05 June 2004

talk with L.

I just had lunch with L., a Sudanese guy I met doing a recent fundraiser. Before I forget what he said, I'm going to blog it.

Issues with food aid

He worked with an indigenous aid group called IFRA (International Famine Relief Assoc.) or something. Because of the civil war, parents sent their kids to Khartoum, imagining it to be big village, but really the kids ended up in the slums. First L's aunt gave them ice cream, then his dad gave them medical care, then various family members adopted them, then they started doing organized relief work.

The biggest thing that he said backfired was trying to change the social order in villages by giving food to everybody, or to only women or otherwise marginalized people. He said this encouraged dependency, by disrupting their social structures, and he would later see the people begging in Khartoum. Instead, he said it was best to give the food to the headman or chief, who'd then distribute it as he saw fit, as counter-intuitive as it seemed.

As for international organizations, he said the WFP was the "least bad" because they did their research well. He said GOAL (from Ireland) and MSF were good too.

Why Sudan is fucked

The US supported Nimeiri for decades as a corrupt Cold War proxy and then the IMF used the debt he incurred as leverage to force SAPs on the country. There were some interesting consequences of this, like school fees forcing kids out of public schools into Muslim schools.

Right now, he said the biggest thing that would make a difference is access to markets, of which US/EU agricultural subsidies were the most important barrier. He said this was more important even than debt relief. There was an article in May/June '04 issue of Foreign Affairs by the president of Tanzania about the failed WTO talks at Cancun with pretty similar conclusions.

As for Western Sudan, the problems were largely caused by extended and severe drought, the doubling of the population over a short period and the availability of lots of cheap weapons left over from the Chad-Libya conflict in the 1980's. Of course, also the economic problems of the entire country were a factor, as well as the government marginalizing the region economically and politically, disrupting traditional forms of dispute resolution, exploiting ethnic tensions, and finally arming the Janjaweed and giving their attacks the green light.

Also, the JEM, one of the main rebel groups in Darfur, is the remnant of the hated NIF that was forced out of power a few years ago. Who knew? (Not me.) Things are kind of complicated there.

US intervention

It's a two-edged sword. You can kind of guess this part. The culture, values, products, etc. have many appealing things about them, but it's all the supporting illegitimate governments that people aren't so crazy about. Actually American (or rather modern capitalist) culture is sometimes a little tough too, because it's changing lifestyles so quickly that people from different generations don't quite understand each other.

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