World Economy

Austerity, Protests Threaten Sudan’s Economy

Sudanese complain prices of vegetables, meat, sugar and transport are always rising.Sudanese complain prices of vegetables, meat, sugar and transport are always rising.

Mohamed Yassin’s minimarket occupies a prime spot in Khartoum but its shelves are largely empty as a plummeting currency and slew of subsidy cuts pushes prices up and customers away.

“Prices rise daily after government decisions and what we sell, we can no longer completely replace because our capital is losing value,” 44-year-old Yassin told Reuters.

“Sales have dropped significantly ... We don’t know how long we can handle it. We’re afraid we’ll go out of business.”

“Life has become unbearable. Prices of vegetables, meat, sugar and transport are always rising and the government doesn’t feel for us. We don’t know what to do,” said Fatima Saleh, 39, a state employee and breadwinner in a family of five.

Inflation approaching 20% and government austerity have fueled growing discontent and rare protests in Sudan in recent weeks.

Protests have so far been small but, mindful of popular anger that swept away several Arab autocrats in 2011, the government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has been quick to silence media criticism over its handling of the crisis.

Sudan’s economic problems have been building since the south seceded in 2011, taking with it three-quarters of oil output, the main source of foreign currency and government income.

Its revenues dwindling, the government began reducing fuel and power subsidies in 2013 and announced a new round of cuts in early November that saw petrol prices rise about 30%.

At the same time, Sudan has sought to alleviate a dollar shortage by introducing a second exchange rate alongside the official peg of 6.4 Sudanese pounds per dollar.

The so-called incentives rate allows the central bank to buy dollars from Sudanese expatriates for about 16 pounds and is meant to boost foreign currency flows into the banking system.

 Growing Discontent

To reduce dollar demand and protect local industry, Sudan also banned imports of meat and fish and raised import tariffs on other goods. But the restrictions have fueled inflation in a country that relies heavily on imported goods.

As more Sudanese feel the pinch, unrest is growing. In the past week, Khartoum and other cities have seen rare protests. On Wednesday, more than 150 lawyers held a sit-in in central Khartoum. Elsewhere in the capital, police used tear gas to disperse protesters who blocked a road.

A call by activists for three days of civil disobedience also meant the streets of Khartoum were much quieter than usual this week as some teachers, pharmacists and others stayed home.

Authorities have arrested four dissidents, closed a television channel and seized the print runs of four newspapers over the past week to silence criticism of reforms.

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