Over the years, Sudan has been variously described as a complex political emergency; as a politically fragile state; as a strong, but unresponsive state; and on occasion, as a failed state. In more recent times a new set of labels have been applied: a Low Income Country Under Stress; a poor performer; and a country where traditional models of development cooperation remain difficult.
Sudan was selected as a case study for this report to assess conflicting elements of performance, to highlight the inconsistency of aid flows, the politics of international engagement and international perceptions of performance. As a case study, it also provided an opportunity to explore the challenges a country faces where juridical sovereignty is in a state of ‘limbo’, as the peace process signals the potentiality of an independent state for southern Sudan. The case study was particularly concerned with disaggregating the factors that are driving the international community’s current re-engagement in Sudan, seeking to understand whether decisions to reengage with Sudan were premised on a demonstrated commitment on the part of the government to invest, deliver and meet the basic needs of the population or on other factors. It also sought to understand whether the recent categorisation of ‘poor performer’ (or LICUS) by some actors in the international community has resulted in different policy approaches, and if so, what these are designed to address and the potential impact they might have.
On one level of analysis, Sudan experience over the past two decades reflects many of the conditions of a country difficult to assist, as highlighted in the report’s conceptual model. Sudan remains a chronically poor, highly indebted and divided country, where the government has failed to deliver the minimum level of basic services and security to a large portion of the population; where the juridical status of the territory is challenged; where the diplomatic door was firmly closed for over a decade, and humanitarian aid has been the primary instrument for aid engagement.
Yet there are difficulties with this analysis. Sudan also has a number of features which do not fit squarely with the notion of ‘poor performer’. Strategically situated, the country boasts a wealth of natural resources, including huge reserves of rich agricultural land, significant oil reserves and water resources, and a large and growing population. In recent years, the government of Sudan has demonstrated its capacity to successfully manage and stabilise its fragile economy, which has contributed to comparatively high levels of economic growth in the late 1990s. Despite this, there is evidence of declining human development outcomes and widening inequality. Poverty is deep and widespread. In the late 1970s, average per capita income was estimated at over $500; today, it is estimated at $340, lower than the sub-Saharan average of $460.