Monday, March 9, 2009

Sudan: Tragic Lack of Planning

The American public and its government have been heavily involved in dealing with the abuse of Sudanese citizens since before the Darfur crisis came to world attention. First, it was slavery involved in the North-South civil war. More recently, we have been outraged by the genocide in Darfur and the continuing mistreatment of the people of the three Darfur provinces in western Sudan.

Sudan has been the target of more sanctions than perhaps any other nation so targeted by the United States. There are trade sanctions, travel sanctions and targeted personal sanctions. We have passed American legislation and lobbied diligently in the United Nations for globally-supported sanctions. However, gum arabic is always exempted, even though it is a major earner for the Government of Sudan and its private sector partners. The reason is that Sudan provides the world with two-thirds of what is perhaps the sole strategic agricultural product.

This colorless, tasteless resin from the acacia tree is used in a myriad of products - from carbonated beverages to pharmaceutical products. Certainly, consumers around the world would balk if their shampoo was unevenly mixed or their beer had a thinner foam, but the many uses of this product include vital supplies, such as medicines, whose production would be made difficult without gum arabic.

However, a quick cut-off of gum arabic supplies has never been necessary. Had the developed nations helped other gum arabic-producing countries to enhance the quality and supply of this product that they produce years ago, when we realized what a bad actor the Khartoum government was, we could have made provisions to source high-quality supplies from elsewhere. For example, Chad is a major producer, but no major project was ever launched to help that country or the other Sahelian countries with similar climates improve and expand their production of gum arabic.

When we in the West refuse to inconvenience ourselves despite our convictions, we cannot fairly ask African governments to make sacrifices not in their interest. This has been and continues to be an obstacle to successful U.S. policy toward Africa. A "Do as I say, not as I do" style of policy no longer works, and we must take that into consideration in our relations with African countries.

1 comment:

  1. Wow!! How can we get the word out to more people about gum arabic? Perhaps Sullivan could organize a forum, inviting NGO's and student organizations to raise awareness about the part the general public is playing in fostering human rights violations...