Creating new perspectives since 2009

Sudan's economic decline provides fuel for anger against Bashir

February 20, 2019 at 9:55 pm

Ousted Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir delivers a speech at the presidential palace in the capital Khartoum on 3 January 2019 [ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images]

As Samir Gasim reels off the problems facing his Khartoum confectionery and packaging factories, already running well below capacity, the power cuts and generators kick in, reports Reuters.

Now he fears the plants may close entirely due to a sudden, eightfold hike in industrial diesel prices imposed by a government desperately short of foreign currency and facing the biggest popular protests since President Omar al-Bashir came to power 30 years ago.

“We are in favour of eliminating subsidies, but gradually, over five years. Not overnight,” said Gasim, seated in his spartan factory office. “Otherwise it will be a disaster.”

READ: Sudan accepted economic assistance from UAE, Russia, Turkey

Sudan’s worsening economic crisis has caused fuel, cash and bread shortages that in turn set off a wave of unrest that has surged across the country over the past two months.

The economic slide has also alienated the professional classes, who blame Bashir and the ruling National Congress Party for their troubles, according to businessmen, activists and academics. That has undermined Bashir’s authority and encouraged a protest movement that has persisted despite a security crackdown in which dozens have died.

The Sudanese Professionals’ Association (SPA), which has posted calls for protests on social media and organised strikes, draws in doctors, teachers and lawyers and others complaining of decades of economic mismanagement and isolation.

Founded in 2015, it was planning to submit a request to parliament to raise the base level from which monthly public sector salaries are calculated of 650 Sudanese pounds – now worth just $13.60 at the official exchange rate – on Dec. 25, six days after protests began to escalate.

“We decided to raise the ceiling of our demands from the improvement of wages and the working environment and the right to form professional unions, to demanding the end of the regime,” said Mohamed Yousef, a SPA spokesman and economics professor at Khartoum University.

There was a big response to us because there are an economic crisis and failure of government, and fuel, bread and liquidity crises.

In a country where more than half the population of 42 million are under the age of 19, many of the protesters are young men and women struggling to find jobs that could pay them a living wage. Unemployment rose from 12 per cent in 2011 to around 20 per cent in recent years, with youth unemployment at more than 27 per cent, according to IMF and World Bank estimates.

OPINION: Sudan’s protests may have slowed, but they have undoubtedly changed attitudes

Sudan already has foreign debts of more than $50 billion and has been struggling to attract new external financing. By the end of 2018, inflation was running at more than 70 per cent. It then dipped to 43 per cent, according to official figures, though one US-based economist put it at nearly double that.

Protests in Sudan - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Protests in Sudan – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]