eastern Sudan and spread south into the Blue Nile Province and then west through southern Kordofan and Darfur.

By the end of the 1970s, about 4 million feddans stretching across the central clay plains were registered as under mechanized cultivation, compared with about 9 million feddans registered as “traditional” rainland. By 1982, the area under mechanized cultivation had jumped to about 6 million feddans. In 1986 it jumped again to over 9 million feddans, exceeding the “traditional” sector. [5]

These statistics encompass a disturbing social polarization. The 9 million mechanized feddans support about 8,000 largely absentee farmers, while the 9 million traditional feddans support roughly 2.5 million farmers. Behind this lies another trend: Around 1985, the consumption of cereals overtook production, rendering Sudan a food deficit country. Ninety percent of the marketable surplus produced in Sudan, moreover, originates in the mechanized sector, and is thus controlled by less than 1 percent of the farmers. [6]

The development of mechanized agriculture, with its economies of scale and favorable access to state inputs, has been a major factor contributing to the unprofitability of peasant agriculture. Peasant farmers relying on the annual labor of family members simply cannot compete.

The figures provided above only relate to areas registered. Unregistered or illegal mechanized schemes cover a vast area which may even approach that of the registered farms. In the traditional sector, rich peasants have increasingly been using tractors themselves to cultivate farms of more than 50 feddans. Thus even within the traditional sector rich peasant farming has expanded while poor peasant cultivation has decreased in favor of a growing reliance on wage labor.

This process has had important consequences for Sudan’s labor market. By the mid-1970s, out of a total agricultural labor force of 7 million, about 1 million Sudanese annually migrated across northern Sudan, from west to east, to find work, following a pattern set during the colonial period. [7] In the 1970s, as commercial agriculture expanded westward into southern Darfur and Kordofan, labor markets in the north became more localized, creating labor shortages in more established commercial areas. The old west/east divide was replaced by a south/north divide, as migrants from southern Sudan (and in certain areas Eritrean refugees) met this demand. Until this period, south Sudan’s economy had been quite detached from that of the north. This migration increased dramatically with the onset of war, which created a new category of landless, actually assetless, labor within the Sudanese economy.

The poor peasants remaining in the farming sector, to compete with commercial farming, have had to intensify cultivation, doing away with inter-cropping, crop rotation, extensive terracing and so on. [8] Such practices mimic those of commercial farmers, and together represent a shift from conservation to a more exploitative and damaging relationship with the environment — far more responsible for environmental degradation, in my opinion, than climatic factors.

In summary, Sudan’s rural economy had already undergone major transformation prior to the dry years of the 1980s. Poverty has grown as a result of how wealth is produced — namely by supplanting subsistence economies and their welfare functions. The creation of wealth, moreover, has significantly altered the relation between society and nature, shrinking the country’s resource base as it creates new forms of poverty in its wake. This vanishing resource base provides the backdrop for growing inter-ethnic tension, rivalry and violence in the 1980s. [9]

War in the South

The war between north and south Sudan, which erupted anew in 1983, is frequently interpreted as a Muslim-Christian or Arab-African conflict. While these categories have some bearing on how the war is conducted and experienced, its origin is more properly sought in the economic crisis in the north. As difficulties there mounted, the potential resources of the south, especially oil, water and land, became increasingly important to the state and the commercial interests that dominated it. President Ja‘far al-Numayri’s “development” initiatives — oil extraction, water conservation — disproportionately favored the north. He expressed this politically by redividing the southern provinces in 1983.

Southern Sudan, isolated in the colonial period and neglected during the 1956-1972 civil war, is perhaps one of the most underdeveloped areas in all of Africa. The relative strength of the subsistence base, especially the great cattle economies of the Nilotic groups, represented an obstacle for both northern and southern elites wishing to exploit the region’s economic potential. This decade’s war is not only a conflict over scarce resources; it represents a full-scale, unprecedented assault on this subsistence base.

