Every now and then we get tips for blog post ideas, sometimes offline, via email or sometimes via social media as was the case a few days ago:
Hope @Diplopundit catches “U.S. State Dept. Sending Critical [Pool & Picnicking] Resources to Sudan” http://www.tradeaidmonitor.com/2012/08/state-dept-resources-sudan.html …
Sometimes we catch the toss, sometimes we don’t, primarily because we have some time constraints. But this one, we thought we’d catch because in a place like our US Embassy in Khartoum, pool and picnic resources are critical resources in our view. And we’ll tell you why.
Let’s start off with Sudan as the third largest country in Africa. Slightly less than a quarter the size of the continental United States. It achieved independence on January 1, 1956 from the British, and has been at war with itself for more than three-quarters of its existence.
The USG designated Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1993 and the U.S. Embassy operation in Khartoum was suspended in 1996. According to the no longer updated Background Notes in October 1997, the U.S. imposed comprehensive economic, trade, and financial sanctions against the Sudan. In August 1998, in the wake of the East Africa embassy bombings, the U.S. launched cruise missile strikes against Khartoum. The last U.S. Ambassador to the Sudan, Ambassador Tim Carney, departed post prior to this event and no new ambassador has been designated since.
We do have a Special Envoy to Sudan —Ambassador Lyman since 2011; he succeeded Ambassador Gration who was appointed to office in 2009.
The U.S. Embassy is headed by a series of Charge d’Affaires. Joseph D. Stafford, III, a career Foreign Service Officer has been Charge’ d’ affaires in Khartoum since June 2012. The US Embassy reportedly continues to re-evaluate its posture in Sudan, particularly in the wake of the January 1, 2008, killings of a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) officer John Granville and local USAID employee, Abdel Rahman Abbas.
(see How much does a US diplomat’s life worth? About $1,800 US dollars, and look there’s no raging mob…)
The U.S. Mission in Sudan has declared disasters due to the complex emergency on an annual basis since 1987. On October 1, 2009, President Obama renewed the Sudan complex emergency disaster declaration for FY 2010.
So let’s just agree that it’s not a very nice, cushy place when its dry. And it’s not a very nice place when it’s wet.
In fact, it’s one of those places where family members of embassy personnel under age 21 are not allowed to reside. State Department employees in Sudan also get a 30% cost of living allowance, a 25% hardship differential and a 25% danger pay differential, and for good reasons.
Cost-of-living allowance (COLA) is granted to an employee officially stationed at a post in a foreign area where the cost of living, exclusive of quarters costs, is substantially higher than in Washington, D.C.
Hardship differential is established for any place when, and only when, the place involves extraordinarily difficult living conditions, excessive physical hardship, or notably unhealthful conditions affecting the majority of employees officially stationed or detailed at that place. Living costs are not considered in differential determination
Danger pay allowance is designed to provide additional compensation above basic compensation to all U.S. Government civilian employees, including Chiefs of Mission, for service at places in foreign areas where there exist conditions of civil insurrection, civil war, terrorism or wartime conditions which threaten physical harm or imminent danger to the health or well-being of an employee.
So in a country where Al Qaeda has a long history, what do people do to entertain and de-stress themselves? You can go to a fitness club where the monthly fee for adults is $192.50 (or 352.94 % more than what you’d pay in WashDC) according to numbeo.com. Or you can eat out where the combo meal similar to McDonald’s is $11.14 (except that you’re a real moving target). Or you can go to the movies for $5.00, certainly cheaper than DC but do you want to be in the dark with people with guns? Probably not.
You can stay home and surf online; 6 Mbps Internet is at $67.50 a month whether it works or not. Or have a roaring pool party. Maybe. And invite even people you can’t stand. In which case you need to shop for party food. You can shop for chicken breasts which at $8.00/kilogram is actually cheaper in Khartoum than in DC. You can also buy 12 pack eggs at $2.93, and a kilogram of fresh cheese at $16.33. Beer, the 0.5 liter bottle is reportedly $5.00. And there goes your COLA.
Then there’s the haboob, a small one or a big one, it doesn’t matter, it gets into everything. And they don’t have haboob days like snow days back in WashDC, which frankly, isn’t fair. We terribly missed our undiplomatic diplomat from Facts Are Strictly Optional; you betcha she would have had insightful things to say about these critical resources.
The patio furniture below is similar to those required under the solicitation mentioned above and posted by US Embassy Khartoum at fedbiz. The complete solicitation is here: https://www.fbo.gov/notices/b8deabb7df3866417121ac528cf8a837.
Rust-fee, weatherproof, five year warranty – what’s not to like? More to the point, and this is important — you can hose them down after a dust storm, they’re too heavy to fly away in a sandstorm and they are deliverable from South Africa, just 2900 miles from the Sudan instead of some 6,000 miles from the United States.
So frankly, we cannot find it in our hearts to quarrel with these pool and patio furniture. All that dust and sand would probably drive us nuts ala The Shining if we live down there. And anyways — what use is a pool if you cannot sit down or lounge or have a picnic with people you see every single day at work and at play?
Dear US Embassy Khartoum – we hope you folks enjoy your new pool and patio furniture. The bronze ones look really lovely.
- U.S. State Dept. Sending Critical [Pool & Picnicking] Resources to Sudan (tradeaidmonitor.com)
- Sudan’s destroyed plane was piloted by Russian national (stripes.com)
- US: Sudan Should Accept Plan for Demilitarized Zone with South Sudan (voanews.com)
- US aid worker held in Sudan freed from custody (foxnews.com)
While U.S. Trade & Aid Monitor typically leaves it to the reader to decide whether a program or procurement is worthwhile, the bracketing of “….Critical [Pool & Patio] Resources” admittedly comes off a bit snarky. Many thanks, Diplopundit, for putting the situation in perspective,though it remains baffling why one embassy needs 640 outdoor chairs and 243 tables (and don’t forget the 113 umbrellas and stands). Do they really need THAT many pieces? I know my tone continues to sound snarky, but someone please put me in my place if my “Hmmmmm” sounds too much like a “Harumph!” I will graciously leave you with the last word.
For all it’s worth, though U.S. Trade & Aid Monitor often reports on arguably questionable State, USAID, and USTDA expenditures, this past week USAID/Peru acknowledged that @tradeaidmonitor was one of the top re-tweeters of USAID tweets. So, the site does indeed let the other side (not meaning, necessarily, The Dark Side) have its say.
Steve – thanks for the note. I could not find a current staffing pattern for Khartoum, so I don’t know how many State and other agency personnel are there. Or if there is an anticipated jump in staffing numbers taken into account. I can only suspect some of these would be for the pool and some would be for the residences.
Thanks to DiploPundit for this piece–from one who served in Sudan and loved it there.
Dr. Colton – they sent you to the ends of the earth and you loved it there! If they were not able to kick you out for mandatory retirement (and all that paperwork you caused at HR and legal), I bet they would have sent you strapped to Curiosity and see how you conduct diplomacy with the Martians. Stay well.