Report: ‘Security-business networks holding Sudan’s private sector and democratic transition hostage’

Sudan’s modern history has been characterised by an inequitable, predatory political economy, that can be tracked back to long before independence, under the British-Egyptian condominium, and to this day, security-business networks are holding Sudan’s private sector and the democratic transition hostage.

In a new report entitled Kleptocracy versus Democracy, coauthored by Anette Hoffmann* and Guido Lanfranchi** of the Conflict Research Unit of the Clingendael Institute, an independent think tank and academy on international affairs, based in The Hague, the Netherlands, shows how patterns of governance which developed in the 19th century established an exploitative relationship between the centralising power of the state and its hinterlands, mainly through the institutions of slavery.

“Successive regimes have overexploited natural resources in the country’s peripheries, namely land, labour, gold and oil, in order to deliver economic benefits to selected constituencies, mainly in the capital, and to shore up their political legitimacy. These political economy structures have led to the consolidation of wealth and power in the hands of a restricted circle of elites, largely composed of government officials, military officers, and businessmen, with strong connections and frequent overlaps among these categories.

“At the same time, these arrangements have failed to deliver adequate socio-economic benefits to the population at large, and they have sown the seeds for the country’s current instability by exacerbating the divide between Sudan’s wealthier, powerful centre and its poorer, disempowered peripheries,” the authors say.

‘Amidst the kleptocratic networks that have come to hold the entire economy hostage to its own power ambitions, other players within Sudan’s private sector have shown remarkable resilience and innovation…’

“Amidst the kleptocratic networks that have come to hold the entire economy hostage to its own power ambitions, other players within Sudan’s private sector have shown remarkable resilience and innovation. They include distinct types of businesses – large and small, old and new, politically-connected and independent ones – that are also part and parcel of the country’s business scene. Over the past decades, these actors had to learn how to survive both the unfair competition imposed by these security-commercial networks and Sudan’s isolation from international markets that these networks caused,” the report says.

“In the midst of the current war, it is critical to understand who these actors are. This report first sheds light on Sudan’s security-business networks, showing how these actors have resisted the transformation of Sudan’s political economy into a more equitable and peaceful settlement, and how they continue to effectively fuel the current war (Chapter 2). At the same time, the report also recognises the entrepreneurs and companies that have been held hostage by those networks for decades, but have found their own way to navigate a highly politicised marketplace, while offering employment opportunities, adding value to the economy and producing goods and services for the population at large”.

‘In order to turn the tide in Sudan, a double effort is needed…’

The report argues that in order to turn the tide in Sudan, a double effort is needed. First, the security-business networks have to be dismantled, and their leaders held accountable for their crimes. At the same time, those private sector actors who have been struggling over the past decades need to be supported in their current efforts to survive the war and rebuild the country once this war ends. Unless this occurs, Sudan’s future will be characterised by violence and resource extraction for the benefit of a small group of security-business elites, with high costs for the population at large.

This report consolidates and presents evidence that was partly already publicly available; additional information was gathered in face-to-face and phone interviews with Sudanese analysts and representatives from civil society,

the private sector, and government. The two weeks of field work that fed into this report were conducted in June and August 2022. Although the private sector’s state of affairs has drastically changed since the outbreak of the

war on 15 April 2023, the struggle for a more transparent and fairer business environment will remain critical after the war.

Read the complete report

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this analysis are those of the contributing author/organisation, the Conflict Research Unit of the Clingendael Institute, and do not necessarily reflect the position of Radio Dabanga.

* Anette Hoffmann is a senior research fellow at Clingendael’s Conflict Research Unit. Her work focuses on the interaction between economic and political drivers of conflict and peace, with a particular focus on the Horn of Africa. She spent 10 years living and working in the Sudan, South Sudan, and Ethiopia.

** Guido Lanfranchi is a research fellow at Clingendael’s Conflict Research Unit (CRU). He contributes to CRU’s Horn of Africa programme, focusing on Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia. Guido’s research interests revolve around the interplay between economic, political and security dynamics, with a focus on how economic interests and business elites shape governance arrangements and conflict patterns. Guido also conducts research on geopolitical dynamics and foreign powers engagement in the Horn of Africa.

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