Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan, one of Africa’s longest-ruling head of state, appeared to be under threat since late 2018 amid largest street protests seen in years. While the triggering point of the protests was caused by removal of bread subsidies, the latest bout of events is also the culmination of anger among the Sudanese people over the failure of the government to address the shortcomings in economic development.
It perhaps never crossed the mind of Bashir that a protest over the government’s decision to abolish subsidies in the little-known city of Atbara will spread like wildfires to major population centers including Khartoum and Omdurman in a matter of days. Sudan last witnessed protests of such scale in 2011 when the Arab Spring triggered uprisings across many countries in the Middle East and North Africa such as Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. Although economic issues were being highlighted back then, the government immediately launched a crackdown on opposition figures, journalists and activists among others while Bashir himself also promised not to seek re-election in 2015 to appease the angry public. More importantly, the independence of South Sudan also overshadowed the other issues, causing the protests to eventually subside months later.
Back to present day, most ordinary Sudanese folks were pinning on hopes that their livelihoods especially with regards to cost of living will improve as the United States lifted sanctions in 2017, thus opening up opportunities for foreign investment inflows. Despite such optimism, the opposite took place with price of goods skyrocketing while the value of Sudanese pounds plunged dramatically. The frustration was clearly felt across the board when professionals such as lawyers, teachers, doctors joined the masses in organizing street protests as well as strike actions. Even Khartoum that the government thought is immune from protests was not spared with gatherings taking place almost on a daily basis. As in the past, the government once again launched a crackdown against the protesters by deploying heavy-handed tactics including restricting the internet. Violent clashes broke out and at least 37 deaths have been recorded as of early January.
Despite this, the protest movement remains unfazed by demanding Bashir to let go of the presidency, citing backing from the two main opposition parties of the country. Although the extent of the protests’ support remains unclear, Bashir is clearly threatened, and his government has promised to look into the issue of rising prices among others. Analysts dubbed such move would be able to appease the public that has also grown wary of the fact that Bashir might once again run for the presidency in 2020, reneging on a promise made in 2016. For now, it seems that the protests are likely to continue although it might be a while before Bashir will cowed in to the pressure of the opposition movement to step down. One thing is for sure, they have definitely weakened his position and re-introducing bread subsidies is also too little too late at this juncture.
The following is a timeline of the unrest in Sudan as well as SAFEY reports:
The crisis in Sudan erupted amidst the decision by the government to slash bread subsidies. It started in the city of Atbara on 19 December and spread across the country later. At least 28 updates have been published on the SAFEY app as of 9 January.
- First alert by SAFEY on the protest by opposition on 19 December
- A state of emergency was declared in Atbara following reports of unrest over rising bread prices.
- Subsequent alerts by SAFEY as protests spread to other cities between 20-25 December
- Multiple alerts were sent out for users in Sudan as the situation escalated with protests spreading out to major cities. They included the capital, Khartoum, El-Gadarif, Omdurman, Um Rawaba and El-Obeid among others. Internet services were also blocked on 21 December.
- General strike call issued on 26 December
- A general strike call was issued for the day as protests escalated elsewhere over rising prices of goods.
- Continuous coverage by SAFEY with more alerts being sent between 1-9 January
- SAFEY continued to provide updates to SAFEY users during this period. Some clashes broke out between police and protesters that resulted in deaths as well as arrests. Similar protests were also reported in Omdurman.