Sudan’s Economic Catastrophe Brings Country to the Brink: A Compendium of Very Recent Reports


For several years I have chronicled the slow demise of the Sudanese economy, a task necessary because there is no international reporting of significance and the IMF has essentially abandoned all oversight responsibility. Indeed, no international actor has been more irresponsible than the IMF in failing to warn about Sudan’s economic collapse. Here the most telling revelation is a statement by IMF Mission Chief for Sudan, Edward Gemayel:

Mr. Edward Gemayel, the IMF’s Mission Chief for Sudan noted that “Sudan has a long track record of implementing sustainable economic policies.” (IMF press release | http://www.4-traders.com/news/IMF-International-Monetary-Fund-Press-Release-Sudan-Meeting-of-the-Technical-Working-Group-on-E–17345158/

It is impossible to imagine a more foolishly destructive assessment of an economy whose present collapse has become increasingly inevitable—and was well on its way before Gemayel’s preposterous statement.

The present, rapidly accelerating economic and political crisis has been clear to those who would only look, although this viewership has been perversely small, and includes primarily Sudanese economists, mainly in the diaspora and whose views are reported almost exclusively by Radio Dabanga and Sudan Tribune. For my own assessments going back to 2014 (and earlier) see especially:

  • “Watching the Bubble Burst: Political Implications of Sudan’s Economic Implosion,” Enough Project Forum publication, 17 September 2014 | http://www.enoughproject.org/reports/enough-forum-watching-bubble-burst

• “Kleptocracy in Khartoum: Self-enrichment by the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party,” December 2015

| https://enoughproject.org/files/EnoughForum_KleptocracyInKhartoum_Reeves_Dec2015.pdf

Economic collapse is accelerating rapidly, with the catastrophic 2018 national budget the catalyst, having already produced inflation in prices of some critical consumer commodities by 300%. Protests are now rippling across Sudan, and the first casualty in a protest demonstration has now been reported; there have also been many injuries, most from the grossly disproportionate and excessive use of teargas, including security forces hurling tear-gas grenades in residences where children are present. Half of Sudan’s 18 states have now been put under “stage of emergency” orders.

The regime is in no position to rescue the economy or to reverse the surging inflation—coming on top of what was already been for 2017 a year-over-year inflation rate in excess of 50%. The Central Bank of Sudan is estimated to have only enough exchange currency (Forex) for a month and a half of imports—including wheat, which is now imported rather than grown domestically, this despite the abundant tracts of fertile land in Sudan. Radio Dabanga reported on January 7, 2018 that Sudan “imported more than two million tons of wheat at a cost on $1.5 billion in 2015,” the last year for which there are records available.

The immensely burdensome increase in the costs of flour, and thus bread, has produced acute shortages and long lines—and fantastic prices increases. As I’ve said, popular anger can be traced readily in the days following the announcement of the 2018 budget that has served as catalyst for explosive anger.

Will popular anger be enough to overcome fear of the willingness of the regime to use methods as brutal as issuing “shoot to kill” orders? That question is being answered on a daily basis; here a survey of dispatches going back to December 21, 2017—the time at which the budget was announced:

[1] Intensifying Censorship is Key Part of Khartoum Regime’s Response to Popular Uprising

Eric Reeves | January 9, 2018 | https://wp.me/p45rOG-2bx

As protests increase throughout Sudan, news reporting of popular outrage over catastrophic price hikes for basic commodities also increases; the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime is determined to continue with its present policy of ever-greater censorship. “Red lines” are becoming more restrictive, more crushing of news reporting:

• More newspapers seized for covering Sudan price protests | Radio Dabanga, January 9, 2018 | KHARTOUM

More newspapers have also been confiscated for neglecting directives of the security apparatus to the press not to report on the demonstrations against Sudan’s price hikes.

Print-runs of El Jareeda and El Baath newspapers were seized from the printing press, Mohamed Widaa, editor-in-chief of Baath and also spokesman for the political Arab Baath party, told Radio Dabanga. This brings the total number of seized newspapers that went against the security service’s directives and covered the street protests in the past two days to eight.

“The reason was that Baath dealt with the news of the demonstrations and the surge of prices,” Widaa said. “But there is no respected newspaper to be issued without this news.” He stressed their commitment to moral principles and respect for the reader the Sudanese people. “This makes it imperative for us to publish the news, even if we see that it would make [the security service] want to confiscate the newspaper.”

Widaa added that the newspaper will not stop nor falsify the facts and publish them. “The security apparatus is acting above the law. The government is the one that is making the current news but wants to prevent publication about it.”