One feature of this is the creation of extra-tribal relations of authority — the Southern People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), on the one hand, and various Khartoum-backed militias, on the other. The SPLA, at its inception in 1983, was predominantly a Dinka movement. The rank and file has since expanded to include other groups, but Dinka are still over-represented at senior levels. [10]

The province of Equatoria illustrates how the war has gone in non-Dinka areas. Equatoria is more tribally fragmented than the Nilotic areas of Bahr al-Ghazal and Upper Nile, with a higher proportion of cultivators who were not initially drawn into the rebellion. The SPLA intervention, therefore, was opposed by a number of militias and “loyalist” tribes. Gradually the SPLA defeated the militias in the field and recruited from the tribes, to the point where now the only town of any significance in government hands is the province capital, Juba.

An integral part of defeating tribal militias has been to weaken their subsistence base, through burning, cattle rustling and the like. This destruction and dislocation also destabilized relations between tribes, inspiring local feuds that have spread into neighboring Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. [11] Displaced rural people moved into towns and border camps. At the beginning of 1986, the Sudan Council of Churches estimated that over 70,000 displaced persons were seeking aid in the major towns of Equatoria alone; by May 1988 this number had more than doubled. [12]

A strategy of resource destruction and tribal destabilization has also characterized the government side. Both sides used food as a weapon. The SPLA attempted to starve the towns while the government tried to starve the countryside. In Bahr al-Ghazal, a predominantly Dinka area, the SPLA adopted a defensive role while the government armed militias which were drawn from Arab pastoralist Baggara tribes in southern Darfur and Kordofan. Conflict between the Dinka and the Baggara over grazing rights had been common, but the disputes have become much more political, fueled by growing resource depletion in the north.

Major assaults against the Dinka of northern Bahr al-Ghazal began in earnest in late 1985. This was one of the most densely populated areas in all Sudan, with a strong agro-pastoralist subsistence economy. A steady stream of war-displaced migrants to the north quickly outnumbered the earlier economic migrants, and there has been a great deal of displacement within the province as well. Men and boys responded to the raids by taking remaining herds southeast to the relative safety of the Lakes Province, or by joining the SPLA; women, children and the elderly comprise a growing proportion of the remaining civilian population. The cycle of violence escalated through 1986 and 1987, culminating in a series of massacres of displaced Dinkas and a breakdown of relief efforts.

The perceived “normalization” of the situation in the north by 1986 had prompted the UN Emergency Office for Sudan to close; relief needs in the south as well as the north, so went the assumption, would be handled by the central government — the same government responsible for many of the depredations in the area. The attitude of the al-Mahdi government toward the south was very much like that of the Numayri regime to the 1984 famine in western Sudan: Official indifference and obstruction at every level emanated from a deep hostility to the Dinka civilian population, equating them with the SPLA. At least 110,000 people left the province for the north in search of food between December 1987 and April 1988. Rains and transportation breakdowns stranded many thousands in small towns, and during the summer of 1988 at least 30,000 people starved to death in southern Kordofan under the eyes of townspeople and army garrisons — these instances represent the worst cases of death by starvation recorded in Sudan. When aid workers were finally able to get to one of these places in September, the only images that could describe the scenes they encountered were those of Belsen. [13]

The story of Bahr al-Ghazal represents a transitory problem of an extreme nature. It is important, though, because as a result of this war whole tribes or tribal sub-sections have ceased to exist, if one understands these terms to define social groups structured around discrete subsistence economies. Until the outbreak of this present conflict, disputes between groups would be settled at periodic tribal conferences, with compensation and compromise. The killing power of modern weapons, especially when held by one side, has overwhelmed this system. Even with the advent of peace, it is difficult to see how the social rifts can be healed and the disequilibrium caused by unequal access to arms put right.

After the War

At a national level, the war has created conditions which favor the commercial exploitation of the south. Sooner or later the war will end, and the south that remains will be very different from that of 1983. The border regions between north and south have been significantly depopulated, a factor that should favor oil exploration and extraction there. The clay plain across which mechanized agriculture has spread in the north also extends down into northern Upper Nile and Bahr al-Ghazal. Commercial pressure will move mechanized cultivation southward into this fertile belt. Remaining tribal structures have been weakened, easing commercial exploration through the growth of external political authority — namely, the SPLA.

