On Friday, Khartoum, El Gezira, and Kassala witnessed spontaneous protests against the new increases in the prices of basic commodities and the fuel and electricity tariffs. Opposition parties are calling for mass demonstrations. Flour and fuel shortages continue in various states.
As the production of food in Sudan is poor, the country has to import many food items and most of the medicines needed. In 2015, Sudan imported more than two million tons of wheat at a cost of $1.5 billion. The recurrent flour crises during the past few years have been attributed to the scarcity of foreign currency.
In a bid to fight the steadily increasing hard currency rate at the black market, the government proposed in its 2018 Budget to raise the customs rate of the Dollar from SDG 6.7 to SDG 18.
The budget was approved by the Sudanese Parliament on 31 December. After the increase of the customs price came into effect on Tuesday, the prices of the main consumer goods doubled or even tripled.
“We don’t know what to do any more,” a housewife told Radio Dabanga from Khartoum North. “The increases concern everything, fuel, bread, cooking oil, medicines, you name it. The price of a quarter of a kg of lentils, that has become important staple food, rose from 5 to 9 Pound, a plate of 24 eggs from 30 to 60 Pound, and a kg of chicken from 33 to 45 Pound.”
Amidst ongoing flour shortages, prices of this basic commodity tripled on Thursday. The price of a 50 kg sack of flour went up from SDG 165 ($23.40*) to SDG 550 ($78) in several states of the country, an increase by 333 per cent.
Bakeries closed their doors, or sold one piece of bread for one Sudanese Pound instead of two.
In the Khartoum districts of Burri, El Jereif, and Jabra, people took to the streets in protest against the soaring prices. Dozens of protesters blocked the main streets with burning tyres, listeners reported.
In El Hilla El Jedida, El Mazad, El Dibagha, El Asheer, and Banat in El Gezira, south of Khartoum, large numbers of people participated in demonstrations. Some of them set fire to tyres to close the roads.
Members of the security apparatus, the police and the paramilitary Central Reserve Police used tear gas and batons to disperse the demonstrators. The government forces also threw tear gas canisters inside houses, which caused breathing problems to the residents, in particular the children and the elderly.
In El Hilla El Jedida, two children had to be taken to the hospital. “They almost could not breathe any more,” their mother told this station.
Multiple sources reported that a number of demonstrators sustained injuries. Others were held by security forces and taken to an unknown destination.
In eastern Sudan’s Kassala, people as well protested against the shortage of bread and the sky-rocketing prices. Dozens of demonstrators gathered spontaneously in front of the vegetable market in Halfa El Jedida after Friday prayers, and chanted slogans against the government policies.
One of the protesters told this station that most of the bakeries in Halfa El Jedida kept their doors closed on Friday for the lack of flour. The price of a 50 kg sack of flour rose to nearly SDG 500.
“The soaring bread prices have become a great burden on us, especially because most of the people are surviving on low incomes already,” he complained.
People in northern Sudan as well complained about the price hikes to Radio Dabanga.
“Apart from rise of the price of a tiny piece of bread from half a Pound to one Pound, the price of a kilo of meat has risen from SDG 70 ($ 10*) to SDG 140,” a listener in Dongola complained.
In El Damer, bread distributors refused to work, as they feared losses as a result of people’s reluctance to buy one piece of bread for a Pound.
A resident of eastern Sudan’s El Gedaref reported an acute bread crisis in the town. He complained that “The new bread price represents a new challenge as our daily wages and salaries have not increased”.
According to the official Sudanese Press Agency, President Omar Al Bashir received his Assistant, Gen. Abdelrahman El Mahdi, on Thursday and directed him to take action to halt the price hikes and improve the living conditions of the people.
Al Bashir said that the outcomes of the National Dialogue are to be fully implemented, in order to realise sustained security and stability in the country.
A new alliance of members of the federal Parliament plans to start a protest action against the approval of the new budget. The budget has been criticised as well by Sudanese financial experts and opposition parties for again allocating a high percentage to the army, security service, and paramilitary forces. Similar to previous years, the budget relies on direct and indirect taxes to cover its deficit.
The budget includes plans to reduce the inflation rate from 34 per cent to 19 per cent. But according to a Sudanese economist, the inflation rate in the country “exceeds 50 per cent” in reality.
Call for more demonstrations
Opposition parties urged the Sudanese people to take to the streets in peaceful demonstrations against Khartoum’s economic policies.
“By enforcing the recent price increases, the regime has publicly declared its defiance of the will of the people”, the Sudanese Congress Party said in a press statement on Friday.
The activist opposition party called on “the political parties, civil society organisations, youth organisations, students and all the Sudanese to rise up and face the challenge of change by peaceful means, through a popular revolution whose main demand is the ousting of the [current] Salvation regime”.
The National Umma Party said in a statement on Friday as well that the recent price increases have crossed a red line.
The party called on “the Sudanese people and all forces interested in change to oppose the budget by all peaceful means in order to halt the regime’s absurd measures, its disregard for the people, its failure, corruption, and tyranny”.
The Communist Party of Sudan warned for “a growing sense of injustice and marginalisation in the country”, and criticised the allocation of most of the resources to “the centre and the security establishment”.
The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North faction headed by Malik Agar, called on all Sudanese to resist the new “impoverishment budget” by forming “ the widest front possible”.
Ali Mahmoud Hassanein, the head of Sudan's National Front, called for “a peaceful and decisive uprising to bring down the regime as it cannot longer provide a basic necessity like bread”.
Fuel, flour crisis continues
People in various states in the country continue to suffer from a lack of flour and fuel.
Bakeries in Khartoum witnessed long lines of people waiting to buy bread. A listener told this station that “A number of customers directed their anger to the workers at the bakeries instead of the government”.
A residents of Port Sudan, the capital of Red Sea State, reported “an unprecedented bread scarcity on Friday”. They pointed out to long queues in front of bakeries. “In addition, we are suffering from severe fuel crisis for a week,” he said.
The fuel crisis in Halfa El Jedida in Kassala entered its third week. A vehicle owner said he spent the entire Friday in front of the only working fuel station in the town.
*Based on the official US Dollar rate quoted by the Central Bank of Sudan (CBoS)