Alex de Waal declares Omar al-Bashir Worthy of a “Nobel Prize in Financial Management”—Irony or Perverse Self-congratulation?

Alex de Waal declares Omar al-Bashir Worthy of a “Nobel Prize in Financial Management”—Irony or Perverse Self-congratulation?

Eric Reeves | May 7, 2016 |

A video from April 2014, with clips of Day 2 of the Third Tana (Madagascar) Forum on Impact of Illicit Financial Flows on Peace and Security in Africa (April 27, 2014) has recently gained wide circulation among Sudanese—and with good reason (see

For in speaking of the years from 1989—when the National Islamic Front (NIF) came to power by military coup, making General Omar al-Bashir president—to 1999, when oil revenues came on line for the regime, Alex de Waal can be seen declaring during one clip (in what he claims was “sarcasm”):

“If there is a ‘Nobel Prize in Financial Management’ I think it should go to you.”

Ironically (we are to believe) marveling at how al-Bashir ran the government of Sudan for ten years on a budget of less than $1 billion per year, de Waal of course finds it unseemly to make mention of a very great deal about those terrible years that occurred “off budget,” including the genocide in the Nuba Mountains which de Waal himself helped publicize to the world, the utter savagery of the “oil wars” in what was then Western Upper Nile in South Sudan, and the ramping up of the slave trade as a weapon of war in greater Bahr El Ghazal. These aren’t quite in the spirit of the “good fun” by which an indicted génocidaire is conferred a facetious Nobel laureate.


Alex de Waal

Indeed, it was de Waal himself who put the case for serial genocide under the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime in stark terms in August 2004:

But [counter-insurgency in Darfur] is not the genocidal campaign of a government at the height of its ideological hubris, as the 1992 jihad against the Nuba was, or coldly determined to secure natural resources, as when it sought to clear the oilfields of southern Sudan of their troublesome inhabitants. This is the routine cruelty of a security cabal, its humanity withered by years in power: it is genocide by force of habit. (“Counter-Insurgency on the Cheap,” London Review of Books, August 15, 2004)

One might have thought that such views would have permanently precluded even ironic exchanges with the man most responsible for “genocide by force of habit.”

Of course, de Waal conveniently now argues that genocide is an inaccurate term for what has occurred in Darfur—a change in assessment that made it much easier for him to serve as advisor to the African Union in the Abuja (Nigeria) peace talks (the African Union is adamant that Darfur is not the site of genocide). Abuja yielded the “Darfur Peace Agreement” (DPA), which failed miserably, despite de Waal’s claims to the contrary. This failure did not, however, prevent de Waal from returning to the Darfur file as primary advisor to Thabo Mbeki of the African Union in 2009. Mbeki remains chair of the utterly dysfunctional “African Union High-Level Implementation Panel” (AUHIP). Indeed, there is another perverse “irony” in this designation of an “implementation panel,” since “implementation” was to have been of Mbeki’s “roadmap for peace in Darfur,” a “roadmap” that led absolutely nowhere.


The hopelessly incompetent Thabo Mbeki, lead African Union negotiator on peace for greater Sudan; he has nothing but failure to show for the past eight years

But it should be noted that whatever his claims about tone (and “sarcasm” is not the same as irony), de Waal is using al-Bashir’s Sudan as an example of something he takes very seriously: the claim that when national budgets of African countries go up, so too do the chances for peace. And Sudan is his prime, non-ironic example: de Waal argues that the rise in the national Sudanese “budget” of 1999 (under $1 billion) to that of 2006 (over $11 billion, according to de Waal) is what made possible the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the al-Bashir regime and the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A).

But here de Waal is guilty of more that exceedingly ill-timed and ill-conceived jesting. He seems stunningly naïve—or cynical—in failing to note the almost complete opacity of the “budgets” of the “government” of Sudan over the past 27 years. For it has long been clear to all informed observers that what appears in the promulgated “budget” of what is now the National Congress Party is simply a fabrication of the Central Bureau of Statistics, whose figures many nonetheless choose to accept at face value—including the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Thus, for example, when the IMF budget analysis tabled on November 20, 2000 showed that oil revenues that had began in 1999 were followed by a doubling of military expenditures, the regime responded by insisting that all line items on military and security expenditures be deleted in the future budget reviews submitted to the IMF (I disclosed this in an analysis of August 26, 2005—see key excerpt in Appendix A).

