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Eastern Sudan protests booming trade, deepens economic woes

Port Sudan (Sudan) (AFP)

Hundreds of trucks full of goods are immobilized in Port Sudan, dozens of container ships are anchored and intact. For more than a month, demonstrators have blocked Sudan’s main seaport.

Roads to other provinces and the capital Khartoum were cut, docks closed and even Port Sudan airport was closed for some time.

Four weeks after the crisis began in mid-September, basic supplies to the rest of this impoverished northeastern African country were delayed, triggering a new wave of nationwide shortages.

“I have been stuck here for over 24 days and my family depends on my income,” truck driver Mostafa Abdelqader told AFP.

“I could have transferred six expeditions during that time and had an income of 120,000 SDG ($ 300). Now I am having trouble buying food.”

The protests began when major eastern tribes opposed to the transitional government in Khartoum blocked roads and halted shipments to the Red Sea port.

They are calling for parts of an October 2020 peace accord signed between the government and rebel groups to be canceled.

The agreement, which includes a section on eastern Sudan, is seen by protesters as “not representing them.”

Similar protests have erupted in the past, but they have been brief and on a smaller scale.

“Some 60 percent of the trade passes through Port Sudan with an average of 1,200 containers per day,” said Ahmed Mahgoub, head of the southern terminal in Port Sudan.

Protesters demand the cancellation of parts of an October 2020 peace deal signed between the government and rebel groups Ibrahim ISHAQ AFP

“We are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars a day,” he told AFP.

The government has said vital drugs, intravenous fluids and essentials such as wheat and fuel are already running low.

Local bakeries in Khartoum and elsewhere in Sudan have been closed due to shortages.

Sudan is grappling with serious economic difficulties that worsened after President Omar al-Bashir was ousted in April 2019 after mass protests against his regime, which were themselves sparked by financial difficulties.

Today, many ordinary Sudanese citizens are struggling to make ends meet.

“We spend hours looking for bread, but all the bakeries are closed due to lack of wheat,” Ashgan, 17, a tea seller, said outside a bakery in northern Khartoum.

“It’s the last thing we needed. We’re already in pain.”

– “No plan to end the crisis” –

The ripple effects have spread across the country.

Protests erupted in southern Darfur on Sunday over shortages of bread due to poor wheat supplies linked to the closure of Port Sudan.

Sudanese economist Mohamed al-Nayer blamed the government’s failure “to quickly resolve the crisis in the east” worsening an already complex economic situation.

“Like Bashir’s regime, the government does not have a plan or even strategic reserves to cover the country’s needs,” he added.

Port Sudan received just 27 ships in September, up from 65 in August, according to the country’s freight association.

Members of the Beja ethnic group from eastern Sudan demonstrate outside the port of Osman Digna in the Red Sea town of Suakin
Members of the Beja ethnic group from eastern Sudan demonstrate outside the port of Osman Digna in the Red Sea town of Suakin ASHRAF SHAZLY AFP / File

Other smaller ports in the east, including Osman Digna in the town of Suakin, have also been blocked.

Last week, Commerce Minister Ali Geddo told AFP that businessmen had been forced to redirect their shipments to other ports since early October.

Some 33,000 port workers and others working in customs and shipping offices have had no income since the closure, the association added.

This coincided with the transitional government’s futile efforts to lift the country out of economic misery caused by decades of mismanagement and US sanctions under Bashir.

In recent months, he has embarked on IMF-backed economic reforms, including the removal of diesel and gasoline subsidies, as well as the declaration of a managed float of the Sudanese pound to stem an endemic black market. .

And the country is still reeling from a triple-digit inflation rate that only slowed slightly in August and September.

– ‘Catastrophic consequences’ –

Sudan is also in the throes of a bitter and growing political divide between the main factions leading the transition under an August 2019 power-sharing deal.

Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok on Friday described it as the “worst and most dangerous” chapter of the transition.

He cited splits between civilians and the military sharing the leadership of the ruling Sovereign Council, as well as internal factional struggles.

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok called the political crisis in Sudan
Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok called the political crisis in Sudan “the worst and most dangerous” chapter of the transition – AFP

Several civilian politicians have also blamed the military for the crisis in the east and a failed coup attempt in September.

But this only hardened the position of the demonstrators in Port Sudan.

“We have submitted our grievances to the government and wish to continue negotiations,” protest leader Abdallah Abouchar told AFP.

On Friday, Hamdok said appeals from Eastern communities were “fair” and that their discontent could be attributed to “decades of neglect and marginalization”.

An international conference is planned to address these issues and to fund development projects in the east, he said.

“The government should reach a settlement quickly,” Nayer said.

“Otherwise, the economic consequences will be catastrophic.