The Heathrow Line Furore Is a weak Private Sector a Blessing in Disguise?

Khalid Al Mubarak
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Date: 12/03/2013

 

President Al Bashir’s directive about the Heathrow Landing Line investigation was met with relief and acclaim.  When the flaw is as clear as the afternoon sun in Omdurman, what is called for is action not endless meetings and reports.

In the interest of fairness, public comments should cease until verdicts are made public.  There are, however, issues around the “Heathrow Furore” that can be discussed without infringement on the legal procedures and processes that are under way.
What took place is not an isolated incident.  It is part of the expected pattern of problems arising from the policy of privatisation. The inability of the Sudanese private sector (financially as well as organisationally) to step in and replace government has opened the door for errors, improvisations and failures.

 We have inherited from the colonial administration an economy that is overwhelmingly government controlled and run.  The change that is encouraged by the international financial system, cannot be plain sailing; but it also – by its very nature – indicates a sort of “hidden blessing.” A weak private sector cannot aspire to dictate or control the levers of government.  In industrialised countries, the big corporations and multinationals are the most effective movers behind the scenes of party politics and parliaments.
Writing during the Clinton administration, Ralph Nader has said in a Nation magazine article “Billions for Corporations, Bills for the People” about the President’s desire to “give health insurance coverage to more Americans…but he only had the power to do what was acceptable to the insurance, hospital, drug and doctor lobbies.”  We have seen what his democratic successor President Obama faced when he decided to push through similar policies.  He was resisted every inch of the process and had to make many concessions to ensure a measure of success.
Another glaring example is the arms industry, fronted by the National Rifle Association which had the cold-blooded defiance to suggest (in the wake of the Newtown Connecticut School massacre last December) to arm teachers instead of curb availability of guns.  They will fight the President’s plans to change gun laws.
Another example is provided by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway in their book “Merchants of Doubt”.  Highly respectable scientists at leading research centres and universities were recruited in order to write reports questioning facts like the health hazards of smoking or the danger of climate change.  In a few years “Exxon Mobil had channeled more than $8Million to fortify different organisations that challenged the scientific evidence of global warming”…”The tobacco industry paid Sylvester Stallone $500,000 to use Brown and Williamson products in no fewer than five feature films to link smoking with power and strength rather than sickness and death.”
By comparison, Dr. Mamoun Hummaida (Minister of Health for Khartoum State) has succeeded in his effort to ban smoking without a single fellow physician or public figure stepping forward to deny the dangers of smoking on behalf of a company or business.
The weakness of the private sector creates problems as far as privatisation is concerned; but it is also a blessing in disguise; because it does not control, dictate or distort policies.

Sudan Airways
Sudan Airways

We should, however, prepare ourselves for the day when our own private sector will grow financial and organisational muscles.  If we do not avoid Western errors (like excessive deregulation that has contributed to the current International financial crisis) we will reap similar dysfunction.  The Libor bank rate-fixing scandal is another warning sign to us.
We quite rightly borrow and enjoy most of the fruits of Western progress.  Our approach should be more selective.  There is no harm or contradiction in trying to tame or “domesticate” Free market economy to the parameters of our own culture and heritage.  The Islamic Waqf, Zakat and banking systems (for example) deserve more attention and flexibility in application.  So does the Islamic rejection of monopoly.
Western-trained academics (not sheikhs who speak Arabic only) are the ones most qualified to spearhead progress in this field.
While waiting for a verdict in the “Heathrow Furore” the wider background and implications should be considered.

Dr. Ammar Ali Hassan

During the boring transit wait at Cairo airport, I read an article by Dr. Ammar Ali Hassan, an Egyptian who was - together with me - invited to last year’s Tayeb Saleh’s Zain sponsored event.  We were told in February 12 that Dr. Ammar came to Khartoum from Tahrir Square and would return to Tahrir Square.
To my surprise he turned out to be the columnist of a newspaper called “Al Watan” which does not only attack President Mohamed Mursi, the democratically elected president, but attacks Hamas and calls for tightening the noose around it at the border!   The newspaper highlights on its front page (2 March 13) the call for the Egyptian army to take over power.
The forces of the “fulool” remnants of Mubarak’s regime, seem to have joined hands with a fascist group called the “black bloc” that has burned the premises of Ayman Nour’s party because he declared readiness to participate in the forthcoming general elections.  The BBC’s report showed the slogans they left threatening all “traitors”.  It seems Dr. Ammar is an ally of those who flooded the tunnels of Gaza before alternatives were agreed upon with Hamas.
Did he really come from Tahrir Square and return to it in February 2012?


By Khalid Al Mubarak, 12/03/2013

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