Population and society
The complex ethnic, linguistic and religious identity of Sudan is combined with a young population and in strong growth, which according to 2012 estimates would have reached almost 38 million. The Arabs, descendants of the ancient conquerors, are the most important group and constitute 70% of the population. They are mainly concentrated in urban areas. However, they do not have an absolute majority in all the northern districts, so that collaboration with the other groups (Nuba, Beja and Fur among the main ones) is the real political and social challenge of the country. It is estimated that the majority of the population is Muslim, mainly based in the north of the country; there are several groups that follow traditional religious practices, while after the secession of South Sudan the Christian population constitutes a very small minority. Official languages are Arabic and English.
With a particularly poor school system, the illiteracy rate was estimated to be around 29% in 2010. During the 1990s the government transformed the school system based on the Western model and the use of the English language into a system based on the Islamic model and based on Arabic.
Sudan is the fifth weakest state in the world and one of the least democratic. To weigh negatively on development are an unfree and scarcely competitive political system, made up of parties representing small elites, and widespread conflict at various levels of the state. Press and television are subjected to stringent censorship.
Human rights are routinely violated: torture is standard practice for interrogating crime suspects or political dissidents. Since the Islamization campaign undertaken in 1983 by the then president Gaafar Muhammad al-Nimeiri, some corporal punishments provided for by the sharia have been incorporated into the penal code. After Bashir’s rise to power, sharia law it became state law. In May 2014, the case of Mariam Yehya Ibrahim, a Christian sentenced to death on charges of apostasy, caused a sensation. Arrested in August 2013 on charges of adultery for marrying a non-Muslim man, in February 2014 she was charged with apostasy which led to the death sentence in May. The woman, eight months pregnant at the time of her sentence, was then released from prison in June, thanks to the appeals of numerous international organizations and the mediation of Italian diplomacy.
Economy and energy
The wars in South Sudan and Darfur negatively affected the growth of the country, while they strengthened the partnership with China and the exploitation of oil resources. Beijing, the largest trading partner, absorbs 50% of Sudanese imports (mostly oil, produced in South Sudan, but exported through pipelines ending in Port Sudan) and supplies a quarter of its imports. In addition, China has proved instrumental with its veto power in the United Nations Security Council to offer a side to the Bashir regime against the Western attempt to sanction the president.
The secession of South Sudan, the fourth largest oil producer on the African continent after Nigeria, Angola and Algeria, cost Khartoum the loss of 75% of its oil reserves. The oil revenue is the main source of income of both states. Since the intensive exploitation of oil resources in 2000, daily production has grown to reach 514,000 barrels in 2010, thanks above all to the exploration and extraction of Chinese companies.
The oil rent made a decisive contribution to making the state budget active in 2001 (for the first time since independence). Since 2005, however, the public accounts have returned to the liabilities. The oil rent was used to finance conflicts and for the reconstruction of large infrastructures, but it was not used for the reduction of social inequalities.
GDP, after having increased at sustained rates (over 10%) from 2006 to 2008, fell by -3.9% in 2011, both due to the global economic crisis and the effects of the secession on national accounts. In 2014, however, it almost achieved growth of 3.9%.
The introduction in 2007 of the new currency, the Sudanese pound (instead of the dinar), did not make a decisive contribution to keeping inflation under control. The contribution of international cooperation in support of the state budget remains crucial, together with remittances from the Sudanese diaspora, in particular from the countries of the Persian Gulf.
Despite the efforts of the government, which in 2008 launched the Green Mobilization Program with Chinese cooperation, food security and self-sufficiency have not been achieved: Sudan remains a food importer. Among the export crops, sesame has had a great development, while cotton and gum arabic, which historically represented the main export products, have undergone a progressive decline. The breeding has great potential. Despite the privatizations undertaken by the government, the service sector is backward. The completion of the Meroe dam on the Nile, built with funds from Chinese cooperation, has significantly increased the country’s energy capacity and increased water resources, alarming the nine coastal countries in the absence of an international agreement.
Finally, the question of the country’s external debt remains open. The Sudanese economy and finance minister has in fact asked that the country be granted debt cancellation, as envisaged by the World Bank’s Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (Hipc) initiative. However, creditors have been hesitant about this concession, mainly due to the dispute opened with Khartoum over the low consideration of human rights. Complicating the matter is the fact that Sudan has not yet reached an agreement with South Sudan on the percentage of debt to be transferred to the latter; Khartoum has said it is willing to take on the full share of the debt if creditors agree to its cancellation, but the issue still seems far from resolving.