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Read Why Some Sudanese Keep Money Under The Mattress

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In our series of letters from African journalists, Zeinab Mohammed Salih looks at what is behind the wave of protests in Sudan threatening President Omar al-Bashir’s three-decade-long grip on power.

Many in Sudan now prefer to keep their money under the mattress rather than in banks.

If people put their savings in the bank it can be hard to get out as cash machines are often empty.

Where cash is available, long queues have become the norm in the capital, Khartoum.

There are also queues for bread.

Coming back from work late at night, I have often had to wait an hour to get to the bakery window only to be told that there is nothing left.

Other foods are becoming expensive for many people in the capital.

Fava beans, or fuul, are considered a staple here which could be found at any corner shop. But the shop next to where I live has now stopped selling them because, the owner explained, most people could no longer afford them.

Returning from a six-month stay in the US in September people were noticeably thinner.

Subsidies cut

The problems stem from the government’s attempts to prevent economic collapse with emergency austerity measures and a sharp currency devaluation.

In December it cost 76 Sudanese pounds to buy $1 (£0.79) on the black market, whereas six months ago a dollar cost less than 40 Sudanese pounds.

Prices are also rising. The annual inflation rate reached 68% in November compared to 25% a year earlier.

As part of the austerity measures, the government has reduced subsidies on fuel and bread, leading to a rise in the cost of basic commodities.

The increase in the bread price last month triggered a wave of mass protests, which are still going on. They started in the eastern city of Atbara on 19 December when the headquarters of the governing National Congress Party (NCP) were torched.

Echoes of the Arab Spring

These have morphed into demonstrations calling for the end of President Omar al-Bashir’s nearly three-decade rule.

Protesters, adopting a slogan of the Arab Spring, have been heard shouting: “The people want the fall of the regime.”

The demonstrations in Khartoum are the largest against President Bashir since he came to power in 1989 in an Islamist-backed military coup.

And things have turned deadly. Officials say 19 people have died after security forces tried to quell the protests, but rights group Amnesty International has said it has credible reports that 37 protesters were killed.

Many opposition supporters have been arrested and journalists have been detained and harassed after covering the demonstrations.

This has all increased the pressure on the 75-year-old president, who people said appeared tired and a bit confused when he was addressing top police officers a week ago.

He urged them to use less force against the protesters but then appeared to contradict himself by saying rather mysteriously: “What is exacting penance? It is killing, it is execution, but God described it as life because it is a deterrence to others so we can maintain security.”

BBC.COM


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