The Sudanese are not generally known for peddling conspiracy theories. However, during this severe economic crisis many elaborate claims and counter claims about the causes and consequences of the crisis are being voiced by sympathetic political commentators and ardent opposition supporters alike.
A day after my arrival at Khartoum International Airport, I was alerted to a video of an American citizen posted on the popular government opposition website, Al-Rakouba. It appears to show a man, understood to be originally from the Western Sudanese region of Darfur, being tortured and beaten by security services.
Clearly a shocking incident but I then searched for evidence to back up the widely-held claims that the United States had ended negotiations with Sudan on the question of lifting the country’s name from the list of countries supporting terrorism. I found no official release from the US state department or any other public statement about the incident. However, according to the dissenters of the 30-year-old Islamic government this was another nail in the coffin of the “failing despotic regime”.
I came across University Lecturer Dr Abdu Mukhtar, once an ardent supporter of the government, who has now been reduced to discussing the Sudanese economic situation on social media by illustrating that he was unable to cash his salary this month. Mukhtar is one of a growing number of intellectuals disaffected by what he calls, “years of economic mismanagement and the ineffective measures to combat corruption”. He blamed the current economic crisis fairly and squarely on the government.
However, there are some commentators who surmise that the dramatic fall of the US dollar and the inability for banks to pay wages, the absence of cash in the ATM machines all in the space of just six weeks, was strategically executed by a third ‘enemy’ country. Prominent journalist and Islamic thinker Ishaq Ahmed Fadlallah, a columnist at the Sudanese daily newspaper Intibaha angrily told me, “Sudan’s government and economy has been deliberately targeted to weaken the control of the Islamic movement and to bring about the fall of the government”.
He told me the name of an Arab country which he blamed for flooding the market with fake SDG 50 notes, which he claimed has been used to buy up foreign currency, creating a hard currency shortage and spiking the price of the US dollar from SDG 28 to SDG 38 in just six weeks.
The decision last week by the Bank of Sudan to reissue a new SDG 50 bank note adds weight to his theory, that large quantities of fake Sudanese currency has flooded Sudan’s markets. However, like most conspiracies hard evidence to support such a claim was not freely available. Nobody I talked to could recall possessing or passing on fake currency. However, given that much of the foreign exchange dealings are facilitated through intra business transactions, it is feasible that the evidence in the shape of large amounts of fake Sudanese pounds may not have reached the hands of ordinary citizens but might have been spotted in bank deposit vaults.
On the contrary highly critical opposition videos peddle a more conspiratorial version of why the Central Bank of Sudan decided to change the SDG 50 note. One video blogger boldly proclaims that the government is trying to force citizens to hand in the billions of Sudanese pounds that are now being held in private safe keeping outside the clutches of the banks. His careful reading of the Central Bank’s actions suggests an attempt by the bank to exert greater control over the money supply. He said it was also an attempt to force the Sudanese to open bank accounts and surrender much needed cash to the banks without collecting the equivalent in the newly printed currency.
The angry indignant blogger referred to the action of the bank as an infringement of personal rights and liberty. “Why should I have to put my money in a bank account, why should I have to give up my money in exchange for an ‘I owe you’ note with no guarantee when I can collect my money?” he screamed. As ever the call for the government disparagingly known as the “Kaisan – Copper Cups” to be removed have intensified over the past few weeks.
Political analyst Mahmoud Abdeen Salih, a member of Parliament, former Mayor of Medani and author of several titles on the political and economic situation also has his own theories on the likelihood of the current crisis resulting in the overthrow of the government. When I spoke to him in his office Khartoum, Salih was adamant that the condition for the removal of the government as far as the Sudanese people were concerned would never be dependent on the economic difficulties they face:
“Overall, Sudanese people are not materially driven, they possess great pride and dignity around their collective social identity. There is no visible popular opposition alternative at present and provided the government avoids challenging the Sudanese sense of social and psychological welfare they could stay in power for a long time to come.”
Salih draws the overthrow of General Abboud as an example to reinforce his theory: “In 1964… there was no unemployment; graduates could leave university and walk into a government job the next day. Abboud’s downfall was his banning of the unions, disbanding the multi-party system and creating an intelligent service that had a deep effect on every aspect of the ordinary Sudanese citizen’s social life. That’s the reason he was overthrown.”
Salih’s theories may sound far-fetched but to some extent his views appear to be grounded in some truth. As the sun set on the fasting Sudanese communities in Khartoum, the roads fell silent and people sat huddled around plates of food together on the streets waiting for the call to prayer to break the day long fast in the sweltering 45 degree heat. There was a real sense of continuity and stability to everyday life, a brief moment to indulge in the Sudanese sense of social and psychological well-being; an instance where economic and political concerns momentarily disappeared.
Despite those moments, it remains unclear how long the social welfare sense of well-being in the prevailing economic crisis can be maintained to avoid strong calls for the removal of the government. Officials I spoke to admitted that the patience of the Sudanese was being severely tested and the government was doing everything in its power to ensure that patience does not end abruptly.