By Reem Gaafar
Once again, people are taking to the streets of Khartoum to protest the ridiculous price hike that the Sudanese federal government rolled out as part of the 2018 national budget. Earlier this month, the regime announced that it will no longer subsidize the price of imported wheat, leaving it entirely to the private market, resulting in 100% increase in the price of bread, alongside increases in the price of electricity (which is prepaid in Sudan and linked to water and waste management fees), and devaluation of the dollar from 6.9 to 18 Sudanese pounds from the Central Bank, while the black market – which technically owns and runs almost all foreign currency in the country – shot up from 20 something to 34 pounds per dollar. The continuous and progressive increases are allegedly part of an austerity package ‘advised’ by the International Monetary Fund in order to save the country’s failing economy from collapsing and burying everyone alive. However, it is well known that the reason behind the mess is that we are in continuous and ongoing corruption, managerial incompetence and downright stupidity and selfishness from the ruling regime. The systematic dismantling of the civil sector and unions as well as huge agricultural and transport projects were an essential part of enabling the regime to crush all opposition and eventually caused this collapse, among other causes. These protests remind us of the the 2013 protests, a part of the Arab Spring movement, in which over 200 unarmed protesters were killed and countless others arrested and beaten.
While the current downfall is blamed squarely on the secession of South Sudan in 2011, with the subsequent loss of 75% of oil revenues, the truth is that throughout the 29 years of NCP ruling, Sudan somehow managed to lose almost all its natural resources revenue. The country’s main support was agriculture and livestock, with Sudan being one of the world’s leading producers of sesame and cotton. Ironically, the same country that has miles and miles of the most fertile land in the region cannot even produce enough wheat to feed its citizens now, and a large segment of the population does not have access to running or clean water despite being home to the largest part of the river Nile. Sudan is considered by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to be the world’s third largest strategic food reservoir, while the Word Bank believes the country can actually feed the entire African continent.
In 1989, a group of army officers, working hand in hand with the Muslim Brotherhood, organized a coup which overthrew the democratically elected government. The justification for the coup at the time was worsening economic conditions and the continuous unrest in the South with the civil war in full force. And indeed, things were quite tough at the time: most people remember the last days of the third democracy with the long bread and gasoline lines. Ironically, that’s right where we are now: not only are there scores of people stuck in front of bakeries and gas stations, but only a fraction of the population can actually afford these things now. Almost every area of the country is at war, the South eventually filed for divorce, scores of internally displaced persons face dire conditions in camps and out in the open, and Sudan is at its lowest diplomatic status ever. The price of bread is actually 1000 times now what it was then. And lets not even start on the state of the (non-existent) educational and health system.
The protest was called for by the Sudanese Communist Party, but the respondents and participants have been from all over the political and civil spectrum, with roughly one thousand protesters taking to the streets in the first relatively organized movement since the unrest began. Several other smaller protests have flared up all over the country in the past weeks, with the government responding with tear gas, beatings, arrests, and even the shooting and killing of a student in Darfur and 2 others. Ironically, the same riot police officers breaking up the protests have actually one of the lowest paid jobs in the country, and are some of those most affected by the same price hike that they are protecting. Yesterday’s peaceful protest started out from in front of the presidential palace and headed west down Aljamhouriya street, growing in size as people from the sidewalks and buses joined in, as well as students and journalists and activists. As expected, the riot police attacked the protesters despite announcements that the protest was a peaceful one, with the usual tear gas and beatings, as well as arrested dozens of people, mainly prominent activists and members of political parties, but also teachers and school principles, writers, café owners, and reporters for the BBC and Alarabiya news channels. Videos taken hastily by mobile phones surfaced showing police brutally beating protesters, as well as plain clothed intelligence officers sitting in pickup trucks and blocking side roads to prevent people from joining the protest.
The protest eventually dissolved, but there are already talks by the opposing parties to hold another one.