Cablegate: The Emerging Story On "Sudanization" of Humanitarian Aid

Published: Wed 2 Dec 2009 08:49 AM
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1.(SBU) Summary: Since the March 16, 2009, announcement by President
Omar al-Bashir that all humanitarian aid in Sudan would be
"Sudanized" within one year, international aid agencies, the UN, and
donors have sought clarity on the extent and nature of this process.
As the Sudanese government continues to work to take President
Bashir's political statement and turn it into policy and procedures,
recent NGO reports indicate varied enforcement by Sudanese
government official based on the government's relationship with and
trust of the international NGO. However, some NGOs have expressed
concerns that Government of Sudan (GOS) pressure upon international
NGOs to partner with certain national organizations has quietly
intensified, clarifying the possible future direction of GOS
Sudanization efforts. The January 31, 2010, expiration of the
Moratorium on Restrictions for Darfur, which necessitates the
renewal of all first-tracked bureaucratic procedures for
international NGO work in Darfur, will be the first true test of GOS
intentions. End summary.
2. (SBU) Following the International Criminal Court (ICC) indictment
of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, the GOS reacted immediately on
March 4 and 5, 2009, by expelling 13 international NGOs and
dissolving three national NGOs, threatening expulsion for any other
organizations that the GOS believed did not respect Sudanese law.
In a subsequent public announcement on March 16, Bashir mandated
that national organizations would take over all humanitarian
assistance in Sudan within a year, stating that if any country or
organization provides assistance, the GOS would only accept it if
"handed over at ports or airports." While many government officials
have assured agencies privately that Bashir's threats to enforce a
complete Sudanization of humaitaran aid, with no remaining
presence of international NGOs, will likely not be enforced, these
officials also acknowledge Bashir's announcement as a presidential
directive that must be enacted. The devil is in the details,
however, and, with the procedures accompanying the Sudanization
policy not yet public, many of the details remain left to
interpretation by individual GOS officials.
3. (SBU) Since the announcement, international NGOs, the UN, and
donors have sought clarity on the extent and nature of the
Sudanization process. The NGO Steering Committee, in particular,
has repeatedly stated that aid agencies support the principle of
Sudanization in terms of capacity-building but has also emphasized
that Sudanization must not be considered narrowly to only include
partnership with national NGOs registered with the Government of
National Unity Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC). Most
international NGOs already partner with line ministries and
community-based organizations (CBOs), while nearly 90 percent of
international NGO staff members are Sudanese. International NGOs
are advocating for a broader understanding of Sudanization to
include support for these current partnerships. The NGO Steering
Committee also has noted that a clear mechanism must be developed
for determining which of the approximately 3,300 national NGOs
registered with the HAC are truly working according to humanitarian
principles and with the necessary standards mandated by donors.
4. (SBU) In late and early May, field sources reported that the HAC
in West Darfur had denied approval of several technical agreements
(TAs) on the grounds that the NGOs did not have an acceptable
national NGO partner. According to the reports, the HAC
unilaterally wrote the names of national NGOs into TAs and pressured
the organizations to accept the partners. Other NGOs received
signed TAs in May and June without including a national partner,
while still other international relief agencies were given a
six-month reprieve with the expectation that the organizations would
identify a national NGO at the end of that period. As the
expiration of the Moratorium on Restrictions for Darfur approaches,
more international NGOs are facing pressure from the HAC to include
national NGO partners in TAs. In addition, the NGO Steering
Committee reports that the national NGO requirement will begin
taking effort for programs in the rest of Sudan, excluding Darfur,
during 2010.
Varied But Troubling Messages Emerging
5. (SBU) On November 24 and 26, USAIDoffs met with international NGO
representatives to discuss the potential impact of Sudanization on
USAID-funded programs and assess the current political landscape
vis-a-vis the Sudanization requirement. One NGO representative
indicated that the GOS committee working to shape Bashir's political
statement into finalized policy of Sudanization seemed to be nearing
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completion. However, the NGO representative reported that the GOS
is keeping the near-complete policy close hold-in his view, to
minimize the negotiating time between the publishing of the policy
and implementation. According to another NGO representative, when
NGOs questioned the HAC about when the Sudanization policy would be
made clear, the HAC replied that it would release the finalized
policy by the end of December. NGOs have expressed concern
regarding this timeline, as many are already working to renew TAs in
advance of the January 31 deadline. Whether the policy is published
or not, enforcement of Sudanization during approval for 2010 TAs is
a litmus test for how rigid the GOS will be on this issue. Varied
messages are emerging indicating the direction Sudanization will
take in the coming months.