The destruction of the subsistence economy has probably displaced some 2 million people throughout the south. About half this number may have gone to the north, another quarter are scattered throughout the south, and the remainder are in Ethiopia or Uganda. Many of these people are completely destitute and lack assets of any sort. In the towns and mechanized schemes of the north, displaced southerners now comprise the lowest rung of the social ladder. This is a major development in Sudan’s labor history: one of the first indigenous groups of completely landless and assetless workers. This group will also furnish the labor force for the commercial development of the south.

Increased commercial exploitation of south Sudan seems inevitable. SPLA leader John Garang has made it clear that his movement wants to see the development of the region’s resources. [14] Other factors come into play here. Growing disillusionment with the Khartoum government and its conduct of the war has led many donor agencies to slow down their aid programs in the north, and many donors have earmarked funds for the south which they have been unable to spend due to the war.

The dynamic of commercial exploitation represents an expansion of those developments in the north. The social differentiation already apparent will, after the fashion of the north, be enhanced and extended as new categories of rich and poor emerge. Chronic food insecurity will likely spread in the south, despite its lush and fertile environment.

Relief Strategies

Two things have happened in Sudan. First, the crisis and collapse of the subsistence base within the country has prompted the spread of chronic and transitory food insecurity. Second, and related to this, there has been a steady decay in the state of governance. In this situation, the international community, and especially Western and Arab countries, have emerged to play an increasingly important role in Sudan.

The Arab countries, mainly Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, became interested in Sudan after 1973 as an outlet for profitable investment in mechanized agriculture and more recently helping finance the expansion of the Islamic banking system. Libya has been important as a source of arms.

Western countries, together with multilateral bodies such as the UN and the EEC, have furnished almost all recent relief and welfare activities in Sudan. Since the early 1970s, Western aid has gone through two stages. From 1970 to 1985, it was largely devoted to economic and institutional development projects, although by the end of the 1970s the IMF had become a player with its series of “stabilization” interventions. In the second stage, since 1985, an important welfare dimension has emerged, one decisively shaped by the earlier phase of donor practice.

In keeping with the dominant donor view of food security in the “traditional” sector as a transitory problem, welfare activities have largely comprised emergency food distribution based on evidence that the population is in a state of absolute distress. The assumption is that the emergency is externally caused and that aid will be discontinued once the threat has passed. Yet the last five years have seen an unending succession of a dozen or so relief operations which have started and closed in one area, only to begin afresh in another place or return to the same location after a year or so.

The self-contained nature of different relief interventions means that institutional development has not occurred in a uniform matter, but a broad pattern is discernible. Prior to 1986, individual large NGOs virtually monopolized relief management in a particular area — Save the Children in Darfur, for instance, or CARE in Kordofan. The establishment, in May 1986, of the Combined Agency Relief Team (CART) in Juba signaled a new direction. CART was formed by eight NGOs, mostly indigenous church organizations, to pool resources such as transport and to manage more effectively the distribution of relief. CART’s success resulted in the creation of other agency consortia in 1988 to deal with the plight of displaced southerners in Darfur and Khartoum, and to respond to the Khartoum floods.

The regime’s Relief and Rehabilitation Committee (RRC) also assumed a greater role after 1987, once the UN Emergency Office was shut down and its logistics and early warning units transferred to the government. Now requests from NGOs or regional governments for emergency assistance came to the RRC for approval and forwarding to the international donors. Because of the political context of the civil war, relief efforts in the south in 1987 were less than successful.

Prior to 1987, there was a feeling that things were getting back to normal and soon everyone could turn again to the real task: development. By the end of the year, though, there were signs of famine in western Sudan, and the Darfur and Kordofan regional governments were pressing the RRC for assistance. It was apparent that peasants and pastoralists were still very vulnerable from the disaster of 1984-1985. The response to the poor rains of 1987 in the north constituted an important turning point.

