Hundreds of people scammed by a money scheme set up in Darfur protested yesterday in El Fashir, the region’s northern capital. Police used tear gas on the angry protestors, who were reacting to the loss of a large sum of money in a long-running scam set up by two ruling party candidates in the regional elections. Sources on the ground estimate that around $160 million was lost in the faulty transactions.
According to al-Jazeera, two National Congress Party, or NCP, candidates—Adam Ismail and Musa Siddiq—set up a system in which thousands of people were tricked out of their money and possessions, even goods as large as cars. Traders offered to buy items from local citizens at inflated prices—higher than market value—and paid the sellers with vouchers that were to be cashed later. A man interviewed by al-Jazeera in this video said that he was offered 50,000 pounds for a vehicle that was only worth 30,000. Though for awhile citizens received the money promised, they stopped being able to cash their vouchers shortly before the elections—when both candidates disappeared.
According to a Reuters piece, many Darfuris were also swindled out of their money when enticed by what seemed to be particularly lucrative investments. Investors initially received the promised returns, until the business shut down, just before the polls. A man interviewed by Reuters said he lost an equivalent of $5,400 because of the scam.
“It was a Ponzi scheme. This has been going on for months. It came to a head,” said a U.N. official that spoke with Reuters. “It went beyond El Fasher. It went to the diaspora. People have been venting their frustration, gathering in places.”
During polls, North Darfur’s governor denied that the government had anything to do with the scam, promising to reclaim and protect all citizens’ belongings. Despite these previously assuring words, the governor issued a recorded statement on a local radio station Wednesday, denouncing victims of the scheme by saying that their actions violated Sharia law that prohibits the acceptance of interest. The governor left El-Fashir before the statement aired.
On the ground, people are unconvinced that the government had no part in the scheme. Some believe that the scam is part of an NCP plot to target a sector of the population (in particular, wealthy El Fashir merchants) seen as financially supportive of the Darfur rebel movements. The fact that NCP candidates set up the scheme, and that the scam fell apart right before elections, certainly placed voters in a predicament. Sources on the ground claim that the governor of North Darfur had promised prior to elections that if citizens voted for NCP, he would guarantee that the money was returned.
Photo: Darfur desert. (Omer Ismail)