The Sudanese Revolution of December 2018 promised freedom, peace, and justice but a year and a half later people are struggling to survive. The impact of COVID-19, climate change, inflation and a precarious relationship with the United States leaves Sudan in a socio-economic and political situation that is not too different from the context people protested against in December 2018. The question remains, can Sudan deliver on its revolutionary promise with all these odds stacked against it?
Economic Decline and the Return of Protests
Queues for bread, queues for fuel, the city of Khartoum is crowded with people waiting for hours on end. With queues starting from 3 am and continuing into the night, people’s patience is running thin through continued shortages in these everyday necessities.
These shortages have led to extreme levels of inflation with the rate for September recorded at 212.29 % in comparison to 166.83 % in August, increasing by 45.46 %. This new crisis can be attributed to the government’s failure to pay more than $20 million to the flour mills in the country meaning bakeries did not receive their full allocated share of flour over the last few weeks.
Due to overwhelming pressures on families, bakeries and gas stations, there has been an increase in protests to highlight the poor living conditions. Most recently, protestors took to the streets in Khartoum and Omdurman on Wednesday 21st October lighting tyres on fire and blocking streets, an image not unfamiliar just a year and a half ago during the revolution. Once more, protestors described the government as “turbulent” and “weak”.
This desperation, hopelessness, and frustration contrast the hopefulness exhibited by the Sudanese people just a year and a half ago when the revolution was in full force and united people across ethnic and socioeconomic lines. With people expecting the new government to provide stark changes to life under the rule of Omer Al-Bashir, there are extreme pressures on the new government to change the status quo.
The Impact of COVID & Climate Change: Another Hit to the Turbulent System
Of course, the economic woes have been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic and the extreme rainfall Sudan has experienced, leading to floods over the last few months has made matters worse.
The floods are reported to have left more than 100 dead and more than half a million homeless leading to Sudan declaring a three-month state of emergency due to the flooding in September. There are also concerns that 4.5 million people are now at risk of vector-borne diseases, shows a UNOCHA report published on Thursday.
Another issue is the seeming rise of COVID cases with 225 new cases registered on Thursday and Friday last week. This brings the total number of cases to 14, 626. While this is low in comparison to rates elsewhere, it is likely there are discrepancies in reporting. In combination with the findings from the UNOCHA report, Sudan’s healthcare system faces unprecedented pressures should COVID cases continue to increase.
The Big Bully: The US and its Games
On Monday, October 19th 2020 US President Donald Trump announced on Twitter that Sudan would be taken off the US State Sponsors of Terrorism list (SST) after transferring the agreed US$335 Million to help 9/11 victims and families after months of negotiations.
The removal from the list is a huge breakthrough for the new Sudanese government as it has spent 27 years on the list. Benefits of removal from the SST include Sudan’s ability to receive international loans and aid as well as eventually ease pressures on the economy.
Part of the deal to remove Sudan from the list involves Sudan normalising relations with Israel despite it originally being rejected by the Sudanese transitionary government. However, it is likely Sudan will succumb to the US’s pressure and begin the process of normalising with Israel. This has already angered the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) stating that Sudan’s decision to normalise was a ” new stab in the back” for Palestinians. Many have stated the US’s demands are coercive and manipulative as Sudan is in no position to bargain due to its turbulent situation.
US President Trump’s decision to remove Sudan from the SST list comes at a critical point as he reaches the end of his term. It is likely Trump was using the last few days before the election to amplify his position as the president that brings peace to the Middle East and in this case, the Horn of Africa.
Forecast: A Rocky Road Ahead
While Trump’s announcement has provided an inkling of hope, it is unlikely that the removal from the SST list will provide any short term alleviation to bread and fuel shortages as well as inflation. Prices of fuel are rumoured to see a continued increase over the next few weeks which is likely to exacerbate tensions. Therefore, it is highly likely the protests will continue in response to the continuing economic issues as well as frustrations regarding the US’s pressure to normalise relations with Israel. Also, with the unpredictability of COVID and cases on the rise in Sudan, it is highly likely that further disruptions will occur. As for Sudan’s revolutionary dream, it is still a realistic possibility that Sudan can achieve freedom, peace, and justice, it is just going to be a rocky journey.