- Title: In Sudan, austerity and protest as economy crumbles.
- Date: 9th December 2016
- Summary: KHARTOUM SUDAN (DECEMBER 08, 2016) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF ACTIVIST MOHAMMED HAMAD WORKING IN FRONT OF HIS COMPUTER COMPUTER SCREEN
- Embargoed: 24th December 2016 16:07
- Keywords: Economy Austerity Cost of food Inflantion Protests
- Location: KHARTOUM, SUDAN
- City: KHARTOUM, SUDAN
- Country: Sudan
- Reuters ID: LVA0035C5W4LZ
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: A plummeting currency and a slew of subsidy cuts have pushed food prices up in Sudan, fuelling tensions as austerity measures continue to bite.
With inflation approaching 20 percent and growing discontent, Sudan has seen rare protests in recent weeks, from a population strained by years of conflict, poverty, US sanctions and loss of three quarters of its oil -- the lifeline of the economy, to South Sudan.
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.
For many families in the capital Khartoum, rationing food has become the norm as they struggle to make ends meet.
The Mohamed family, which comprises of 6 members says has to survive on 22 USD for food and medical care.
"My husband Imad is working as a mason and his daily income is about 150 Sudanese pounds (232 USD). To tell you the truth, I take two spoons of milk and give my kids 3 spoons or one spoon for my husband and I, in order to give the kids two spoons for their nutritional needs. Our life is not easy, but these walls hide our suffering," said Khartoum resident, Amal Mohamed.
"I took my son to the clinic for medical treatment with my health insurance card, but despite that I had to pay 69 Sudanese pounds (10 USD) to buy the eye drops. This money was taken out of the money that was put aside for food and after the latest increase, my income will not be enough for our daily expenses," added Amal's husband, Imad Mohamed.
Protests erupted last month after Sudan announced austerity measures including fuel and electricity subsidy cuts and restrictions on some imports.
Sudan's economy has struggled since South Sudan seceded in 2011, taking with it three quarters of the country's oil output, a key source of foreign currency and government revenue.
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 percent.
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.
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 fuelled inflation in a country that relies heavily on imported goods.
Many Sudanese people have been using social media to share their frustrations, using hashtags in English and Arabic such as #SudanCivilDisobedience to share how they have been affected by the current economic situation.
Activists have called for more acts of civil disobedience, after staging a similar protest last month.
"Voices were raised to prevent incidents of killings and blood shed that we saw in past protests. So people agreed to call for a civil disobedience on 27, 28, and 29 November, and that call was answered by many, especially on social media," said activist Mohammed Hamad.
Rabie Abdul Ati, a senior official in Bashir's ruling party, defended the government's austerity measures and dismissed the calls for disobedience.
"The social media calls for civil disobedience did not affect daily lives of people and things went on normally. The calls are just political and not real issues which deal with the economical crisis which people are suffering from," he said.
The mounting crisis is taking place in an economy already hobbled by U.S. sanctions imposed in 1997 against a government accused of supporting terrorism, the sanctions were tightened in 2006 over Bashir's role in the Darfur conflict.
Companies struggle to obtain dollars from banks, which are barred by sanctions from receiving foreign transfers, forcing them to resort to the black market where rates are higher.
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