While human suffering resulting from the armed conflict in Darfur is immeasurable, the costs can be measured in economic terms. Dr. Hamid Ali from the American University of Cairo is the first to attempt this, and his findings indicate a staggering cost: US$35.11 billion spent by the Government of Sudan between 2003-2009 on the war effort in Darfur. Dr. Ali presented his research to Sudanese diaspora, Sudan advocacy groups, and faculty and students at a workshop organized by Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights (ISHR) on January 10, 2012.
Dr. Ali’s research reveals an alarming misappropriation of Sudan’s meager resources in the government’s efforts to hold onto power at any cost. US$35.11 billion is the equivalent of 233 percent of Sudan’s GDP annually. Meanwhile, the country spent only 1.3 percent of its budget on public health and less than 1 percent on education over the past two decades.
Ali’s calculations are both economic and human in nature. They include the destruction of infrastructure, direct military spending, and the war’s impact on the export sector and capital formation. He also takes into account human destruction—loss of life and income.
US$35.11 billion is broken into the following: $10.08 billion in direct military expenses; $7.2 billion in productivity lost by internally displaces persons (IDPs), $2.6 billion in lifetime earnings of the dead, $4.1 billion in infrastructure damage and $11.04 billion for military spillover and UNAMID peace keeping operations. This excludes indirect costs such as capital flight, the emigration of skilled labor, and lost educational opportunities for future generations due to insufficient data. While data related to the conflict is limited, as information is censored and classified by the government, Ali’s finding offer a valuable baseline for future research.
Ali makes a solid economic case for the need to end the war in Darfur. “The first step for recovery from the war is to stop the war. Sudan is a poor country, and its meager resources ought to be directed to human capital, clean water, and a better health system. As a matter of public policy, the country should now put itself into position to recover from war and trade the guns for butter by establishing mechanisms for good governance and democracy, and by engaging in the international system to keep future wars from occurring.”
After all the numbers are calculated, Ali contends that ending the war in Darfur is ultimately a moral imperative. 300,000 lives have already been lost, more than 3 million people internally displaced, 3,000 villages torched, and millions of dollars worth of crops and livestock stolen by the government and its militias. Such psychological and social destruction cannot be quantified in dollar terms. Simply put, it is a loss for humanity.
Participants welcomed Ali’s research and advocacy. They also expressed disappointment in Obama’s ability to enact a more effective peace policy for Darfur. Ali asserted the need for Sudanese to take greater initiative, while encouraging them to continue to engage Obama to do more to put an end to the violence in Darfur. He posed the question, if war costs this much, why can we not be so generous in preparing and investing in peace?
Ali’s research is one valuable advocacy tool for peace and development in Darfur. With support from ISHR, he also helped establish the Darfuri Development Advisory Group (DDAG), a Darfuri-led non-governmental, non-profit organization in Sudan mobilizing Darfuri civil society in support of humanitarian relief, early recovery and development.
“Change must happen,” states Ali, “Otherwise the county will disintegrate into chaos.” Both Sudan and the international community are fortunate to have leaders like Dr. Hamid Ali to stand for such change. As the armed conflict carries on in Darfur, and the costs he measured continue to mount, it is imperative that the international community stand with him.