Ottawa is looking to scale back foreign aid to Sudan, even as Canadian funds continue to flow to the breakaway state to the south, which is descending into an increasingly violent conflict.
An internal document obtained by The Globe and Mail shows the Canadian International Development Agency recommended reducing or ending aid to the African country because it is not of "strategic importance" to Canada. The report, titled Reviewing CIDA's Bilateral Engagement, shows the federal government evaluated commercial opportunities in dozens of developing countries to help determine how foreign aid should be disbursed.
Sudan is among a minority of countries in which the report does not see investment and trade opportunities. After summarizing some of the reasons to continue development work in Sudan – including the prevention of humanitarian crises and efforts to maintain peace – the report concludes that aid to the country is not a priority.
"Sudan is not of strategic importance to Canada," the report says. "It is recommended that Canada consider downgrading its development program, or exiting entirely."
The report notes that it has become increasingly difficult for donors to deliver humanitarian assistance and development programs to Sudan. A section describing disadvantages of continuing aid was redacted. The report says humanitarian assistance will be provided "as needed."
At the same time, the report suggests that aid to South Sudan should continue, in large part to avoid "future, more costly interventions."
South Sudan, a largely Christian region that formally split from the Muslim north in 2011, is still struggling to establish a legitimate government after years of civil war, the March, 2013, document says, noting that violence and instability continue because of unresolved disputes with Sudan, inter-tribal conflict and limited employment.
In recent weeks, South Sudan has faced growing violence linked to a power struggle between its president and former vice-president. The threat of armed conflict prompted Canada to close diplomatic operations in the capital city of Juba in late December.
Officially, both Sudan and South Sudan are on Canada's list of 20 nations that are supposed to receive most of its development assistance. However, since the two countries split in 2011, Canada has increasingly concentrated regional aid in South Sudan.
Last fall, Ottawa dismantled its Sudan Task Force, which was responsible for co-ordinating Canada's diplomatic, military and development work in the region. The group's mandate had been expanded to include South Sudan after 2011.
A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development declined to respond directly to a question about whether Canada plans to end aid to Sudan, but told The Globe in an e-mail the federal government is constantly reviewing its aid strategies for all countries to ensure funding is effective and priorities are up to date.
"Following the formal separation of South Sudan, development programs in both successor states continued," Alex Asselin wrote in an e-mail. "These programs are currently ongoing, as is Canada's commitment to provide humanitarian assistance, based on needs, to vulnerable populations in both Sudan and South Sudan."
The CIDA report notes that Sudan continues to face "significant challenges" in maintaining peace and stability. "The inability of the two countries [Sudan and South Sudan] to reach agreement on key outstanding post-independence issues has led to considerable instability and pockets of violence along the border areas, resulting in a serious humanitarian situation," the document states.
The report was written less than two weeks before the government's announcement last March that Canada's stand-alone development agency would be merged with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.