Former URPL Student’s High Stakes Balancing Act on the World Stage!
Seasons Greetings to planning colleagues at UW-Madison. I would like to offer an addition to the storied history of the department and, during these turbulent times, reiterate the importance of global development, planning, and the role that has been played by the Wisconsin Idea.
I am an URPL alumni from the mid 1970s through the mid 1980s when I completed a Ph.D. under Professors Jakobson and Jacobs. At about the time I was finishing, we arranged to place and support a promising young official from Sudan’s Ministry of Economy and Finance from Kordofan Province in the west of this vast and largely underdeveloped country, as an URPL student to take graduate courses in planning and economic development. Funding came from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under our bilateral development assistance agreement with Sudan and part of a decades-long program that continues to this day, of participant training which has invested in building human capital across the developing world.
The year-long experience that the Sudanese student, Abdallah Hamdok had in Madison during the 1985-1986 time frame, proved to be transformational insofar as his professional development and career were concerned. Courses on planning, economics, and agriculture together with the support of the department’s faculty, staff and fellow students gave him the skills, disciplinary perspective on development planning and confidence to go onto and complete a doctorate in the UK, return to Sudan in the capacity of a senior civil servant, take on leadership positions with the Africa Union, and just a month ago or so, be appointed by the transitional government as the XX Prime Minister of Sudan.
For those who may not follow Sudan’s recent political upheaval, the tenure of General Omar Bashir who overthrew Sudan’s only democratically elected leader back in 1989, came to an end this year when civic activists and the military decided that enough was enough. The transition of power, following years of misrule and mismanagement, has been anything but smooth. But both sides eventually settled on Abdallah Hamdok as their choice to lead Sudan into a new but uncertain era.
Prime Minister Hamdok was in Washington two weeks ago to meet with the State Department, lawmakers on the Hill, and others as the US and Sudan seek to normalize relations. For the first time in decades there are plans to exchange Ambassadors. Hamdok has a number of challenges ahead of him. One is to get Sudan removed from the list of countries sponsoring terrorism and have sanctions removed making Sudan eligible for US companies and financial institutions to do business, enjoy trade preferences, concessional development finance and receive foreign aid. There are many more things that he and his interim government need to do, but they have a fresh start and a measure of international goodwill that hopefully will translate into meaningful support and assistance.
Those of us associated with URPL should be proud and encouraged that one of our own has been given an opportunity to make democratic governance and market based economics work for the people of Sudan. It will be fascinating to see how he balances the different interests, and navigates among alternative development paradigms given the uncertainty gripping OECD-DAC member states confronted by the rapid rise of Chinese development finance and assistance on the world stage. Stay tuned. Miles Toder Ph.D., Senior Foreign Service Officer (retired), U.S. Agency for International Development