Sudan is angry—or so it seems if you look at social media. President Omer Al Bashir gave a speech last night defending the removal of fuel subsidies that was implemented today. Comments abound on facebook and twitter, with people reacting to the speech and the problems that the country will face now.
The speech built on his comments earlier this week in which he maintained that fuel subsidies only benefited the wealthy and commented that before his regime, Sudanese people had not heard of pizza or hot dogs.
Bashir defended the decision to lift the subsidies on economic grounds (this is just a clip from the speech, and it’s without translation, but it’s all I could find today). Much of the anger that’s being expressed in response centers on the tone. In addition to announcing rises in prices that will be quite painful for the entire population, he presented the issue as one that is unimportant for the average person—that only those who are privileged will be affected.
In reality, the lifting of subsidies will affect everyone. The price of fuel is supposed to rise from 10SDG a gallon to 21SDG a gallon, doubling the cost. This increase will translate into more expensive public transportation and higher prices for even basic goods, since food and other items must be transported into cities even if they are produced locally. Imagine your cost of living rising by 30%, 50% or higher. That’s the possibility that scares people, and it’s a real one. A promise to raise the salaries of government employees, while somewhat helpful for certain people, will not be enough to ease the broader community’s pain.
This is part of a much harsher economic reality that Sudan has faced since separation. Without oil revenue from the South, Sudan has been forced to grapple with significantly less income, and has struggled to maintain its usual services (and the patronage networks with which the governing party gains its support). By reducing subsidies without providing sufficient government support to compensate, the government is asking Sudan’s population, especially its middle class, to accept a permanent cut in its living standards.
This cut may be inevitable, given the economic realities Sudan is facing. At the same time, wars in the West and South siphon off money that could be used to ease this transition and invest in Sudan’s infrastructure, social services, and long-term business opportunities.
So what’s going to happen? It’s clear that people will suffer. It would not surprise me if there are protests–indeed, they’re already being reported in cities outside of Khartoum. It isn’t clear, though how large these protests will become or to what extent they will connect themselves to a particular group or coalition. What we can be sure of is that this is a tense time. We’ll see what that means for the country long-term.