Threats, But No List
6. (SBU) One USAID/OFDA partner organization reported that current
activities and plans to fill post-expulsion gaps left by an expelled
NGO are currently on hold due to HAC insistence upon inclusion of a
HAC-approved national NGO partner in the organization's TAs. The
HAC reportedly gave the organization a deadline of December 20 by
which to choose a national NGO or the TAs would not be signed and
activities would not occur. A HAC official threatened the
organization, stating that if the organization does not sign with a
suitable national NGO, the official will stir up community
frustration against the international NGO, ensuring that the
community understands that the project ceased as a result of the
international NGO's refusal to work. However, even in seeking to
comply with the GOS requirement, the organization remains uncertain
regarding which national NGOs would be acceptable to the GOS, as
international NGOs have been asking for a list of suitable national
NGOs for months with no clear response. Some NGOs have received
lists of permissible NGOs for partnership based on certain project
types, but others are left to sift through approximately 3,300
national NGOs currently registered with the HAC. In the absence of
clear guidance, many international NGOs are still hoping that the
GOS will deem current partner organizations, including CBOs and line
ministries, suitable and satisfactory to fulfill the Sudanization
7. (SBU) When asked about whether certain national NGOs are being
favored over others, a NGO representative reported that no clear
pattern has yet emerged on the national NGOs provided. Thus far,
the only clear consistency demonstrated is that the HAC will only
consider organizations registered with the federal HAC as legitimate
partners. Some international NGOs are helping CBOs register with
HAC. However, registration is a laborious process requiring the
naming of a 30-person board of directors, which presents a
substantial obstacle to CBO registration. In addition, some CBOs
may want to remain unregistered, as it remains unclear what the
benefits and liabilities of registration might be for these
8. (SBU) In other cases, NGOs conducting interviews of potential
national partner organizations have been interrupted by HAC
officials, who insisted that a HAC official must be present during
all interviews of potential national NGO partners. Reportedly, the
Officials then stated that the GOS would be choosing the national
NGO for the international NGOs; thus, interviews of potential
partners are unnecessary. NGOs have reported instances of the HAC
specifically assigning national NGO partners to international NGOs.
In one case, an international NGO went, in a good faith effort, to
meet with the assigned national NGO to conduct an initial assessment
of match and technical capability. However, the national NGO
expressed unwillingness to partner with the international NGO, as
the organization did not see that the two groups shared a common
Variations in Approach
9. (SBU) One NGO representative reminded USAIDoffs that, "in Sudan,
relationships are more important than rules," adjuring the USAIDoffs
not to look for consistency in the GOS approach to various NGOs. In
the representative's view, application of the Sudanization policy
will depend on the GOS relationship with and perception of
international NGOs, as well as the interest of different national
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NGOs to have partnerships. Particularly without a written policy,
GOS implementers are interpreting according to these
relationships-strictly if the GOS considers the international NGO as
a threat or is suspicious of the organization's activities and more
leniently in cases which the GOS has trust and confidence in the
international NGO. The NGO representative relayed reports of two
NGOs that have received signed 2010 TAs without national NGO
partners. However, according to the NGO staff member, thee
instances represent exceptions rather than the rule. In addition,
the military government does not adhere to this relationship-based
economy of rules, and, in the NGO representative's view, it remains
unclear which portion of the government will win out on the issue of
10. (SBU) While each case varies as to the scope of GOS involvement
in choosing the national NGO partner, the common theme is GOS
control of partnerships, something that NGOs, even some national
NGOs, fear. In some cases, national NGOs also do not want to lose
credibility and appear as if the organization is HAC-directed.
According to one international NGO representative, in most cases,
national NGOs and the HAC see partnerships as a "checkbook" for
national NGOs, which have expectations of money and assets out of
the deal without understanding the many criteria that must be met.
Another NGO representative reminded USAIDoffs that the Sudanese
government's annual evaluations of international NGOs do not assess
the effectiveness of programming but rather document and inventory
project assets, budget, and staff. The GOS notes assets for
possible confiscation at any time, whether from international or
national NGOs. Some national NGOs reportedly fear that
participation in the GOS Sudanization campaign will intensify GOS
scrutiny of national NGO assets and activities.