[This is the crucial point: the very regime policies that have led to the protests are now the focus of press censorship and repression in the streets—ER]

Objective reporting

Majid El Goni, the editor-in-chief of the independent daily El Jareeda, said that the security apparatus did not provide an explanation when officers confiscated the print-runs from the printing press on Monday. “The newspaper’s dealing with the protests rejecting the new budget could be the reason for the confiscation.” In the past days El Jareeda had also dealt with protests in El Gezira, Darfur and Sennar states, however, “not only did the leaders of the opposition talk about the budget, but also the leaders of the National Congress Party did.

“Every day the red lines set by the security service for the Sudanese press are gaining territory, preventing any publication on a news subject.”

[And this is the other crucial point: as demonstrations accelerate, so censorship and security repression in the streets will only become more intense—something has to give. So far the regime gives no signs of backing away from its catastrophic 2018 budget, in part because it simply can’t: the economy has been too fully destroyed and there are no means of revival at hand—ER]

On Sunday morning, officers of the NISS halted the distribution of six newspapers, including Akhbar El Watan, El Midan, El Sayha, El Mustagilla, El Garar, and El Tayyar.

[2] First person killed in demonstrations sweeping Sudan, protesting outrageous price hikes in basic food commodities

Eric Reeves | January 8, 2018 | https://wp.me/p45rOG-2bv

The first person—a high school student—has been killed in the demonstrations that are now sweeping across Sudan, protesting outrageous price hikes in basic food commodities. Others injured have been injured, including by the indiscriminate use of large volumes of tear gas. As Radio Dabanga and Sudan Tribune report, new parts of the country are protesting the inevitable results of catastrophic economic policies, and decades of kleptocracy, by an utterly ruthless and self-enriching regime:

• Darfuri student killed in Sudan protests against price hikes | Radio Dabanga | January 8, 2018 | EL GENEINA / NYALA / ED DAMAZIN / KHARTOUM

On Sunday, the third day of demonstrations against the 300%price increases that hit the country last week, a student was killed in the West Darfur capital of El Geneina. Other parts of the country witnessed protests as well. When demonstrators in El Geneina set fire to the local headquarters of the ruling National Congress Party in the city, government forces opened fire on the crowd.

Secondary school student El Zubeir Ibrahim Sikiran was killed instantly. Eight others were wounded. Dozens were detained…

Sudan imports 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.

[This vast expenditure on food that should be grown in Sudan is the ultimate cause of the Forex shortage—ER]

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 in end December decided to raise the customs rate of the Dollar from SDG 6.7 to SDG 18. After this measure came into effect on Tuesday, the prices of the main consumer goods doubled or even tripled.

[Prices appear poised to rise further, as inflation begins to feed on itself in a highly inflationary environment—ER]

Rapid Support Forces

On Sunday morning, secondary school students demonstrated also in Nyala, capital of South Darfur. They chanted slogans against the doubling of the bread price. Others blocked the main three streets in the city with burning tyres for several hours. The South Darfur authorities deployed large numbers of militiamen belonging to the Rapid Support Forces in the centre of the capital to support the state police.

In Ed Damazin, people took to the streets on Saturday morning. The security forces used tear gas and excessive force to break up the demonstrations that moved from various neighbourhoods of the Blue Nile State capital to the city market. A student reported to this station that two houses in El Zuhour district burned down during the violence. Dozens of demonstrators, among them a number of students of the Blue Nile University, were held, and have been taken to an unknown destination. On Friday and Saturday, Khartoum, Atbara, and Sennar witnessed small protests in a number of neighbourhoods as well.

A demonstration of students of the University of Khartoum on Sunday afternoon was immediately halted by police forces who closed the nearby streets, and used tear gas to disperse the protesters. Students told this station that many of them suffered from breathing problems because of the excessive use of tear gas. An unknown number of students were wounded. Dozens were detained.

‘Sabotage’

On Sunday, the State Secretary of the Ministry of Interior Affairs, Babikir Digna, told the press in Khartoum that his Ministry “will not hesitate to crack down on any subversive demonstration against the price hikes.” “We will suppress any sabotage attempts,” he stressed…

• Student killed in protests over price rising in West Darfur | Sudan Tribune |January 7, 2018 (EL-GENEINA)

A student was killed and others wounded Sunday in a wave of mass protests that swept through West Darfur State capital, El-Geneina over commodity price hikes. An official at West Darfur government told Sudan Tribune under the condition of anonymity that hundreds of students took to the streets of El-Geneina… “The police and the Rapid Support Forces intervened to disperse the demonstration. There were casualties among the protesters. A high school student named Al-Zubayr Ibrahim Sekeran was killed and the authorities would investigate the incident.”

In the same context, the minister of education in West Darfur State Bashir Adam Idris issued a decision to suspend primary and high schools study for one week.

