Cablegate: Socio-Economic Trends in North Darfur

Published: Fri 18 Jul 2008 07:51 AM
DE RUEHKH #1083/01 2000751
P 180751Z JUL 08
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. (U) SUMMARY. The growth of the international community in and
around El Fasher over the past several years has had many
socio-economic consequences, both intended and unintended. In
general, the international presence has been both a blessing and a
curse: there are more jobs, but filling them created a "brain
drain;" there are more students in school, but the quality of their
education is declining; landlords are making a killing in housing,
but local tenants are being squeezed; there are more doctors and
clinics, but also more concerns about diseases; there are more
social functions taking place, but fewer people can afford to
attend. While all of these consequences are to be expected in a
conflict environment where the UN and NGOs are present, the
international community should begin working to ensure that future
economic development plans include careful consideration of local
participation and sustainability. END SUMMARY.
Economic Opportunities Cause "Brain Drain"
2. (U) While it was impossible to dispute that UNAMID and the
international community created jobs for Darfuris, the Dean of the
Faculty of Education at El Fasher University argued that the
international presence had been a "disaster" for low income
residents of El Fasher. He acknowledged that many uneducated people
were now able to find work as cleaners, guards and drivers, and that
salaries from these relatively low paying jobs had helped to raise
the standards of living for some of the urban poor. However, the
Dean claimed that large numbers of educated professionals,
especially teachers, had left their low paying jobs to work for the
internationals, which paid salaries up to ten times higher. As
such, there were fewer teachers, doctors, engineers working for the
residents of the city, and local expertise had been diverted to
projects in the IDP camps. The effects of this "brain drain" were
most profound on the educational sector, he said, where the loss of
teachers has had profound repercussions on the quality of
--------------------------------------------- -------
More Students in School, Quality of Education Declines
--------------------------------------------- -------
3. (U) A representative from Save the Children Sweden noted that
enrollment in Darfur schools had dramatically increased - almost
200%, he claimed - over the past two years, due to the security and
stability provided by the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) and
UNAMID missions. While the higher number of students may have meant
that fewer children were being sucked into the rebel movements and
other side effects of the conflict, it also meant that class sizes
were necessarily larger due to the critical shortage of qualified
teachers. He noted that the effects of these developments could be
seen in the severe decrease in the number of students who passed the
primary school exam last year. "More students are going to school,
but they are just not learning as much as they used to," he sighed.
Soaring Prices Hit Cash-Strapped Locals
4. (U) The Dean reported that the University of El Fasher had
conducted a study in El Fasher, based on a sample of basic staples,
which showed an almost 700% increase in prices over the past three
years. During that time, however, local salaries remained stagnant
or even decreased. He noted that the sector with the highest
increase was housing, with rent skyrocketing due to the influx of
international staff willing to pay prices one would expect to see in
large, Western cities (Note: The rent on the Embassy office's
modest, 3-4 bedroom home is almost $2500 per month. End Note).
Homeowners in Darfur have capitalized on the situation, renting out
rooms in their homes to Sudanese national staff for extra income,
the Dean explained. However, for those who do not own property,
making ends meet has become increasingly difficult and many have
been forced to move into less desirable neighborhoods, or to double
up with family members.
5. (U) In addition to housing, the prices of consumable goods - from
furniture to groceries - have soared as well. The Dean claimed that
while this was partly due to the global increase in fuel prices, it
was also a result of the increased risks to convoys traveling from
Khartoum to El Fasher. Fewer goods were making their way into El
Fasher markets, which have also been hit by higher rents, and
merchants were passing on their increased expenses by raising
prices. "The merchants here are not from Darfur; most are from
Khartoum or even Cairo. They don't have family here to feel the
pain of higher prices, and since they won't stay in Darfur anyway,
they don't re-invest profits in the community here," the Dean stated
flatly. A local Egyptian merchant with a popular shop near the
central market agreed, noting that he had recently purchased a house
in Alexandria, Egypt. He said that Darfuri communities had
historically been cash-poor, preferring to trade in livestock or
other currency. Opening a shop required cash outlays for stock,
supplies and other expenses up front, before any profit had been
made. The Egyptian claimed that the lack of funds was the reason
there were so few Darfuri owned businesses, and also one reason the
local community was more sensitive to price increases.
6. (U) Some cash-strapped locals had turned to a lottery system in
order to raise money for larger purchases. A group of friends or
colleagues would agree to pay a portion of their salaries every
month to a common "pool," and every month one of them would get the
combined money. Local Embassy office FSN staff reported that such a
system was used in the past only by higher level officials, who
considered the payout "play money." However, price increases had
prompted groups of friends from all sectors to embrace the practice.
