Hunger in Sudan’s Political Marketplace

This paper by Edward Thomas and Alex de Waal documents how the Sudanese people are suffering a protracted nationwide crisis of food security, that is sharply exacer­bated by a ‘perfect storm’ of adversities. These include hyperinflation and the disruption of wheat im­ports—80 percent of which were from Russia and Ukraine. The immediate crisis is a shortage of food and a collapse in entitlement to food. The deeper crisis is that Sudan’s political economy is struc­tured in an unequal and exploitative manner that generates both wide­spread chronic hunger and intermittent humanitarian emergency and famine. The political marketplace framework (PMF) is an analytical tool that explains the working of ‘real’ politics, where political bud­gets are used to buy up political constituencies in accordance with the laws of supply and demand—subordinating political institutions to the demands of transactional politics, and tearing up social contracts when that logic requires it.

In the case of Sudan, the logic of the political marketplace establishes a hierarchy of political priorities—a ‘priority regime’—in which the rulers must first of all secure political finance and loyalty within the political elite, secondarily attend to the demands of the most influential constituencies, and only thirdly deal with public goods such as equitable and sustainable food policy. Under this system, impoverishment of part or even most of the population can be politi­cally rational, especially for repressing insurgencies or civic resistance: this priority regime becomes especially evident in times of austerity or crisis.

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