On December 19, protestors in eastern Sudan congregated after noon prayers to demonstrate against worsening economic conditions in the country. Hundreds took to the streets, in response to the rising cost of bread and fuel, inflation, unavailability of money in banks and ATMs around the country, and mass corruption in the government. On Thursday, eight people have died in clashes with government forces according to official state sources. Other sources are claiming that at least twenty-two people have died, but these numbers could not be independently verified.
On Friday, December 21, protests spread to other cities like Atbara in the north, as well as the capital, Khartoum. Sudan’s main opposition leader and former Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi returned to the country that same day, after nearly a year of self-imposed exile.
As protests have continued, demonstrators have called upon President Omar al-Bashir and his government to step down. Al-Bashir and his regime are actively trying to stomp out the demonstrations using brute force and repression. There have been reports of Internet outages and social media networks like Twitter, WhatsApp, and Facebook have been blocked in an attempt to censor activism and widespread reporting of the protests. The government has also declared a state of emergency, imposing a 6:00 P.M. curfew and closing schools.
Economically, Sudan has been struggling since 2011 when South Sudan seceded, taking three-quarters of Sudan’s oil outputs with it. The United States has also kept Sudan on its list of state sponsors of terrorism despite lifting sanctions. This has restricted the country’s access to financial aid from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. This, coupled with a series of bad economic decisions disguised as reforms, has led to a dire economic situation.
But economics are not the only thing driving the protests. According to Horn of Africa specialist Abdullahi Boru Halakhe, dissent has been “brewing for a while.” Al-Bashir’s government has systematically engaged in brutal crackdowns on political opposition and student protesters. Under al-Bashir’s rule, the press has also been a target. The free press has been entirely restricted, journalists are frequently jailed, and newspapers are confiscated from media outlets and printing houses.
Omar al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and for presiding over the genocide in Darfur. He has also joined the Saudi-led coalition that is bombing and starving out Yemen and has been accused of embezzling billions of dollars from the Sudanese oil sector.
Instead of listening to his citizens’ demands, al-Bashir seems to be using the tactic adopted by his friend Syrian “President” Bashar al-Assad.