Embassy office FSNs reported that they contribute 100 pounds per
month to an office lottery. One used his pay out for wedding
expenses, another was planning to buy a new car for his family in
Khartoum. "I could take out a loan to buy the car, but then I would
have to open a bank account, deposit money which I don't have, and
sign lots of papers. The lottery is much easier, and I don't have
to worry about paying anything back," one local staffer said.
Health Concerns Over HIV, FGM
7. (U) The North Darfur Minister of Health boasted that he had
persuaded the government to dedicate more resources to North Darfur,
in light of population increases and dire need. As a result, there
were now more doctors than ever in North Darfur, as well as 48
specialists and 12 ambulances. The Minister said that the
international community had helped raise awareness of disease
prevention and testing, but said that citizens had expressed concern
about an increase in the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases
like HIV from the deployment of international peacekeepers. He said
that HIV could already be found in North Darfur, stating that there
are currently 47 cases. He claimed that the majority of those
individuals were infected by soldiers from the south of Sudan, and
said it was possible that the influx of soldiers from other African
countries would cause that number to rise. The Ministry of Health
was working closely with UNAIDS to monitor the situation, the
minister reported.
8. (U) The head of UNAMID's Sector West Human Rights office said
that she had seen an increase in the prevalence of female genital
mutilation (FGM) being performed in Darfur, especially in the West.
She attributed the increase to an influx of villagers into the
cities. Because Khartoum had the highest incidence of FGM, the
practice had become associated with "moving to the big city," and
was seen as a symbol of increased status, prosperity and culture.
Although African tribes like the Fur and Meidob did not have the
tradition of FGM, she claimed that even those women were undergoing
the procedure in an effort to "fit in" in the city.
9. (U) A Save the Children Sweden representative confirmed this
trend, explaining that displacement caused by the ongoing conflict,
as well as perceived economic opportunities, had led to population
increases in and around Darfur's major cities. In Khartoum, where
he claimed that FGM was most prevalent in Sudan, women were
stigmatized for not having had the procedure done. Doctors and
midwives perpetuated this notion, he explained, by telling
uncircumcised women that they were "uncivilized" or "unclean." In
the camps for internally displaced persons, international NGOs
usually ran the health centers and were able to dispel such myths.
However, in the cities, it was more difficult to raise awareness.
In addition, he claimed, some families had turned to FGM as a quick
source of income, as guests at circumcision parties were expected to
bring cash gifts for the child.
Social Life Suffering
10. (U) The Dean of Education claimed that increasing expectations
and standards of living due to the influx of foreign cash had begun
to slowly break down traditional social ties. Although there were
more social occasions - weddings, circumcision ceremonies, etc. -
fewer people could afford to attend those given by non-relatives.
Guests at all ceremonies are expected to bring gifts - often cash.
According to the Dean, many people simply could not afford to give
gifts now that there were so many ceremonies taking place. He
pointed at a pile of wedding invitations on his desk from former
students and colleagues. "I would love to attend these, but as a
professor, they would expect me to give 50 pounds. I am invited to
at least 10 weddings this month; if I attended them all, it would
cost more than my salary!" he exclaimed.
11. (U) The international presence in North Darfur has had both
positive and negative impacts on local communities. While some are
clearly benefiting from the peacekeeper/contractor/NGO economy, it
is also clear that life for the lower income citizens of El Fasher
has become increasingly difficult. The rich continue to get richer,
especially those involved in real estate, and the poor struggle with
ever rising prices. The middle class is struggling to keep up with
rising prices and rising standards of living (for the few who can
afford it) on stagnating salaries. Educational standards are
declining, there are worrying trends in the health sector and social
ties are breaking down. The middle class is increasingly being
squeezed, and the gap between the haves and have-nots is growing.
All of these events are to be expected in a conflict economy where
the UN is present, but they can also exacerbate violence and
instability if left unchecked (especially against the UN,
contractors, and NGOs who become targets of opportunity[sk1]). It
is essential that the activities of international donors begin to
account for and address inequalities that are aggravated by the
large international presence in North Darfur. The GoS should be
encouraged to address this on both the national and state level
(through the moribund Transitional Darfur Regional Authority and its
commissions, if they can be revitalized) and the international
community must begin to take these issues into account as they begin
to develop long-term assistance plans.
[sk1]Can this statement really be made since we don't have any
documented proof of this currently happening in Darfur.
View as: DESKTOP | MOBILE © Scoop Media