December 29, 2018
Protests in Sudan
Sudan has been in the throes of anti-government protests since December 19th, which started in the city of Atbara. Initially triggered by the government’s decision to increase the price of a loaf of bread from one Sudanese pound to three (i.e., from $0.02 to 0.06) as well as shortages of food and fuel, the protests have ever since escalated into calls for Omar Al-Bashir (Sudan’s president of 29 years) to step down. The quick pace of the protests’ escalation is indicative of deep-seated grievances of the Sudanese against Al-Bashir’s governance.
In a matter of less than a week, these demonstrations have spread across the country, including to the capital Khartoum. In reaction, as of December 27th, security forces’ heavy-handedness has resulted in the death of more than 39 people, according to Amnesty International while the Sudanese authorities have put the death toll at 9. Various segments of society in Sudan have also joined the protests to voice their grievances to the endemic level of corruption of Al-Bashir’s rule. This included the Sudanese Professional Association, doctors, journalists, students, as well as the National Consensus Forces (an opposition coalition). Doctors have started a strike, responding only to emergencies during the protests while strikes among other professions are also expected.
Reasons for the protests
Although the protests started in reaction to mounting prices and food shortages, these are only the tip of the iceberg. Sudan’s economic problems got worse when it lost three quarters of its oil wealth immediately after the secession of South Sudan in 2011. The economic impact of this loss in oil revenues culminated over the years. Despite the fact that the United States lifted the enduring 20-year-old trade sanctions on Sudan last year, the country has not been able to recover from the loss of three-quarters of its oil output. The end of these sanctions was expected to usher in an era of new investment and an economic renaissance. However, as Al-Bashir ended fuel and bread subsidies, in line with international lending partners, as expected, the quality of life of ordinary people took a turn for the worse.
Moreover, the recent devaluation of the currency gave rise to price hikes and a liquidity crunch all over the country, forcing the government to limit bank withdrawals, creating long lines of people at ATMs. Inflation reached an annual rate of 70% in November according to the data provided by the Sudanese government. As a matter of fact, it is reported that many ordinary Sudanese can no longer spend money on meat or fuul, a staple food made of cooked fava beans while some people now spend 40 % of their income just on bread.
These problems have been compounded by the authorities’ widespread corruption and economic mismanagement. Despite starting with economic motives, protests have now turned increasingly political. Protesters are now also asking for the departure of Al-Bashir, an end to corruption and respect for human rights. The sheer magnitude of and the speed with which these protests have spread have also taken authorities by surprise.
In addition to reacting with violence, the officials have so far blamed the outside forces for the protests. Sudan’s Chief of National Intelligence and Security Service, Salah Abdallah Mohamed Saleh, has blamed rebels with links to Israel whom he claimed had been brought into Sudan by a Kenya-based network in order to incite violence, without providing any evidence.
If Al-Bashir survives these protests, they will still be considered a formidable challenge to his 29-year long rule, despite the fact that Sudan is used to protests. What sets these protests apart from the previous ones is the widespread participation of various segments of the Sudanese population and calls for strike, which run the risk of paralyzing the economy. So far, protests give no signs of abating, causing an existential threat to Al-Bashir’s rule.