Ex-UN official: ‘Control livestock trade with the Gulf to halt Sudan war’

A livestock market in Golo, Central Darfur (File photo: Albert Gonzales Farran / UNAMID)

A former UN and Oxfam official expressed his belief that the main driver of the ongoing war in Sudan is livestock exports to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. Nicholas Stockton argues that excluding livestock exports from Sudan’s conflict zones would significantly weaken the economic incentives driving violence in agricultural areas.

In a letter published by The Guardian on Monday, Nicholas Stockton, retired United Nations senior humanitarian advisor and former director of emergencies at Oxfam, drew parallels between the current war in Sudan and grazing in Darfur.

“After decades of marginalisation, Sudan’s pastoralist herders started hitting back in 2003, destroying peasant farmers’ villages and converting the most favoured agricultural zones in Sudan into gigantic, militarised ranches.

“Since December 2023, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have been repeating this process in El Gezira, Sudan’s largest irrigated agricultural scheme. All this to take advantage of the burgeoning livestock trade with the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia, and now re-established as Sudan’s leading export industry.”

Livestock exports to Saudi Arabia average between 10,000 to 15,000 heads daily, with more than four million heads exported to the kingdom since the onset of war last April. “These exports constitute the only regular income stream for the state’s treasury”, livestock trader Abdallah Bereik told Dabanga in February, following a decision by the Sudanese Ministry of Finance to impose customs duties exceeding 10 per cent on livestock exports.

Stockton emphasised that international efforts, such as reviving UNAMID, the African Union-UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur, “would be no more effective than its predecessor, itself an expensive spectator to the violent clearances of peasant farmers in Darfur”.

Instead, he advocates for a more direct approach: controlling the livestock trade. Stockton argues that by adopting ethical trade policies that exclude livestock exported from Sudan’s violent regions, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states could “thereby remove the incentives that underlie the brutal land clearances”.

He stressed that these measures could be implemented swiftly and would have an immediate impact on reducing violence in Sudan. “Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states could stop the war in Sudan at a stroke.”

Last week, the Central Bank of Sudan (CBoS) granted 250 Sudanese companies two months to supply reports of export revenues to avoid a complete banking ban. Commentators questioned whether this decision would succeed in halting the deterioration of the value of the Sudanese Pound, or if it is merely a way to ease criticism on the government, which is in severe economic crisis amid the ongoing war.