The Road to Sudan – 1979

Today, the age factor suddenly hit me and I felt compelled to splurge some random thoughts.

I was one year and some odd months when my parents left Pakistan to move to Sudan. We lived in the province of Jazeera, a fertile province known for it’s cotton plantations. It is an hour by car from the capital, Khartoum and lies right at the intersection where the Nile splits into two major arteries; the Blue Nile and the White Nile. Here is some trivia for you; did you know that almost 70% of the Nile lies in Sudan and not Egypt, as the Hollywood romance pundits would have you believe? Additionally, there are more pyramids in Sudan (hundreds of which remain to be discovered) than in Egypt. Conspiracy guy shouts from the background, “the Pharoahs were black? Ramses and Cleopatra are just plain wrong man!”

The year was 1979 and President Numeiri of Sudan had launched an aggressive campaign for economic development of his country. He wanted to turn it into the industrial power-house of the middle-east (or North Africa, depending on your perspective) and took out a gargantuan loan from the World Bank.

In the early twentieth century, when Sudan was a British colony, cotton was a hot commodity and Sudan provided the perfect climate for growth, with plenty of water resources from the Nile. The largest network of man-made canals in modern history, were dug across the province and cotton plantations galore.

Numeiri wanted to further capitalise on the idea by bringing in modern technology and farming methods, to increase cotton yield by five-fold and provide his country with all the good stuff that goes with it; employment, export income and claim to fame. (Are you sensing already that it was doomed from the start?)

Cotton plantations require insecticide and that’s hwere my dad comes into the picture. He was a crop-dusting pilot, spraying pesticide from an open-canopy single pilot aircraft.

I have distinct memories of the 3 years we spent in the country; we lived in a small way-side village, in a cantonement for foreign workers, in a single bedroom house. Our neighbours were a German family and my best friend was a Sudanese fellow named Habib. I was too young to realize such things, but being the only Indian looking kid in Sudan must have made me stick out like a sore thumb.

I remember waiting in the evenings with my mother outside our cantonement, for my father to arrive. The air-field was a short walk from our residence, so my dad would often take me to see the planes in the hangar.

As is the typical case with African nations taking out hefty loans from international banks, with exagerated return on investment promises by ‘independant’ consultancy firms…it was doomed from the start.

The cotton plantations worked on the crop-rotation method, which means you plant cotton for the first quarter, harvest the crop and then plant something else, like vegetables. Once you’ve harvested the vegetables, you plant fruits and continue rotating this method year round.

Crop rotation methods depleted the soil of nutrients, so sediment from the bottom of the Nile, which is rich in mineral wealth, had to be drudged and brought to the surface. This required expensive machinery. To further add to the rising costs, the cotton crop was struck with the plauge of insects and so insecticide had to be sprayed. To spray the insecticide, planes had to be bought and pilots hired from over-seas countries, since Sudan did not enough local pilots (in comes my dad)
The added costs (and com-“pounded me in the ass” interest on their loans), destroyed any chance of a return on this huge investment. The 5-year bubble burst and the economy crashed.

I only read and understood these events much later in life. I don’t think these events are ever planned in come conspiracy cave that the international bankers association meets in. Bankers are leeches, yes, but their aim is like any other business, which is to thrive and keep your customers coming back for more.
However, from a moral perspective, they are repugnant because they destroy Thirld World countries by further compounding their misery. It is not hard to find a corrupt government official in these countries, who is willing to approve a loan purchase by his country, as long as he/she receive a kick-back.

The loans never trickle beyond the local contractors hired for related projects (mostly friends of the family), the investments never materialize and the loan is paid by dipping into the citizens treasury chest. Gentlemen, I ask you! The treasury is to be used ONLY and ONLY for healthcare, medicine and food for the citizenry!

To be fair, I must acknolwedge an old saying that rings true to anyone who contemplates for a moment; “a leader is a reflection of the people”. The leadership is corrupt because the entire system has decayed to the core.

Countries in the end allow this to happen to themselves. The drug pusher does not help, but the user can choose to say no.

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