Thus by June 2002, IMF reports had unconscionably censored all data on military expenditures: not a single line item, in another 60-page report, was given over to the role of such expenditures in the overall Sudanese economy (“Sudan: Final Review Under the Medium-Term Staff-Monitored Program and the 2002 Program,” June 4, 2002). The same was true of the October 2003 IMF report, which despite dozens of pages of graphs and charts had not a single reference or number attached to military expenditures (“Staff Report for the 2003 Article IV Consultation,” October 20, 2003).

This occurred even as the IMF projected yet greater increases in Sudan’s external debt (from $20 billion in 2000, to $24.2 billion for 2003, to $25.1 billion for 2004; Table 3, “Selected Economic, Financial Indicators, 2000-04,” Staff Report for the 2003 Article IV Consultations, October 20, 2003).

Pedestrians walk past the International Monetary Fund headquarters' complex in Washington Sunday, May 2, 2010. A senior International Monetary Fund official says the IMF's executive board is meeting in Washington to consider how much aid to grant Athens under a massive rescue loan package. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been whitewashing Sudan’s economic realities for some two decades now

[Note of May 5, 2016: Khartoum’s external debt now exceeds $47 billion, reflecting not only massive arrears but equally massive and profligate military and security expenditures—ER]

I know of no credible observer of Sudan who believes that military and security expenditures account for less than 50 percent of the real national budget de Waal seems so interested in. Many observers put the figure far higher, as do I on the basis of seventeen years of research, much focused on the Sudanese economy and oil revenues in particular.

If de Waal were honest, he would acknowledge that kleptocracy has defined this regime from the beginning, and that the country has been “governed” by cronyism and the largely invisible theft of Sudanese national wealth. This pattern of course continues; and with the loss of most oil revenues, kleptocracy has become more ruthless than ever (see

But de Waal is not honest, and would have us believe that the budget of under $1 billion on which the Khartoum regime nominally “ran the government” from 1989 – 1999 somehow reflects the massive spending we know occurred: on military equipment (some very expensive), military salariesmilitary logistics (including imported fuel), the salaries and arming of the Popular Defense Forces (PDF), the funding not only of the National Intelligence and Security Services and Military Intelligence, but other more secretive security forces as well (forces that de Waal acknowledges exist in Darfur: A Short History of a Long War (Zed, 2005 | page 39).


Boy starving alone in the great Bahr el Ghazal famine of 1998; he was not a beneficiary of Khartoum’s budget except insofar as it funded the war that denied him food with which to live

Further significant military weapons purchases were made “in kind” with China (i.e., Chinese weapons purchased on the basis of anticipated oil income and crude oil supplies). The nature of these purchases certainly does not change the fact that they were part of the national budget, at least if we include military expenditures, which de Waal is clearly not doing. Does he mean us to take Khartoum’s decade-long budget “austerity” as a serious indication of how money was spent? Or is this merely ironic hi-jinks? De Waal can’t have it both ways, and the logic of his argument compels him to take seriously the nominal increases in Khartoum’s representation of its “budgets”—quite “unironically,” given his thesis.2aa75854d072ea45d66fbb2e38ab291c

A Russian-built helicopter gunship of the sort purchased during Khartoum’s “austerity” years (1989 – 1999)

For de Waal argues on the basis of such his specious history of Sudanese budgets that “rising budgets increased the chances for a peace agreement” with the South. But this is to ignore far too much—so much indeed as to make hash of the thesis of de Waal’s argument, at least about the Comprehensive Peace Agree (CPA). He would have us believe that the Protocols of the CPA grew out of rising “budgets” in Khartoum, despite our lack of knowledge about what was really happening over the years during which these “budgets” were promulgated.

Additionally belying de Waal’s thesis is the fact that al-Bashir’s regime has egregiously violated all the Protocols, most conspicuously the Protocol guaranteeing Abyei a self-determination referendum in January 2011. But border delineation, border demarcation, resolution of the crises in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, power-sharing, and revenue-sharing agreements, agreement to halt military assistance to rogue militias (“Other Armed Groups”/OAG)—all have been seriously violated by Khartoum. The South has certainly squandered much of its share of oil revenues by allowing corruption to take such deep hold; but we should also note that surreptitiously Khartoum withheld from the South billions of dollars in oil revenues during the Interim Period (January 2005 – July 2011).

