Amid weeks-long mass demonstrations of the ‘Gilets Jaunes’ against increasing fuel taxes, spreading from the streets of France to Belgium, widening the condemnation of the economic burden and country leaders’ policies, another uprising feared to cause chaos is now in process a continent apart, in Sudan.
Popular protests erupted Wednesday in a number of Sudanese provinces against price hikes and worsening economic conditions. An increase in the price of a loaf of bread is causing public outrage.
At least eight demonstrators have so far been killed in clashes with riot police, news agencies reported, six of them in the city of Al-Qadarif.
The Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors, an independent doctors’ union which seeks to improve healthcare conditions, said the six protesters killed in Al-Qadarif included a 13-year-old boy who was shot in the head. It listed at least 27 injuries, seven of which who are in critical condition. Most casualties resulted from fire shots.
The list included many youth. Dozens of high school and college students reportedly took to the streets and were joined by dozens of residents.
In a Friday statement, a spokesperson for the government identified as BisharaJumaa was quoted by the Sudanese News Agency (SUNA) that the government was aware of and is working to solve the crisis, asserting that security forces did not oppress civilians who were practicing their constitutional right to protest.
“However, the peaceful protests deviated from that path and were transformed by infiltrators into destabilising activity targeting public institutions and property, burning, destroying, attacking and burning some police headquarters,” he added.
The government representative added that some political entities have tried to take advantage of the situation in order to advance their own agendas, and that law infringements and sabotage would not be tolerated.
Protests took place in the states of Al-Qadarif, River Nile, Red Sea, North Kordofan and more contained ones in Khartoum.The Sudan Tribune reported that eyewitnesses in the Atbara town of River Nile State in north-eastern Sudan said the police and army didn’t interfere to disperse or arrest the protestors, but that some riot police officers threw tear gas at the demonstrators.
On the other hand, the headquarters of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in Atbara was set on fire by protestors. Schools were suspended and a state of emergency and curfew were declared. The Tribune further noted that President Omar Al-Bashir was in Port Sudan, Red Sea State, to attend the closing ceremony of a military exercise conducted by the Sudanese army.
The movement was seen as the largest since September 2013, when riots broke out to contest government subsidy cuts on fuel. Hundreds took to the streets in Khartoum and across the country, notably in Omdurman. At least 185 people were killed by violent repression; the majority were shot in the head or chest, according to Amnesty International.
Economic conditions in Sudan have deteriorated in recent months. Last year, Sudan celebrated the US’s lifting of economic sanctions imposed for decades on the country over accusations of supporting terrorism.
However, it seems not to have brought the desired relief for Sudan’s economy, which has witnessed a drastic inflation rate, climbing to over 60% since May.
The country’s GDP growth rate has declined from 4.9% in 2015 to 4.2% in 2017, according to World Bank (WB) data. Sudan projects economic growth of 5.7% and expects a budget deficit equivalent to 5.2% of output in 2018, Prime Minister Motazz Moussa said on Wednesday, according to Reuters.
Some media reports said the wave of protest in the provinces over increased bread prices in some regions was caused by the government reducing the quantity of subsidised flour allocated to the states in order to cover the large deficit in Khartoum state.
Critics attribute the deteriorating living condition to corruption, lack of production policies, and the scarcity of economic reform vision following the secession of South Sudan.
Sudan lost 75% of its oil reserves after the southern part of the country became an independent nation in July 2011, denying the north billions of dollars in revenues. Oil revenue constituted more than half of Sudan’s revenue and 90% of its exports and Sudan’s economy has struggled to recover from the loss.
Sudan devaluated its currency three times in 2018. In October, Sudan slashed the official value of its currency by over half against the dollar, pegging the Sudanese pound at 47.5 against the dollar.
The move led to further price increases and cash shortages, while the gap between the official and black market rates has continued to widen. Boosting foreign currency has been a critical challenge since the 2011 secession.
In December 2017, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) described authorities’ measures including exchange rate flexibility and reduction of fuel subsidies “helpful” but “insufficient to turn the tide toward sustained macroeconomic stability and broad-based growth.” The report noted that Sudan remained in debt distress, especially external payment arrears, including to the IMF.
The report warned that fiscal and monetary policy settings were likely to hinder prospects of growth following the revocation of the US sanctions. In fact, it stated that reduction of energy and wheat subsidies would generate substantial increases in prices, and that the authorities were concerned that it could raise social tensions among vulnerable groups and the middle class.
“They indicated that after suffering for 20 years under sanctions, it would be difficult to ask the population to make further substantial sacrifices with no clear guarantee that reforms would better their lives,” the IMF noted.
Commodities’ high prices caused protests in January over bread prices after the government decided to cut wheat subsidies, amid economic measures recommended by the IMF.
In other words used by Sudanese journalist Reem Abbas back then was that the country was heading towards “a total shutdown,” as she expected devaluation to continue since the country had neither any foreign reserve nor production of some sort.
Abbas highlighted how factories were in facing tough financial conditions leading to increasing their market prices and how people could not afford food, medicine and fuel.
“Down with the regime” and chants against President Omar Al-Bashir, was voiced by protesters and also became popular hashtags for social media trends.
Activists also began reporting attempts by the government to cut them off from the internet through local telecommunication operators. One of them, Zain Sudan, said Friday that “the blocking of some websites was for reasons out of the control and authority of the company.”
On Thursday, the presidency announced the appointment of a new director of the General Authority for Telecommunications, without providing further explanations.
Al-Bashir’s presidential term expires in 2020 but his supporters have pushed to extend it, which opposition figures have rallied to prevent for months.
Earlier this month, members of the Sudanese parliament presented signaturesto amend article 57 of the country’s Constitution of 2005 regarding the duration of the presidential term, to be open without specifying more than one term.
The opposition Umma Party, which has endorsed the recent demonstrations and called for the downfall of the regime, rejected constitutional amendments’ proposal and denied that its presidentSadiq al-Mahdi had accepted it.
Al-Bashir, a military officer, came to power in 1989 in a coup that ousted the elected government of Sadiq Al-Mahdi, the then prime minister.
In recent months he has dissolved the government, named a new central bank governor and brought in a package of reforms, but the moves have done little to contain an economic crisis, Reuters reported.