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Sudan youths protest at IMF

By Patrick Smith
The protests are the country’s most serious in two decades. Photo©ReutersThe protests are the country’s most serious in two  decades. Photo©Reuters

The Sudanese government‘s quest for political  survival has sparked deadly protests.

 The International Monetary Fund‘s (IMF) advice to the Khartoum government,  which is seeking an internationally brokered write-off for its $42bn in foreign  debt, was unambiguous but politically illiterate.

What they [Khartoum]  spend on fuel subsidies is about what they spend, as we understand it, on  war

International Monetary Fund

International Monetary Fund advice to Khartoum has upset the general masses.

“Fuel prices are not only fiscally costly but also inefficient and  inequitable; their removal would deliver substantial gains to Sudan …  International experience shows most subsidy reforms occur without major civic  unrest” said the Bretton Woods institution.

More than 210 unarmed civilians were killed, according to the Khartoum-based  Sudan Doctors’ Syndicate, in the protests triggered by the government’s  announcement of subsidy cuts and concomitant rises in fuel and transport prices  on 23 September, 2013.

It was the most significant spate of street protests since the National  Islamic Front, now called the National Congress Party (NCP), seized power in  1989.

Hospital staffers said most of the dead and wounded were shot in the upper  body, suggesting a shoot-to-kill policy by police and government militias.

The director of the Khartoum morgue resigned after telling journalists that  the National Intelligence and Security Service had ordered him to issue fake  death reports.

For the NCP government in Khartoum, sticking to the IMF-suggested subsidy  cuts became a matter of political machismo.

“There’s no way the government will consider cancelling recent economic  measures,” said information minister Ahmed Bilal Osman.

Vice-president Ali Osman Taha told students in Khartoum at the height of the  protests: “A government that backs down from taking the right decision for the  benefit of society is not a government worthy of the trust and support of the  people.”

The government believes that demonstrating that it is an enthusiast for  fiscal rectitude, although it is fighting wars against its own people on several  fronts, will boost its case for a debt deal.

Both the IMF and the British government are encouraging that view in  Khartoum.

In a surreal determination to stick to the script, the IMF’s mission chief to  Khartoum, Edward Gemayel, told a group of officials during the IMF’s annual  meetings in Washington DC on 12 October that: “Sudan has a long track record of  implementing sustainable economic policies.”

As he talked up the progress made in discussions with the government on  fiscal reforms, Gemayel skirted the matter of protests against subsidy cuts,  which had spread from Khartoum to Port Sudan, Kassala, El Obeid and Wad  Medani.

Longer-term crisis

Donald Booth, the US envoy to Sudan and South Sudan, was more direct: “What  they [Khartoum] spend on fuel subsidies is about what they spend, as we  understand it, on war. So if they could make peace, they also would have been  able to save money.”

Unquestionably, the September protests point to a longer-term political  crisis. Initially, protests erupted spontaneously in Khartoum and several other  cities.

They quickly escalated as youth organisations and trade unions coordinated a  campaign for the resignation of the government.

Another sign of the protests’ seriousness was a letter to President Omar  al-Bashir urging the government to reverse the subsidy cuts and stop shooting  demonstrators.

Bashir’s response was to order an investigation into the authors of the  letter, which was signed by Ghazi Salah Al-Deen Al Attabani and more than 20  other dissenting officials from the ruling party.



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