The Western Relief Operation (WRO), set up in January 1988 to bring assistance to Darfur and Kordofan, attempted to establish a sustainable institutional framework, under the management of Sudanese authorities, for dealing with transitory food insecurity. The basic plan was relatively simple. Having agreed on food requirements, donors would purchase this amount from stocks in the central and eastern regions — sorghum at 35 Sudanese pounds per sack, for instance — and the RRC, using local contractors, would supervise its transport to various Area Councils in the west. Donors would pay for transport, with the intention of passing the low cost of the food entirely to those communities in great need. Area Councils would transport it to Village Councils, to be sold for 35 pounds per sack through village cooperatives. Fifteen pounds were set aside to cover local government transport costs; the remaining 20 would revert to the donors. Eighty-five percent of the food would be sold in this manner; the remainder would be available for free distribution by NGOs to the totally destitute.

The WRO was a dry run for a more ambitious system that could be supported by a series of controlled revolving funds: Stocks would be purchased through Agricultural Bank of Sudan intervention in good harvest years and be released in bad years and sold at cost. The RRC would coordinate the operation and act as a link between the Bank, donors and regional governments.

The Western Relief Operation failed to achieve its major objectives. In Darfur, of the 51,000 metric tons agreed by the donors (about half of what was requested by the regional government), only an insignificant 20 percent reached its destination. WRO failed to have any impact on the market price of cereals, which rose steadily to peak at over 400 pounds per sack of sorghum in some places. The situation deteriorated in some places to the point where conventional NGO relief intervention proved necessary.

Some of the problems stemmed from the fact that this was the first time such an ambitious program had been attempted. Other difficulties were more deep-seated, relating to the decay of governance and the growth of aggressive commercialism. During 1988, the Agricultural Bank exported up to half a million metric tons of quality sorghum, mainly to Europe as livestock feed. Some of the sorghum offered to the WRO was so old and of such poor quality as to be declared unfit for human consumption. Under pressure to improve the quality, the Bank insisted on raising the price to 65 pounds per bag. This set in train further delays, until the government eventually agreed to make up the price difference. Many of the sacks supplied by the Bank were significantly underweight. All this wrangling set the WRO back by several months.

Another difficulty involved private contract transport, which has featured in nearly all relief operations since 1984. Contracts drawn up with truck owners can quickly become unprofitable if, say, the price of fuel increases. Or a more lucrative market may open up. Truck owners frequently use advances to trade in more valuable commodities en route. They also have a predilection for off-loading at more accessible destinations, to the neglect of more remote but needier areas. Due to ignorance of the plan or to the greater expense of transportation, many Area Councils passed on their share of transport costs to the Village Councils. Thus not only was the amount delivered of little consequence; in many places it was several times more expensive than it should have been. Donor confidence eroded and commitment declined markedly, until the operation was formally closed in October 1988. Similar difficulties have beset almost every operation mounted in Sudan requiring a high level of interdepartmental or sectoral cooperation.

Donor Rivalry

Another important aspect of Sudan’s real world is the position of donors. Between 1984 and at least the middle of 1988, competition was rife, particularly between the UN and the EEC, with the US Agency for International Development playing a critical background role as tension between the US and Libya increased.

Donor representatives are in Sudan to represent the foreign policy interests of their home government or organization. It is not for nothing that many have their largest African aid programs in Sudan. The uncertain political situation in Khartoum in the period since Numayri’s overthrow in 1985 nurtured this competition. This contrasts with the situation in Ethiopia, where a once strong state with a clear program met a collective Western embargo on development aid. In Sudan, the economic and political crises and the growth in absolute poverty has undoubtedly worked to the advantage of the donor nations.

The conditions where this could be developed into collective pressure began to emerge during 1988. During the summer, the continuing influx of displaced southerners into the north made clear the extent of the social breakdown in Bahr al-Ghazal. It became international news that this massive displacement was related to the failure of the southern relief operation in 1987. During September, the ghastly fate of those southerners trapped by the rains in Kordofan became known and aroused further concern among NGOs over the lack of accountability in relief operations.

Donor states usually regard NGOs simply as implementing bodies and often channel resources through them in preference to the government, but the donors have been notorious for backing away from any confrontation with the government in a dispute with an NGO. Once an agency accepts donor resources, so the assumption goes, those resources become the responsibility of the agency. In late 1988, NGO criticism of this position finally prompted several donors to announce token aid cuts to signal dissatisfaction with the al-Mahdi regime.