The CPA came into existence for a wide range of reasons:

      • The superb leadership of Dr. John Garang, SPLA/M Chairman

  • The active and substantial diplomatic engagement by the Bush administration, along with the UK and Norway (the “Troika”);
  • Growing international pressure on Khartoum over its genocidal counter-insurgency in the Southern oil regions;
  • An inability by the SAF, even augmented by militia elements, to fight on two fronts: against the SPLA in the oil regions and the rebel groups of Darfur, which gave the SAF fits for much of 2003, success that ultimately resulted in Khartoum’s massive recruitment of the Janjaweed;
  • The fact that the SPLA had fought the SAF to what was too close to a stalemate for Khartoum’s leadership to justify continuing the war (to be sure, this was not a view universally shared within the regime, especially within the military, which felt that far too much was given away—and the military is now ascendant within the regime);

The growth in Khartoum’s budget as a factor in bringing the CPA into being simply can’t be assessed outside these other factors—certainly not without a much clearer picture than we are ever likely to have of what the regime’s actual budgets have been over the past 27 years.

What we can be sure of is that the regime’s budgets—real and nominal—are now declining significantly, largely because of the massive of loss in oil revenues with the independence of South Sudan. Most conspicuous were the regime’s publicly announced budget cuts in subsidies for food and cooking fuel (September 2013)—budget cuts that produced bloody demonstrations in many locations in Sudan, which were put down only when security forces were given “shoot to kill” orders, the latter a fact established authoritatively by Amnesty International.


Angry demonstrations began in Khartoum/Omdurman in late September 2013, and quickly spread to other cities and towns


Corpses photography surrepticiously in a Khartoum morgue, September 2014; more than 200 people were shot to death in Khartoum/Omdurman; country-wide, perhaps 1,000 people were killed during the uprising

The current economic implosion in Sudan has seen a growth in food shortages, especially bread; skyrocketing prices for food in many locations; water shortages, chiefly because the regime has made no significant investment in the water delivery infrastructure for a quarter of a century; shortages in refined petroleum products, chiefly cooking fuel but at times also diesel fuel. Unrest is again growing, and this confronts de Waal with an unhappy corollary to his argument about “rising budgets” in African countries making peace more likely: by the same logic, declining budgets must make peace less likely. And one need only survey what is currently occurring in DarfurSouth KordofanBlue Nile, and Abyei to see that there is no peace in the offing in Sudan.


Feeding children in the Nuba Mountains is definitely not part of Khartoum’s budget; on the contrary, the regime continues with a brutal, five-year humanitarian embargo on the region

Yet despite all this, the Central Bureau of Statistics continues to churn out benign monthly reports on the inflation rate and says nothing that can be trusted about the desperate lack of foreign exchange currency (Forex). And the IMF and much of the international community continue to accept this statistical garbage as representative of economic conditions in Sudan. The simple truth is the except for occasional infusions of cash from Arab countries, notably Qatar and more recently Saudi Arabia, there is no Forex—or enough for only a month or two of imports, even of the most vital goods, including medical goods and pharmaceuticals. The vast gap between the official exchange rate (Sudanese Pounds per dollar) and the black market (“parallel market”) rate is only the most conspicuous sign of a massive shortage in Forex. In recent weeks demonstrations have become more vigorous and widespread among university students. The regime’s clampdown on press freedoms tightens by the day. If the demonstrations grow in intensity, and repression and denial of free expression become more severe, widespread civil conflict becomes increasingly likely.

Why This Regime Survives

What prevents complete collapse of the economy is continuing and warming embrace of the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime by the international community. In the case of European countries, much of this is directly tied to fear of a large refugee inflow originating in Sudan. The consequences of this embrace I trace in two analyses (the first two of a three-part analysis):

“The International Embrace of Khartoum Deepens: With what consequences for Sudan? Introduction and overview” (first of three parts) | March 31, 2016 |

“The International Embrace of Khartoum Deepens: With what consequences for Sudan? Introduction and overview” (part two of three) | April 18, 2016 |

If we want to know about why such an embrace might be occurring, we might look again at the spectacle of a prominent “Sudan expert” jesting ironically in Tana, Madagascar with Omar al-Bashir, for whom the International Criminal Court has served arrest warrants, charging him with multiple counts of genocide and multiple counts of crimes against humanity.

Appendix A:

from “The Economics of Genocide in Sudan: Where oil revenues do and don’t go”: The failure of IMF oversight in the face of continuing Asian and European investment in human destruction

Eric Reeves | August 26, 2005  |


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