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What is the history of nonviolent political change in Sudan–under what conditions and with what complications were civil society actors able to challenge the state structures? Read what happens when two expert Sudanese scholars debate the finer points of Sudan’s lesser-known history of popular protest. Alex de Waal reviews W. J. Berridge’s book, Civil […]

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Economic and financial sanctions rarely work: their best record is when they are short-term, have specific asks, and are targeted at friendly countries. Long-term, broad sanctions punishing hostile countries tend to compound the harm. Depriving a government of any legal way of getting the finance it needs to function, means it works criminal networks instead. Sudan is a case in point: a raft of U.S. financial and economic sanctions has contributed to the dominance of an entrenched security-commercial cartel at the top of government, whose members are personally enriched by this system. When a state is captured by such a network, regime change becomes extraordinarily difficult. There’s no way out of this trap without normalizing state finance—and that means transforming the sanctions regime.

The final and most fundamental point is that we cannot escape this problem with the same tools and the same frameworks that got us collectively into it in the first place.

This agenda for change is neither charity nor coercive intervention, because the problem is ours as well. In Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia and South Sudan, international interventions have made a bad situation worse. We share the same international financial and security systems: we all suffer the consequences, and all need to fix them. In western, developed countries, we experience the concentration of wealth into a tiny fraction of extremely rich people, alongside policies that have cut into the middle class, and limited the future of the next generation. We have a closed security establishment that considers itself above the rules that govern society as a whole, and permitted to crooks in the name of protecting the public. Their worldview subordinates public interest to greed and fear, and their prescriptions for global problems don’t challenge this formula.

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But it’s no surprise that the massive spending on infrastructure began after 1999, simply because for the first time the government had the financial means. It should also come as no surprise that Bashir and others have continued to trumpet the same Islamist slogans, proudly showing off the dams as evidence for the regime’s triumphs. There is still an Islamist constituency to keep onside. But to conclude that ‘Mashru Al-Hadhari [the civilization project] is very much alive’ (p. 149) is to mistake rhetoric and manoevre for a genuine state project.

The view on the street, endorsed by the members of the political elite whom Verhoeven cites, is that the central purpose of the DIU was larceny and political finance, and that building an Islamic state was just hot air. Indeed, Verhoeven’s own verdict is that the hydro-transformational project has ended in a ‘mixture of incompetence, myopia and extraversion’ (p. 248).

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Twenty years ago today the policy of the “safe havens” in Bosnia’s war collapsed, not in the hills of eastern Bosnia, but in a meeting in London.While it is more important to mark the anniversary of genocide at Srebrenica, today should not be forgotten. Nor should the shift be simplified into a redemption story for […]

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Laura Seay with Alex de Waal, From The Washington Post, July 17, 2015, Monkey Cage

In today’s hyper-connected world, it’s easier than ever for those who live thousands of miles away from a conflict area to learn about a crisis. When people of good will hear about a crisis, be it the plight of […]

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There is a longstanding joke about Sudanese statistics: 87.7% of official figures are made up on the spot. Morten Jerven’s fabulous short book is a vindication of such skepticism, continent-wide and covering the last 25 years of economic analysis and policymaking. His aim is ambitious: nothing less than claiming that economists—specifically econometricians, who apply statistics […]

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