Changes on the political front also worked in this direction, as it became clear that the SPLA held the military initiative in the south. In November 1988, the Khartoum-based Democratic Union Party separately negotiated with the SPLA a framework for peace talks, which Sadiq al-Mahdi rejected despite its popularity in Khartoum. Unrest and strikes in early 1989 underlined the regime’s isolation. Donors adopted a collective stance and made overtures to the SPLA. Washington announced it was willing to supply emergency food aid to SPLA areas from Kenya. Up until then, and unlike in Ethiopia, major donors had been unwilling to support cross-border operations into southern Sudan.

In March 1989, for the first time, donors got both sides to allow an internationally organized relief intervention in the south — the UN’s Operation Lifeline. The government’s agreement stemmed from its growing weakness, the SPLA’s from its strength. Since it had the potential of stemming population displacement in the SPLA areas, Operation Lifeline implicitly endorsed the notion that the north could no longer win the war, and conferred international recognition on the SPLA. The military coup of June 30,1989, appears to be a reaction against this trend. The new junta in Khartoum continues to press for a military solution. In the face of this new challenge, the donors seem to have lost their nerve and retreated.

From Emergency Relief to Social Security

For neoliberals, market deregulation creates the conditions for economic growth which in turn guarantees social security. A comparison of different social welfare systems across the globe indicates that reality is more complex than this. Brazil, for example, clearly illustrates that there is no automatic connection between economic growth and improved social security. Dreze and Sen argue that there are clear cases of support-led security where economic growth is not the deciding element in improving general welfare — Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, China and Jamaica are examples. In such countries the key factor has been the creation of the necessary political and social conditions to motivate public participation in ambitious programs aimed at the deprived sections of society. [15]

Sudan’s political classes have singularly failed to develop a support-led social security system. Resource constraints are important, but political will is the key. The same leaders have demonstrated remarkable skill in manipulating donors to maintain a seemingly endless supply of credit. The extent of the welfare vacuum is all the more remarkable given the scale of the crisis.

Suggestions for future improvement should begin with present realities. Two main paths appear possible: either political renewal and democratic development, necessary conditions for a support-led security system, or the continued refinement of a donor-led security system. The two are not mutually exclusive, and future developments could contain elements of both. But they are founded on different principles which allow for different technical solutions.

The case for the development of democratic institutions is beyond question. How else, for example, would one realistically solve the problem of increasing destitution and the growing competition arising from a shrinking resource base, itself a cause of frightening violence and deepening ethnic divisions? Local bodies could at least begin the difficult task of apportioning scarce resources democratically, knowing that their needs, if not met in full, were understood and respected nationally. This would require that political leaders take responsibility for social welfare out of the hands of the international community. Given the prevalence of neoliberal thinking among donors, a compromise would probably have to be reached in which economic performance is traded against improved social security. [16] The focus of NGOs would also change from implementing donor-funded projects to representational work, thus helping in the process of strengthening civil society. [17] A support-led system would be redistributive and progressive in effect. Despite a diversity of social and economic conditions, those countries which have developed support-led security systems exhibit a marked similarity of basic tools, including public health care, education, employment programs, food subsidies, land reform and various forms of income supplementation. [18] Sudan’s priorities would certainly include employment security, urban housing, and credit and transport for small farmers.

It is difficult, however, to imagine any process of political renewal emerging in Sudan within the foreseeable future. More feasible are continued attempts to refine a donor-led system of social security. The fact that refinement will take place in the absence of any democratic reform has a number of important consequences. The system is essentially non-redistributive. These interventions are essentially targeting operations. In the absence of democratic renewal, a donor-led system finds it difficult to resolve local conflicts arising from a shrinking resource base. Refinement of the system is likely to proceed on the basis of varying degrees of antagonism between the NGOs and the Sudanese government, and between NGOs and donors themselves. The decay of governance, the prevalence of neoliberal ideas among donors and the political immaturity of many NGOs will likely produce programs which are relatively expensive and difficult to administer. Without state support, they are likely to remain piecemeal and inadequate.

