Two Sudans: ‘Licking Your Elbow’

“They call it “licking your elbow,” a reference to pulling off the impossible”, wrote Jeffrey Gettleman of the New York Times when protests flared up in Khartoum, Sudan last month.

It’s the perfect phrase to describe the difficulty in the transition to democracy.

Some success came to South Sudan when the country seceded from the north on July 9 2011, after decades of fighting for independence.

The country last month celebrated one year of independence, a victory for the North African nation that has been at war with itself for almost its entire post-colonial history.

But as is the characteristic of the huge achievements made in Arab Spring countries, many unresolved issues have burdened the two countries.

Sudan lost three-quarters of its oil production, the lifeblood of it economy, when South Sudan seceded a year ago.  There has been bitter squabbles between the sides over this oil and how to demarcate the border.  Both countries are extremely dependent on oil – while the export pipelines run through the north, the bulk of the crude oil lies in the landlocked South, which became independent last year.

South Sudan threw both economies into turmoil when it shut down its output of 350,000 barrels a day in January after Sudan started seizing oil going through its pipelines to make up for what it called unpaid transit fees.

Some headway was made earlier this week when the two Sudans finally agreed on oil transit fees, a first step towards ending a dispute which had brought the hostile neighbours close to war.

Oil production is not expected to resume properly for another year and seems contingent on reaching an agreement on border security.

The bickering will have long-lasting impacts on the economy.  War-torn North Sudan is labelled one of the five worst economies in the world.

The nation’s economy is expected to contract by 7.3% in 2012, according to projections from the International Monetary Fund.  That’s even worse than Greece, which has an economy that is expected to contract by 4.5% this year.

Now in question is the freedom of north Sudan as protests against the high price of commodities and austerity measures introduced under Omar Al Bashir still hamper growth.

The conundrum for both countries is a reflection of the monumental cost of the Arab Spring where $20.56 billion of GDP was wiped out last year in Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen, in addition to more than $35 billion in public finances.

Both Sudans are stuck in one of the most challenging economic situations of the Arab Spring where  the phrase, “licking your elbow”, is becoming the norm.


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