Sudan: a state In debt, a people in debt

Everything has an interest rate and if you don't pay on time, as the Sudanese state and most of the population have discovered, the price goes up.

Reem Abbas
19 November 2012

I have noticed that many people in Sudan from taxi-drivers to teachers know that Sudan's external debt is over $40 billion. It seems that the country's debt worries them: it is an amount they their children and grandchildren will still be paying off for years to come, an amount supposedly deducted from their health care and education expenditure.

To be exact, Sudan's debt will reach $43.7 billion this year.

But the population has other things to worry about: their own personal debts. A few years ago, my uncle who is an English teacher was assigned to a school in Al-Rahad in Northern Kordofan state. In Al-Rahad, he didn't get paid for 6 months at a time and along with friends, they bought food items from the grocery shop and borrowed money from him promising to pay back when "things got better".

When they received their very late salaries, or at least part of it, they were so indebted, almost all of their pay went to the owner of the grocery shop. This continued until he decided to leave Sudan and teach abroad.

Last month at a Sudanese organization I'm working at, a colleague bought skirts, jeans and tops to market them to the young fashion-crazed girls at the office.I was examining one of the skirts when I was told, "you take it now, you pay the first installment after pay-day at the beginning of the month and the rest mid-month or next month."

This seemed like a good deal, but I'm too scared of installments. Everything has an interest rate and if you don't pay on time, as the Sudanese state and most of the population have discovered, the price goes up.

Sudan's debt is expected to go up to $45.6 billion in 2013, making 83% of its 2011 GDP. 

ُIn the 1970s, Sudan's former military dictatorship, led by Gaafer Nimeri bought buses from Brazil that came to be known in Sudan as Abu-Rejela, the money was never completely paid and it rose up to a $40 million debt  this year.

Early this month, Sudan's foreign minister said that the Brazilian parliament has banned the government or even Brazilian companies from investing in Sudan or giving us any grants because of Sudan's debt to Brazil. It’s scary, but the Brazilian debt dates back to the 1970s and this too keeps haunting Sudan.

On a monthly basis, Sudan pays $300 million in debt repayments. But the debt just keep on piling up.

Debt in Sudanese society is a vicious cycle. Its the most normal thing for someone to tell you that they have borrowed money for rent or to pay their debt to the grocery shop. Debt becomes doubled or tripled as you borrow money to pay the money you borrowed and you become indebted once again.

The government, if it acted seriously to end conflicts and human rights violations in Sudan, could maybe get debt relief. Meanwhile, normal citizens have no choice but to try and pay back their mounting debts.

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