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Fried fish, foul, tamiyya, kisra, asida and warm flat bread make a good Friday breakfast. Sitting beside the Blue Nile enjoying Sudanese hospitality on a gentle warm day, it would be easy to think Khartoum was a city without a care in the world. Indeed some of the strains I wrote of in early October have eased a bit – inflation has come down from 20.7% to 19.8%, due in part to a fall in seasonal food prices. And certainly the outside temperature has dropped.
But beneath this surface calm, many Sudanese still seem anxious. That anxiety is not confined to Sudan. Significant change is happening all around. In Europe two EU governments have changed as a result of the economic crisis. “Technocrats” have replaced career politicians. Closer to Sudan, the Arab League has adopted a robust – and welcome – position on Syria . We read that Sudan was itself instrumental in persuading a couple of fellow African countries to join the consensus. Elsewhere in the region, Somalia is becoming the focus of even more international attention. The UK has announced a major conference in London in February in Khartoum, the Government hosted the Somali President last week. Sudan like the UK is a strong backer of the TFG. As in the case of Libya before and Syria now, we find the UK and Sudan more often than not agree on regional issues, including the importance of governments listening to the legitimate demands of their people.
Democracy works that way. So too does demography. Perhaps the biggest change this month has been the world population passing 7 billion. Most of the world’s “high fertility” zones (a UN term) are in sub-Saharan Africa. Population growth focuses minds on the future. If we keep adding a billion people to the planet each generation, how many will there be in five, ten or fifteen years? Sudan’s population and its growth rate is not among the most startling – yet. But one figure stands out for me: 50% of Sudan’s population is said to be under the age of 19 .
I keep thinking of that whenever discussion turns to how the UK and Sudan should work together over the coming years, i.e. the choices that face us over how to conduct our political, development and defence relations between now and 2015. These discussions are not easy. A future perspective often gets blocked by the immediacy and urgency of today’s problems, be they the conflicts in the border area with South Sudan and the resulting humanitarian challenges, the impacts of the loss of oil revenue, the Government reshuffle in Khartoum or the winds of change blowing across the wider region. While all these are important, many are beyond our control. We simply cannot say for sure what the Government in Khartoum will be like in 2015 or what its relations with Juba will be. But we can say with reasonable certainty what the demographics will be like in 2015. From recent studies and available statistics , the Sudan of 2015 will be predominantly young, urban and struggling to make ends meet. It’s that reality which our policies need to address. Not in four year’s time, but now.
As ever, if you have comments on what the UK should be doing – and especially if you one of the growing numbers of Sudanese youth following these things on- line – please post a comment below and join the debate. Many thanks.