Sudanese fear for the future amid economic crisis
OMDURMAN, Sudan - There's a bustle of normality around the main bazaar in Khartoum's Omdurman district, with rickshaws and cars tooting at each other on its busy streets.
Yet under the surface of Omdurman's apparent vitality lies a palpable tension and fatigue due to the poverty and difficulties many are facing.
Omar works as a rickshaw driver. He does not own the vehicle and about one third of his earnings goes to the proprietor.
“This vehicle has a different owner and I have to share my income with him. Life here has never been easy, but after the latest increase in prices my family is struggling,” he told Middle East Eye.
In January, the Sudanese government took a number of austerity measures and lifted subsidies under its 2018 budget, as part of an economic reform plan in line with International Monetary Fund (IMF) recommendations. As a result, bread prices doubled to a pound (5.5 US cents) for a small loaf, sparking large protests.
The country also reduced the official value of the Sudanese pound to 18 per US dollar from 6.7. There is now a shortage of the greenback in the local black market, where the dollar rate is double that of the official exchange rate in banks.
“The government does nothing, corruption is very big and nobody cares about the people," Omar said.
Mohammed, who works as a medical engineer in Egypt and is on a return visit, does not see a future for his family if he were to come back to Sudan.
“It seems that here nobody in the government has any idea about the future. They just want to keep their positions in the ministries and other government institutions and get money as they [have done] for a long time," he told MEE, while he was visiting the capital Khartoum.
Mohammed left Sudan for Egypt with his wife and two daughters a couple of years ago for work. The 40-year old is not optimistic about the situation in Sudan. “I do not think things will change soon. My dream is to find a good job in some nearby [Gulf] country like Saudi Arabia or Qatar [where] I would be able to provide for my family from one salary," he said.
The country’s ailing economy has suffered from 20 years of US sanctions, from losing three quarters of its oil revenue to South Sudan when the latter seceded in 2011, and from the failed policies of President Omar al-Bashir.
Since Washington removed the economic sanctions in October, the Sudanese pound has plunged against the dollar. In January, inflation in Sudan jumped to more than 52 percent from 32.15 percent in December.
The average wage in Sudan is $200 a month. The cost of other basic daily products has also hiked in the last few months.
Saleh, a medical engineer who works in one of Khartoum's main hospitals, explained how the country has lost many of its most skilled professionals to other countries.
“Many of my colleagues are good doctors. Sudan was well known for the highly educated medical staff. Most of those are working in Egypt now, but also in rich countries like Saudi Arabia or other Gulf states.”
Yet for some, the capital Khartoum is an escape from a worse fate. Youssef, a Christian who used to live in the south of Sudan before moving to Khartoum recently, said he and his family were happy living in the capital.
“We feel good here. There are not any problems with our neighbours. People here are good, my wife and kids are also here and we feel safe.”
South Sudan has been ravaged by civil war since 2013. Many have fled to the north to escape the conflict. More than a third of the population of 12 million have been displaced by the war, which has left tens of thousands of people dead.
Youssef, who is a day labourer without a permanent job, said he had no intention of returning to the south. He currently makes an average of $9 a day, which is higher than the usual daily rate of $5 a day in other parts of the country.
“I want to live here. Khartoum is a better place and I have more chance to find a job. I am not planning to go back there.”
*Names have been changed for security reasons.