Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Uncertain Times

As we enter an election year in NZ, and the politicians begin to jockey for position, it is interesting to read Br Bill's take on the political changes taking place in the Sudan. It puts things in perspective.

The referendum has taken place and there is little uncertainty about the result. Although it will be sometime before official results are announced, several states, including Western Equatoria, where I am at present, have announced results close to 99% in favour of secession. Here, in this small region of Riimenze, 671 voted for secession and only 8 for unity. By contrast, the Southern Sudan Referendum Committee (SSRC) states that only 58% of voters in North Sudan opted for secession.The SSRC website stated on 21st January that out of the 3,932,588 people inside and outside the country that registered for voting, an overwhelming number, 3,138,803 had chosen secession while 44,518 voted in favor of unity. Those figures were based on the processing of 100% of the votes in North Sudan and 83.4% of the votes in the South. To that date, 5,972 blank votes had been cast and 7,745 invalid ones had been excluded from calculations. The further requirement that 60 percent of those registered must vote had been easily exceeded by last Wednesday, the fourth day of voting. Fortunately in most places the situation has remained stable and peaceful.

There have been few reports of violence and any that have occurred has been given customary prominence by the media. Certainly the country has been no less stable than normal and Southern Sudan has survived the referendum with more calm than most anticipated. Many shops remain closed, however, with no indication of when, and if, they will re-open. In Yambio we have noted extraordinary jumps in the prices of some commodities in the space of a few days. Last week, the price of diesel increased from three Sudanese pounds per litre to four. Sr Margaret bought a fifty kilo sack of sugar for 195 pounds. A few days later, she purchased another sack for Father Mario at the Congolese refugee camp and the price had jumped to 220 pounds. I noted a newspaper report which asserted that there is a foreign currency shortage in Khartoum that has led to the Government withdrawing subsidies on fuel and sugar. By the way, sugar is a key ingredient of beverages for most Sudanese people.

This morning, at a break during an education meeting that Sr Margaret and I attended, I took one spoon of black instant coffee with no sugar in my cup. A priest had a third of a spoon of coffee with three spoons of sugar in his. ‘Three spoons’ seems to be the most common Sudanese practice. But to return to the uncertain economic situation. At the same time as the dramatic increase in the costs of key commodities, there has been a significant change in the foreign exchange rate. A few weeks ago, one dollar could be exchanged for about 2.8 Sudanese pounds. For most of 2010, this rate varied between 2.6 and 2.8 with an occasional surge when dollars were in short supply. The last time I exchanged dollars, however, the rate was 3 pounds per dollar. Now I would expect to get at least 3.2. Is this the start of rapid inflation of prices within Southern Sudan – or a short term variation? I don’t know.

Since our source of income is principally, but not totally, the dollars provided by generous donors outside of Sudan, those of us working for Solidarity with Southern Sudan are to a degree insulated against such inflation; but for the people here, what they can buy with the few pounds they earn may become less and less. Their access to imported goods will decrease as prices rise and it would be only the local produce that they would be able to afford. This may be the start of post-referendum pain. If so, we hope it will not be too hard on the people of Sudan.

Br Bill

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