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Sudanese Intifada 2.0 – Professor Hussein Solomon

December 25, 2018

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Sudanese Intifada 2.0

By Hussein Solomon

Volume 6 (2018), Number 20 (December 2018)

On the 30th January 2011 popular protests erupted across Sudan as part of the regional Arab Spring protests against an authoritarian government which did little to uplift the economic plight of ordinary citizens. Dubbed the Sudanese Intifada, these protests dissipated as a result of a combination of harsh security measures and promises of reform. This December, Sudan seems to be going through a second Intifada.

Beginning on the 19th December in the city of Atbara, the protests quickly engulfed the rest of the country of 40 million people. More importantly, while protests began for economic reasons, it quickly morphed into calls for regime change. The initial trigger was the price of a loaf of bread which tripled overnight from one Sudanese pound to three. The current economic crisis was entirely predictable. Sudan’s economy was heavily oil-dependent and with the 2011 secession of South Sudan, Khartoum lost three-quarters of its oil output. To balance the budget, President Omar al Bashir and his ruling National Congress Party (NCP) embarked on various austerity measures. These only served to impoverish ordinary Sudanese as no meaningful economic reforms were simultaneously undertaken. The lack of such structural economic measures, in turn, resulted in foreign investment drying up. By October 2018, the Sudanese Central Bank felt compelled to devalue the Sudanese pound from 29 to 47.5 Sudanese pounds to the US dollar. Prices increased overnight. Indeed inflation increased by 70 percent. The extent of the economic malaise is seen in the fact that in many cases, citizens cannot withdraw their own money from banks and when they can, withdrawals is restricted to 500 Sudanese pounds (approximately US $10) at a time – hardly enough to cover one’s living expenses for a single day.

Whilst the protests have its origins in economic conditions, as in 2011, it quickly morphed into a political movement given the kleptocratic nature of NCP rule. This was seen by protestors storming government buildings and calling for an end to al-Bashir’s long reign. Al-Bashir initially came to power in 1989 in a military coup. His rule has been characterised by human rights abuses – most egregiously in Darfur where he has been accused of genocide and still has charges to answer for at the International Criminal Court.

The government’s handling of the protests merely served to fuel the protests further. Use of live ammunition on protestors served to further anger ordinary Sudanese. According to official government figures, 12 people were killed. Opposition sources, however, put the death toll much higher. Given the average age of protestors (between the ages of 17-23) government shut down school and universities as well as blocking internet access to prevent social media serving as a platform for popular moblilization as it had during the Arab Spring protests. Curfews and declarations of states of emergency followed. Khartoum also attempted to deny the legitimate grievances of citizens by characterizing the protests as the work of “infiltrators”.

None of this served to endear Al-Bashir and the NCP to ordinary citizens. Recognizing the popular rage, they were confronted with, the regime attempted to assuage citizens’ fury with promises of economic reforms which would increase the quality of life of ordinary citizens. There are however several reasons to believe that Sudanese Intifada 2.0 will not dissipate as the initial protests from 2011-2013 did. First, ordinary Sudanese simply do not believe the government. Government made promises before and they have not been kept. Under the current constitution, for example, presidential elections is to be held in 2020 and al-Bashir is ineligible to stand on account of him having served his two constitutionally-mandated terms. However, there is a concerted attempt on the part of al-Bashir and the NCP to amend the constitution and allow him to run for president yet again. Second, the protestors this time round do have a credible opposition political figure to rally around in the form of Sadiq al-Mahdi who recently returned from self-imposed exile to a hero’s welcome. Immediately upon arrival he called for a democratic transition. It should be noted that al-Mahdi was the last democratically-elected president and he was overthrown in the 1989 coup which brought al-Bashir to power. Third, whilst protests initially began amongst disenchanted and unemployed youth, it has quickly spread to other sectors of society including trade unions. Finally the rapid spread of the protests from Atbara to Manaqil, Rufaa, Omdurman, Port Sudan, Um Rawaba and Gadarif suggest this is truly a national Intifada. 2019 ought to be an interesting year for Sudan and the wider region!

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