Sudan’s 2016 budget allocates a disproportionately large amount for defense spending that could comprise more than half the total budget.
During a speech before Sudan’s Air Force headquarters in December, President Omar Bashir dismissed criticism of the high share of the budget allocated to security, claiming it still falls short of needs. “If 100% of the state’s budget was allocated to the army to secure the country then that is still not enough,” he was quoted in news reports.
The 2016 defense budget ensures the government will continue to seek a military solution to the near five-year civil war in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains region and the renewed fighting witnessed in western and central Darfur.
According to a copy of the annual budget obtained by Nuba Reports, total expenditure for defense and security is roughly 17 billion Sudanese pounds (US$2.8 billion), 25 percent of the total budget of 67.5 billion Sudanese pounds. This is roughly eight percent more than the United States’ defense budget allocation for 2016, another country with massive military investments.
In comparison, the budget allocates one percent to health and 2.3 percent for education; a scarce allocation that has persisted for the past two decades, according to Dr. Hamid Ali, Associate Professor of Public Policy at the American University in Cairo, Egypt.
Economists and think tanks, however, believe the budget allocation for the military may be far higher than the official figures, estimating a staggering 70 percent total budget allocation for defense spending. According to The Sentry, an organization that monitors funding conflicts in Africa, 70 percent of government spending goes to the security sector, allowing the regime to maintain its capacity to wage multiple military campaigns simultaneously.
Economists based in Khartoum say that identifying exact budget expenditure on defense remains a challenge since authorities do not provide such figures to the public. Often, the same sources said, military expenditure is hidden within other budgetary expenditures. One budget area, for example, termed “emergency expenditure”, can comprise as much as 40 percent of the total budget with no indication of what this allocation is spent on.
The cost of war
This potentially inflated budget allocation is necessary given the war’s exorbitant costs. The government spends roughly US$4 million per day on warfare, estimates Siddiq Ombada, a former researcher at Mamoun Beheiry Centre for Economic Studies. Other economists have approximated both lower figures, at US$2 million per day, and higher assessments, at US$5 million per day.
According to the American University’s Ali, the cost of the Darfur war alone from 2003 to 2009 was US$30.5 billion. That’s equivalent to 171 percent of Sudan’s GDP in 2003. Prior to this the government spent around US$845 million per year on the military, but doubled this figure once the war began.
Military expenditure has risen annually as the government relies increasingly on militias in conflict operations. Approximately 46 percent of all organized armed conflict is made up of civilian targeting by political militias – especially pro-government forces such as the Rapid Support Forces, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), a security research project that monitors Sudanese conflicts.
“The militias that the government used and continues to use need a lot of financial resources,” Ali said. “If the government doesn’t pay them, they make ends meet on their own by looting and robbing markets.”
The citizen’s burden
Oil fuelled Sudan’s war economy, Ali says, with 20 cents out of every dollar of oil revenue spent on the military. But since South Sudan declared independence in 2011, cutting access to oil resources, the Sudanese taxpayer pays the brunt costs of Sudan’s wars. The entire 2016 budget relies heavily on the Sudanese public covering an estimated 70% of total budget expenditure, news reports said.
Sudanese taxpayers are paying two kinds of taxes, says one Khartoum-based economist who prefers anonymity for security reasons, a direct tax and an indirect tax whereby products and services are heavily taxed to cover the military bills. Authorities are also relying on relatively fast-cash exports such as gold mining and livestock sales to fund the military, Ali added.
During a ceremony held at the defense ministry last year President Omar Bashir pledged to militarily defeat all rebellions in Sudan. Indeed, nearly 10 percent of all reported conflict-related fatalities in Africa last year happened in Sudan, ACLED reported.
Even cost-cutting measures to end the conflicts are ignored for more expensive military solutions. During the 2011 Darfur peace agreement talks in Doha, Qatar, the government and Darfur rebel groups reached a stalemate, Ali noted, because the government refused to pay three billion dollars as compensation for the rebels and displaced people. While a significant sum, Ali says three billion dollars is a fraction of the total war costs of US$30 billion. “The Darfur tragedy could have been avoided altogether if authorities settled in 2003 to the rebel’s previous demand of US$60 million,” he added.
Instead, economists told Nuba Reports, military governments tend to rely on military solutions and continue conflicts as a way to remain relevant and stay in power.
Sudan Finance Minister Badr Aldin Mahmoud has claimed that the country will widen primary health care coverage and allocate large funds for basic-level education. But few economists Nuba Reports spoke to in Khartoum believe these claims are tenable given the 2016 budget’s allocation towards social services. These same sources say authorities have cut back on providing social services, preferring to privatize them to cut costs. In January, authorities closed the emergency ward of Khartoum Public Hospital as part of a wider trend of cutting public services through privatization to reduce costs, news reports said.
“One of the reasons the Darfur region is facing war is due to years of neglect by the government, the total lack of support for certain communities here,” one resident of the currently restive town of Geneina, West Darfur State, told Nuba Reports on condition of anonymity for security reasons. “If the government focused less on funding war and more on funding people, I bet these rebellions across the country wouldn’t be here in the first place.”
A version of this story first appeared Feb. 12, 2016 in Quartz Africa.