The main problems facing the improvement of social security generally and food security specifically are located at the political level. Imaginative and comprehensive technical solutions are not in short supply. [19] Given the deepening crisis of subsistence, at best we are likely to see a donor-led security system continue to grapple ineffectively with the problem. At worst, there is a danger that the donor-system would develop into an authoritarian regime of food handouts.

A frightening vision emerges of Sudan entering the twenty-first century as a depleted landscape, rent by internal violence and chronic poverty, where a sectarian state has developed food aid as a tool for rewarding political loyalty and penalizing dissent. Only vigorous action at the political level can forestall such a scenario. An end to the civil war mayor may not provide a foundation upon which the political renewal of Sudan can take place. What is essential, however, is that all international effort should be directed to bringing the war to a close. That same effort should also seek to support and maintain the forces for democracy within Sudan. Donors and NGOs should urgently attempt to resolve their differences with a view to seeking a joint program of reform in association with these forces aimed at encouraging the development of a support-led social security system. This will involve a major shift in attitude amongst donors. Providing they can realize their political potential, NGOs are in a position to be able to mediate in this process.

One thing is certain: the time for radically rethinking the aid approach is long overdue.


[1] Amartya Sen, Poverty and Famines (Clarendon: Oxford University Press, 1981).
[2] L. Holy, “Drought and Change in a Tribal Economy: The Berti of Northern Darfur,” Disasters 4/1 (1980), pp. 65-71; and A. M. Elhassan, “The Encroachment of Large-Scale Mechanized Agriculture: Elements of Differentiation Among the Peasantry,” in T . Barnett and A. Abdelkarim, eds., Sudan: State, Capital and Transformation (Beckenham: Croom Helm, 1980).
[3] J. Platteau, “Traditional Systems of Social Security and Hunger Insurance: Some Lessons from Evidence Pertaining to Third World Village Societies,” Discussion Paper 15, Development Economics Research Program, London School of Economics, 1988.
[4] A. G. M. Ahmed, Shaykhs and Followers: Political Struggle in the Rufaa el Hoi Nazirate in the Sudan (Khartoum: Khartoum University Press, 1974).
[5] S. Maxwell, “Food Insecurity in Northern Sudan,” Discussion Paper 262, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, 1989 [mimeo].
[6] Ibid.; and Institute of Development Studies, “Food Security Study, Phase I,” (1988).
[7] International Labor Office, Growth, Employment and Equity: A Comprehensive Strategy for the Sudan (Geneva, 1976).
[8] Mark Duffield, Maiuro: Capitalism and Rural Life in Sudan (London:Ithaca Press, 1981); Alex de Waal, Famine that Kills: Darfur, 1984-1985 (London: Save the Children Fund, 1987) [mimeo]; Jay O’Brien, “How Traditional Is ‘Traditional’ Agriculture?’ Economic and Social Research Council Bulletin 62 (1977).
[9] Jay O’Brien, “Sudan’s Killing Fields,” Middle East Report 161 (November-December 1989).
[10] “Sudan: Conflict in the SPLA,” Africa Confidential 29/18 (1988).
[11] Norwegian People’s Aid, “Background to the Present Situation and Results of a Survey: Eastern Equatoria and Upper Nile Provinces” (Oslo, 1987) [mimeo].
[12] World Food Program, “Displaced Persons in Sudan: Food Needs and Related Issues” (Khartoum, 1988) [mimeo].
[13] Oxfam press release, Khartoum, September 1988.
[14] John Garang, “We Want a New Sudan,” Africa 177 (1986).
[15] J. Dreze and A. Sen, “Public Action for Social Security: Foundations and Strategy,” Discussion Paper 20, Development Economics Research Council, London School of Economics, 1989.
[16] T. M. Gallaghy, presentation to “The Politics of Structural Adjustment” conference, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, 1989 [mimeo].
[17] T. R. Frantz, “The Role of NGOs in the Strengthening of Civil Society,” World Development 15 (Autumn 1987).
[18] Dreze and Sen, op cit.
[19] Maxwell, op cit.

How to cite this article:

Mark Duffield "Absolute Distress," Middle East Report 166 (September/October 1990).

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