Stable economic polices behind the unstable political scene in Sudan
The Sudanese people do not want more ‘budgets of hunger’. They want a government that takes the necessary measures to end poverty. The country’s economy needs to be transformed; from a rentier state into one that benefits the Sudanese people.
The economic demands that ignited the Sudanese revolution in 2018 were no secret. They were clear from the first demonstration by high school students in Atbara against the increase in bread prices, as they were clear in every scene of extraordinary bravery where peaceful protestors stood in front of soldiers, giving long speeches on the necessity of a revolution that would provide people on both sides of the guns with affordable food and a decent living standard.
‘Down with the government of hunger’
The last budget from Omer Albashir’s regime was described as a “budget of hunger”. It implied further de-subsidization of basic goods including bread and fuel. Increasing the prices of bread and fuel was the go-to strategy for Albashir’s government in every economic crisis. Yet it was also a strategy that ignited public demonstrations whenever it was executed. December 2018 was therefore not a surprise as it shared the main characteristics of previous protests in 2013 and 2016. The chants that repeated “Down with the government of hunger” around Sudanese cities and villages firmly confirmed this, and lead to the logical conclusion that the people of Sudan took to the streets in 2018 demanding a government that could end poverty. But again they were let down. Their demand was not realized, a reality proved by the current situation in Sudan.
No substantial change
The transitional government that took power after overthrowing Albashir was composed of a partnership between the military leaders and traditional political parties who lead the alliance named the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC). It quickly turned out that the Sudanese people was hoping for too much giving the nature of the new set-up. While the public expected a government that would finally serve their needs, what they got was a government that perpetuated the old dynamics. The existing rentier economy of Sudan serves those in power and has very little to offer the general public. This is an economy that for decades depended on the extortion and export of simple goods, the latest was gold, preceded by oil, preceded by oil seeds and cotton. This economy provided little opportunity for mass employment and rendered very little revenue for the country’s treasury. With limited resources to provide public services, successive governments resorted to buying-of leaderships by including them in the network benefiting from the rentier economy and oppressing the public to ensure its survival. Both sides of the transitional government -military and civilian- have benefited from this situation. Every new wave of oppression granted the military with generous chunks of the country’s resources over the years, and their wealth increased with every new set of austerity measures. The civilian side on the other hand was under the leadership of political parties that benefited from the rentier economy as well. The FFC leadership has shown no interest in fundamental change, which was manifested in the leadership structure of the alliance itself which keeps the traditional sectarian political parties and urban elites as the decision makers. This despite the fact that grassroot resistance committees were the backbone of the revolution. Neither side has had any interest in transforming the Sudanese economy into one that uproots their power over it.
While the public expected a government that would finally serve their needs, what they got was a government that perpetuated the old dynamics.
While being in charge, the transitional government embraced and repeated the economic policies of Albashir, but with one major difference: The support of the international community. As the transitional government de-subsidized fuel and bread; and as the government prioritized paying 335 million USDs in compensation to the richest country on earth over spending on agricultural projects, the international community applauded Sudan’s return to the “international fold”. And as the government ignored public demand for reform in the labor laws, the international community thanked the government for its submission to IMF calls for a new investment law that minimizes state control and opens the door wide for private sector capture of national resources. The international propaganda machine of the governments of the US, the UK and the EU played a major role in blurring the revolution’s economic demands, and to quell the opposition for economic liberalization policies. From marketing campaigns for de-subsidization policies, to media stories that spread a narrative of a youth revolution against the old, there has been no shortage of efforts to blur the reality of a revolution of the exploited poor against the exploiting rich.
Neither side has had any interest in transforming the Sudanese economy into one that uproots their power over it.
That there would be no changes to Albashir’s policies was clear in the Juba peace agreement as well. The agreement included leaders of armed groups at the top of the rentier economy as ministers and governors without producing any substantial change to the system of exploitation forced on the people in conflict areas. This agreement came after negotiations that were led by the military junta and funded by their allies in the Gulf. The Juba agreement, which without a doubt strengthened the military junta, remains supported by international diplomats. In the midst of continued protests by the Sudanese people, the international community has called for a return to the Juba agreement even after the October coup.
A dire situation
In the weeks preceding the coup, the military junta leaders gave several speeches appealing to the public’s disappointment at the economic situation to justify their call for “change and reform”. The economic situation was disastrous: Inflation reached over 300%, the cost of living has more than doubled over the past year, and a loaf of bread, costing 2 pounds at the time of the ousting of Albashir, was being sold for 20 pounds in October 2021. The public’s disappointment was real.
The military’s call for reform and later-on its coup were supported by the newest members of the government, its new allies from the Juba agreement. The transitional government’s failure to adapt new economic policies became its downfall. The military coup makers, on the other hand, failed to consider how well organized the Sudanese public is, and that was its downfall. It is this level of organization that keeps the protests against the coup going, even after the killing of over 70 protestors by the state’s forces.
The transitional government’s failure to adapt new economic policies became its downfall.
The coup makers also failed to consider how difficult it would be for them to implement new economic policies without the support of the international community. The latest increase in electricity prices, praised by the head of the World Bank when it was part of the transitional government’s plans, did not get any applause from the international community this time around. The coup government tried to frame the price increase as a ‘necessary reform’, but to no avail. Just how important it is to get support from the international community for government policies became apparent when farmers in the Northern State protested against the new electricity tariff. They closed the main road connecting Sudan to Egypt. In the past, these farmers would have been coined as enemies of progress for doing this. This time around, with no European president denouncing their actions, neither could the pro-government media or the coup government’s supporters.
The coup government tried to frame the price increase as a ‘necessary reform’, but to no avail.
Unfortunately, the past few days have witnessed a strong return of international support for the old regime’s way of doing things. International initiatives are now calling for dialogue between the coup government and the protestors in a blatant disregard for the crimes of the military as well as for the clear public demand for ending military rule in Sudan. The international community is seemingly once again taking the position of an enemy of real change towards justice in Sudan and legitimizing the military coup.
No political stability without new economic policies
The military’s latest economic policies have consolidated the protestors resistance and their economic demands. This much is clear in several statements by various resistance committees as well as in their various proposed political declarations. The Sudanese resistance is acutely aware of the importance of prioritizing economic demands to ensure change that can end poverty, their initial motive to take to the streets in 2018. The continued political instability in the country must therefore be read as a direct result of the continuation of flawed economic policies; policies that keep the Sudanese public impoverished. These policies were sustained under Albashir’s regime through oppression and were later sustained under the transitional government and applauded by the international community. Neither tactics can achieve much success against an organized public committed to prioritizing the well-being of its communities and their right to live.
This Sudan blog post is written by Muzan Alneel, a writer and public speaker with an interdisciplinary professional and academic background (engineering, socioeconomics and public policy). She is co-founder of the Innovation, Science and Technology Think-tank for People-Centred Development in Sudan and is a non-resident Fellow of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP).
The views expressed in this post are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the ARUS project or CMI.
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