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The protest movement that is now surging through Sudan has been building gradually for months. In the last two weeks, however, public outrage against the government has boiled over – not only in Khartoum, but in other major cities as well.
With the country’s economy floundering, Sudanese are rejecting the spending cuts enacted by Omar al-Bashir’s government, and are outraged at price hikes and inflation running at over 30%.
It seems premature to say that Bashir now faces a Tunisia- or Egypt-style revolt, or that his days in power are numbered. But with protestors in the streets shouting “the people want to overthrow the regime,” Sudanese seem to have shaken off the fears that kept them silent in the past.
Here at RI, of course, our focus is on humanitarian crises, not political economy. There is a clear connection between the two in Sudan, though, and it’s one that should be obvious to both Bashir’s government and the opposition.
Sudan is fighting wars on at least three fronts: in Darfur to the west, in Blue Nile and South Kordofan to the south, and in the Red Sea and Kassala states to the east. Its defense expenditures are believed to be among the highest in the region as a percentage of GDP, and Khartoum can't easily redirect funds from the military to the economy while maintaining a strong offensive posture.
Khartoum also came remarkably close to open war against South Sudan in recent months, and the flare-up between the two countries has cut off vital cross-border oil flows. By its own admission, the government has lost $1.48 billion in pipeline fees because of the standoff with the South. That cost is being passed on to the Sudanese consumer, with prices at the pump doubling in the last week alone.
From a humanitarian perspective, Sudan’s civil conflicts and tensions with the South have been utterly disastrous – killing two million people, displacing over a million more, and cutting off live-saving assistance to vulnerable populations. The human toll of these wars has so far not altered Khartoum’s approach, but maybe the rising economic toll will. Given the high costs of conflict, a strategy of de-escalation and reconciliation could help Bashir free up resources for economic relief, thereby assuaging the concerns of average Sudanese. But whether he has the courage to make that choice is anyone’s guess.June 27, 2012 | Tagged as: Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Humanitarian Response, Protection & Security, Statelessness