Inflation, Food Shortages, Conflict Threaten Sudan Post-Coup
At his bakery in Khartoum, Saeed Ahmed is seeing the price for everything from flour to electricity rise sharply.
“But the biggest increase is in the wheat,” Ahmed told Al-Jazeera recently. “Wheat is imported, and the cost of importing has increased.”
The cost of bread has risen as much as 40% in recent months. High bread prices in Sudan date back several years and have led to huge protests, but prices rose even higher after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, disrupting imports from both countries.
According to Trading Economics, Sudan imports nearly $70 million in products each year from Ukraine. About 84% of those imports are grain, oils and sugar — all of which eventually end up in bakeries like Ahmed’s. Imports from Russia are even larger: $1.8 billion each year, 84% of which is grain.
On top of that, Sudan’s domestic grain production has fallen 35% in the past year due to unusual weather patterns, disease and pests, and rising production costs, according to a special report by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the U.N. Wheat alone has dropped 13% to 600,000 metric tons.
“Before the Ukraine crisis, we were already seeing the increase in malnourishment across the country, mainly because of food insecurity,” Arshad Malik of Save The Children said.
As a result of coup-related conflicts, the economic crisis and poor harvests, the number of Sudanese residents at risk of food shortages could rise from 9.5 million now to 18 million by the end of this year, according to Volker Perthes, the U.N. special envoy for Sudan.
Sudan’s current crisis began in October when Gen. Mohammed Fattah al-Burhan, then chairman of the country’s transitional Sovereignty Council, staged a coup and arrested Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok along with other civilian council members weeks before civilians were due to take control of the government.
Al-Burhan’s coup prompted the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other donor groups to suspend aid to Sudan. A second currency devaluation that came after one in February 2021 further shrank the buying power of the Sudanese pound and increased costs. Fuel prices, for example, rose 85% between October 2021 and March 2022.
The U.N. has called for al-Burhan to return Sudan to civilian rule to avoid security and economic catastrophe. Instead, al-Burhan has violently suppressed protests against the coup, with security forces killing dozens and injuring thousands, according to the U.N.
In recent weeks, those protests have begun to shift from political in nature to economic — a reminder that the rising cost of bread contributed to the downfall of longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir in 2019.
Perthes has said the U.N., the African Union and the East African bloc known as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development are prepared to help Sudan regain its footing on the path toward democratic rule. He said stakeholders inside and outside the country must act with urgency to save it.
“Time is not on Sudan’s side,” Perthes, head of the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan, recently told the U.N. Security Council.
Further complicating matters, al-Burhan and his chief lieutenant, Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as “Hemedti”, appear to be competing for power and international influences. Hemedti has visited Russia to show his support for the invasion of Ukraine. Hemedti has a relationship with Russia’s infamous mercenaries known as the Wagner Group. Before the coup, Russia was negotiating with Sudan for permission to develop a naval base at Port Sudan.
Al-Burhan has traveled to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to solicit economic aid and strengthen his position, according to observers such as Mohammed Soliman, a researcher at the Middle East Institute.
“Gen. Burhan’s visit to the UAE could be seen through a political and economic lens,” Soliman told Al-Monitor.
The UAE has called for the restoration of civilian rule in Sudan.
While al-Burhan and Hemedti jockey for power, the country continues to teeter, and its people are feeling the pain. Khartoum resident Farah Gadalla told Al-Jazeera that he no longer can afford to eat three meals a day. He eats only breakfast and lunch.
“The idea of additional meals is something we have dropped,” he said.
Kholood Khair, manager of Khartoum’s Insight Strategy Partners think tank, told Al-Jazeera it is unclear whether al-Burhan and Hemedti can cooperate well enough to resolve the growing food crisis.
“The inability of Burhan and [Hemedti] to manage the hunger crisis will be a big challenge,” Khair said. “Russia won’t be able to just give them wheat.”