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Shopping for Answers in Southern Sudan

Draft Report

The two main purposes of recent research in southern Sudan conducted by a member of the Feinstein famine centre were:

The purposes of the study were said to be in keeping with a number of facts:

  1. the GoS has in the past used traders connected to the military to carry out famine-creating policies against the southern Sudanese people
  2. there is a widely held stereotype that traders are opportunistic and exploitative; a view that underestimates the vital role that traders play in regional economies
  3. humanitarians rarely display strong business skills and therefore rarely take trade into consideration.

The author of the study raises some interesting points about the role of relief in trade and exchange. Through a number of examples, she argues that the role of relief should be to help restore (and not disrupt) exchange and trade options that have already been temporarily interrupted by the emergency. For example:

  1. distribution of relief supplies to trading communities may create conditions for abuse. Relief items may be sold by the recipient community. The 'buyer' community may then resent having to purchase something that was free to others. This in turn can lead to thefts from the food aid recipient community or disruption to future trade activities, e.g. when the time comes to exchange cattle for grain. Relief agents therefore need to be aware of these networks before a distribution and consider a distribution to both trade-linked communities;
  2. relief needs to focus more on legitimising trade which is taking place. For example, the SPLM could be held accountable for regulating cattle trade in a more formal fashion, including drawing up official agreements and commitments from neighbouring governments that promise to allow cattle trade to continue. It is the responsibility of the relief community to come to know the authorities who are responsible for regulating trade. This might require small inputs such as sponsoring meetings between neighbouring county authorities to discuss regulating taxation or to hold frank discussions with all parties to clarify the SPLM position in regard to protecting trade routes, rehabilitating transportation links and improving security;
  3. there is hope amongst the relief community in the southern sector that more surpluses of grain and seed can be mobilised from within southern Sudan to be distributed as relief. While undoubtedly a good thing the author has two reservations.

First, because traditional patterns of subsistence created an impetus for exchange between two rival communities, what will happen if those are replaced by mass production schemes of grain that continue to support a dependent relief economy and obliterates any need to maintain mutual relationships with neighbours. Second, if the idea is to transport large quantities of grain/seed from places as far away from Western Equatoria as Bahr el Ghazal, then by using relief flights the system is not sustainable. Ideally there would be an independent trucking cooperative simultaneously supported so that after a number of seasons the lorries become the property of the drivers and farmers cooperatives are left to negotiate with them without donor interference.

On balance the author of the study believes that there is not much that relief is suited to do in the areas of trade and exchange other than come to an understanding of the trade and exchange options available and to do everything possible not to hinder these.

Reference

Choosing to Trade: Shopping for answers in southern Sudan by J. Martin, August 15th, 1998 The report is available from the Feinstein Famine Centre, 96 Packard Avenue, Medford, MA 02155 email: jmartin@emerald.tufts.edu

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Shopping for Answers in Southern Sudan. Field Exchange 7, July 1999. p4. www.ennonline.net/fex/7/shopping