Sudanese Protesting Fuel Hikes, Corruption

When Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir removed fuel subsidies, protests erupted in several cities including Khartoum.

Flag_of_SudanAfter the removal of the subsidies the price of petrol shot up from 12 to 21 Sudanese Pounds per gallon. The Sudanese population took to the streets in protest in Khartoum, Medani, El Obeid and other cities.

The police, the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) and other security forces moved in to clear the streets with brutality. The protesters last year wear bombarded with tear gas; this year the security apparatus weren’t so lenient.

The protesters were shot at with live ammunition and chased down the side streets of neighborhoods by the police and NISS. As a result, 210 people died and over 1,000 are believed to be detained.

These protests however saw very little media coverage, partly due to the government’s clamp down on media outlets, and the NISS’s control over the press. Following a report on Thursday’s protests, Al Arabiya’s Sudan correspondent was detained and questioned. Al Arabiya and Sky News Arabia offices were closed down by NISS, including three or four local Sudanese newspapers.

Those documenting the protests are targeted by NISS agents and subjected to detention, if not torture.

The other reason the protests lacked coverage is because Sudan has no political, financial, or geographical importance to the world, and specifically for the West. Media coverage was a main reason in the success of the uprising in Egypt and Tunisia, and this is what’s currently needed in Sudan.

The new austerity measures, following ones implemented last year, came as an attempt by the government to resolve a lingering budget deficit. In announcing the measures, Sudan’s President Omar Al Bashir justified his actions by claiming that “fuel subsidies helped the rich and not the poor, as the poor do not drive cars.”

In an attempt to regain people’s confidence he then went to say that “before the Inqaz [salvation] government (his government) Sudanese people never had the privilege of tasting hot dogs and pizzas,” a line which has fueled satirical material across the internet.

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Besides Bashir’s ineptness in economics, this is another episode that highlights the regime’s incompetence in all aspects of governance.

The majority of the government’s budget is spent on defense and security – two institutions that have ensured the furtherance of Bashir’s grip on power. Very little is spent on education or health, and even less is spent on the agricultural sector (around 1%) which employs almost 70% of the country’s labor. Claiming that the government’s shortcomings are budget related would not do justice to the Sudanese populace.

Since Bashir took power in 1989 toppling Sadig Al Mahdi’s elected government, Sudan has been plagued by corruption and rampant nepotism. Like in all other dictatorships, the wealthy and most powerful people are those with close ties to the regime and the ruling National Congress Party (NCP). Ministerial positions are occupied by unqualified, ineffectual regime sympathizers, which are eventually shuffled to give the illusion of reform.

The government in Sudan is currently involved in three wars in the peripheries, all with Sudanese people who demand a right of representation in the central government. The country is plagued by corruption and poverty, there are no freedoms of expression or political affiliation, and there are no basic human rights, no freedom of press. The protests might have been sparked by the removal of fuel subsidies, but the underlying motive is regime change.

Moez Ali is an engineer, an aspiring writer, and Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of 500 Words Magazine. He is currently based in Southampton, UK where he is pursuing an MSc in Sustainable Energy Technologies. Read other articles by Moez.