Outstanding Issues
11. (SBU) As the international community awaits clarity on the GOS
Sudanization policy, organizations have identified the following
non-exhaustive list of urgent issues for consideration prior to
a) Capacity and Quality: International NGOs and donors question how
many capable national NGOs are present in Sudan? With international
NGOs descending upon the most capable and trustworthy national NGOs,
the demands upon these organizations could exceed their capacity.
The most capable national NGOs could become spread too thin or
become bloated with bureaucracy if forced to grow too quickly. In
addition, international NGOs are unwilling to accept the forced
provision of an unqualified national NGO partner, which would risk
the international NGO's reputation and the quality and integrity of
the organization's work. NGOs have expressed significant concern
regarding the potential of forced partnership, as any partner must
adhere to humanitarian principles, demonstrate fiscal
responsibility, commit to protection of beneficiaries, and
demonstrate sufficient technical capacity for the activity. Without
free choice of partners, the international NGO would be unable to
determine these issues.
b) Donor Requirements: Under U.S. Government (USG) guidelines, any
movement of U.S.-provided grant funds from the primary implementer
to a partner organization as a separate legal entity requires a
sub-award. This requirement will necessitate modification of all
U.S.-funded awards to include the sub-awardee prior to the signing
of TAs, potentially delaying the provision of humanitarian
assistance. In addition, receipt of USAID funds requires that the
sub-awardee meet the basic requirements of demonstrating fiscal
transparency, neutrality, lack of terrorism ties, accountability,
and protection of beneficiaries. For funding from the European
Commission's Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO), the sub-awardee must be
registered with the European Commission, a requirement that could
significantly delay any action on ECHO-funded grants with new
c) Acceptance by Beneficiary Community/Neutrality: Beneficiaries in
Darfur have long expressed reluctance to accept national NGOs chosen
by the GOS into project sites, particularly in the most politicized
IDP camps. IDPs have not generally accepted national NGOs in camps
since the NGO expulsions. Full support for only GOS-registered NGOs
would compromise neutrality in an already politicized aid
d) Elections: International NGOs question how the GOS will view any
national NGO perceived to be supporting opposition groups,
particularly given the ongoing electoral registration and the
upcoming election. Even if these organizations are preliminarily
accepted by the GOS as partners for international NGO TAs, the
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scrutiny upon the organizations during this 18-month period
containing election and referendum could make it very difficult to
conduct work.
Key Messages on Sudanization
12. (SBU) The following key messages on Sudanization are for
delivery during meetings with GOS representatives on humanitarian
issues, including the upcoming November 30 Geneva Humanitarian
a) Sudanization must be more broadly defined to include work with
non-HAC registered Sudanese organizations and line ministries. The
philosophy of partnership is already at the foundation of many NGOs'
work in Sudan. Any newly defined process should not subvert the
current partnerships that are working well.
b) Sudanization must not be forced. The Sudanese government should
ensure that Sudanization procedures enable international NGOs and
national NGOs to enter into partnerships voluntarily, without force
or coercion. Any new arrangement should ensure that critical
services are not disrupted and are accepted by the beneficiary
community so that aid can reach vulnerable populations.
c) Sudanization procedures must bear in mind donor requirements for
accountability, impartiality, and independence in humanitarian
assistance. Sudanization must allow international NGOs to choose
partner organizations demonstrating fiscal transparency, neutrality,
lack of terrorism ties, accountability, and protection of
beneficiaries, in accordance with donor guidelines.
d) Capacity-building is a natural by-product, but not the primary
objective of humanitarian assistance. Donors support greater
Sudanese NGO involvement in the humanitarian response but caution
that this approach should not become the main objective of a
humanitarian response, the objective of which is to save lives and
reduce suffering.
13. (SBU) While USAID supports capacity-building in principle, USAID
has concerns regarding any use of force or coercion during
Sudanization of humanitarian aid. This includes GOS threats to
unilaterally choose national partners, avoid signing TAs in the
absence of a GOS-accepted or mandated partner, create dissension
among beneficiary populations by blaming international NGOs for gaps
in project activity, and, at worst, expel "intransigent"
international NGOs for not following Sudanese law on national
partnership. NGOs remaining following the expulsions are in a
precarious position: as on international NGO representative state,
the organizations are left with little to no leverage to negotiate a
compromise on Sudanization or any other substantive issue. USAID
will continue to advocate for a rational approach to Sudanization
and unequivocally support international NGO partners in continuing
to save lives and reduce suffering in Sudan in coordination with
freely chosen and appropriate Sudanese partners.
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