In Sudan, protests sparked by increases in bread and fuel prices have been ongoing since December 19 and have escalated into calls for an end to the rule of President Omar al-Bashir. Protesters first took to the street because of the immediate crisis of the tripled price of bread, but the protests have continued because of the 29 years of violence and repression under Bashir. The protests began in small towns and villages, like Atbara and Gadarif, before spreading to Khartoum, the capital. The government has declared a state of emergency in towns where the first protests took place, and Sudanese authorities have arrested opposition leaders. Anti-riot police have responded to the protests with tear gas and live ammunition, causing injury and death to protesters. The protests have been supported by an umbrella coalition of professional unions and opposition groups who are continuing to call for more anti-government rallies. Doctors have been on strike since December 24, and on December 27 a network of Sudanese journalists also initiated a strike.
Sidki Kabilo, a member of the Sudanese Communist Party, explained how the protests shifted from economic concerns into a display of widespread discontent with al-Bashir, saying “The people started demonstrating over bread, fuel and financial instability, however, they’re now demanding the toppling of the regime. The masses have realized there is a strong relationship between the economy and politics.” Protesters can be heard chanting “the people want to topple the regime,” and “Freedom! Freedom,” evoking slogans of the 2011 Arab Spring uprising.
The Sudanese government’s violent response and indiscriminate use of force against unarmed, peaceful demonstrators are very troubling. Amnesty International has reportedly put the death toll for demonstrators at 37 which has only further incited protests. The Sudanese Journalists Network declared a strike “to protest against the violence unleashed by the government against demonstrators,” and government leaders called for a probe into the killings of protesters, with Popular Congress Party senior official Idris Suleman saying, “those who committed these killings must be held accountable.” There has also been an international response to Sudan’s use of violence to quell protests. The United States, Norway, the United Kingdom, and Canada issued a joint statement over their concern about violence during the protests, including “credible reports of the use of live fire by the Government of Sudan and of multiple deaths” and called on the government to avoid violence, arbitrary detention, and media censorship. Al-Bashir has also tried to end the protests by promising to enact economic reforms, but he did not provide specifics for his plan and his statements have not satisfied protesters at all.
Sudan’s economy has been struggling since the loss of three-quarters of their oil output when South Sudan seceded in 2011. However, the current protests go deeper than just economic issues and can be linked to the al-Bashir regime’s lack of investment in infrastructure or its people. The reaction to current protests is also not the first time al-Bashir has been criticized for his use of violence. An arrest warrant for al-Bashir was issued by the International Criminal Court in 2009 for war crimes, including genocide, related to the conflict in Sudan’s Darfur province. al-Bashir has evaded consequences for his use of violence and allegations of corruption, but the current protests demonstrate that the people are fed up and want it to end.
The current protests in Sudan began after an increase in bread prices, but they represent larger concerns about political repression and built up discontent with the current regime. Protesters are demanding an overthrow of Bashir and the National Congress Party, so economic reforms by themselves will not be enough to satisfy the protesters and diffuse the current volatile situation. According to Ahmed Soliman, an expert on the Horn of Africa at a London-based foreign affairs institute, “this regime has no ability to stop the protests by having economic reforms because the structure of the economy is so corrupt that they don’t have a clue how to run it.” Responding to the protests with violence has only caused demonstrators to gain in strength and does nothing to appease their concerns. This is not the first time the al-Bashir regime has been accused of using unnecessary violence, and these lasting protests demonstrate the commitment the Sudanese people have to create change.