[3] Protests Continue in Sudan Amidst Catastrophic Inflation for Basic Commodities

Eric Reeves | January 7, 2018 | https://wp.me/p45rOG-2bt

Protests continue in Sudan and seemed destined to grow rapidly; only the most severe repressive measures can stop demonstrations against catastrophic inflation let loose by 2018 budget. Calls for demonstrations are coming from an increasing number of political quarters. Notably, the budget was proposed by the regime, but accepted by the slavish Parliament: it has no real power on issues of importance. Injuries have already been reported, including to children.

• Sudan: Sporadic protests against 300% price increases | Radio Dabanga | January 7, 2018 | KHARTOUM / EL GEZIRA / KASSALA

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, wheat, and also medicines from abroad. 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… 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.

[The fact that this outrageously unfair and misguided budget was approved by the Parliament makes clear that there is no independent check on the dictates of the NIF/NCP regime—Parliament is a sham on real issues—ER]

“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 Pounds, 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.

[These wild surges in prices, on top of massive previous inflation, are crushing the purchasing power of most Sudanese—and the future for prices looks even more grim—ER]

Protests

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.

[NB] 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 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.”

Complaints

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… 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.”

‘Stability’

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.

[This is pure propaganda by al-Bashir: there never was a “National Dialogue,” and the 2018 budget only makes the people of Sudan less secure, and ensures that instability will only grow as prices continue to rise—ER]

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.

[This estimate of the inflation rate is certainly accurate, as opposed to statements from the corrupt Central Bureau of Statistics [inflation is currently “only” 34%], which is simply a propaganda extension of the regime, with no independence—ER]

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 NCP/NIF regime will not tolerate demonstrations, peaceful or otherwise: once people see how many feel as they do about the hardships the regime is imposing, solidarity will grow. Will violence by the police, security forces, and perhaps even the military succeed in crushing the demonstrations? We will learn much in the days and weeks ahead. Injuries, including to children, have already been reported. There will be blood…ER]

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.”

[4] Sudan’s Economic Crisis Reaches the Tipping Point

Eric Reeves | January 6, 2018 | https://wp.me/p45rOG-2bo

These sudden, massive increases in the price of flour—and thus of bread—will inevitably lead to additional civil society outrage and unrest in Sudan; the protests of yesterday are only the first of what will likely exceed those of September 2013, during which more than 200 people were killed after the NIF/NCP regime ordered “shoot to kill orders,” a fact confirmed by Amnesty International and the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies. An extremely violent response by regime to current protests against the regime’s catastrophic economic policies—crystallized in the new 2018 budget—is inevitable.

When the bloody tyranny that has ruled Sudan ruthlessly since its military coup of June 1989 finally goes, the means will be civil society actions, including demonstrations of the sort reported today by Sudan Tribune.

The failure of the international community to warn the regime off its brutally repressive measures constitutes passive acceptance, a de facto “green light” to what we will see in the coming days and weeks.

• Scattered protests erupt in Sudan over economic woes | Sudan Tribune | January 5, 2018 (KHARTOUM) – Sporadic protests have erupted on Friday in Khartoum and the Gazira State in central Sudan against the recent government decision to increase the bread price. On Friday, bakeries raised the price of a loaf of bread from 50 cents to 1 Sudanese pound following a government decision to increase the price of flour sack from 167 pounds to 450 pounds. The government decision was part of tough economic measures contained in the 2018 budget which also saw the lifting of electricity subsidies as well as increasing the U.S. dollar exchange rate to 18.00 pounds from the official rate of 6.7.

[Given the new, dramatic, and overnight increases in flour prices—and thus bread prices—civil society outrage will spread quickly throughout Sudan—the potential for an even more massive popular uprising than that of September 2013 is clearly present. These demonstrations are certain to spread—ER]

Several neighbourhoods in the Sudanese capital including Al-Sahafa, Al-Kalakla, Al-Giraif and Burri on Friday witnessed limited demonstrations where the protesters burned car tires to block some streets. Also, police on Friday used tear gas and batons cautiously to disperse protesters in the neighbourhoods of Al-Mazad, Shendi Foug, Al-Hilla Al-Jadida and Al-Dibaga in Wad Medani, capital of the Gezira State.

There were reports that several protesters have been injured and unknown numbers were captured by the security forces. To quell anti-austerity protests in Khartoum, Sudanese security forces in September 2013 carried out a brutal crackdown on the peaceful demonstration, killing nearly two hundred protesters say human rights groups or 86 people according to government figures.

On Thursday, the opposition called on the Sudanese people to take to streets to protests against the unprecedented rise in the cost of living and commodity price. Opposition forces attribute the deteriorating living condition and economic meltdown to corruption, lack of production policies, and lack of economic reform vision following the secession of South Sudan.

• Sudan’s bread price through the roof as of today | Radio Dabanga | January 5, 2018 | SUDAN