Only a few short months following the one year anniversary of the Sudanese revolution, Khartoum is facing a global pandemic and a deteriorating economic situation. Over the last decade, Sudanese people have been suffering from inflation and gas shortages as a result of losing 75 percent of its oil revenue that was assumed by South Sudan after the separation of the two states. The failing economy that contributed to the fall of the Bashir's regime is now getting worse, and the transitional government has yet to implement any fundamental reforms to rescue a weak transitional period in Sudan. The government's failure to achieve these reforms stems from deep ideological divisions inside the revolution's political coalition.
In August 2019, the appointment of Abdalla Hamdok, an expert in economic development, to the post of Prime Minister by Sudan's Sovereign Council was well received by the Sudanese people and viewed as an excellent step to providing the economic expertise, deemed needed to stop the economic breakdown. Hamdok chose a World Bank Economist, Ibrahim el-Badawi, as his Finance Minister, which angered leftist opponents in the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), the civilian coalition that led the protest against the former regime. El-Badawi was already well known for his liberal plans to reform (and revive) Sudan's economy by lessening universal subsidies once in office as a minister.
El-Badawi's foes in the FFC rejected the government's 2020 budget proposal that was approved by the cabinet on December 27, 2019. The FFC’s economic committee pressed El-Badawi to propose a three-month temporary budget rather than an annual budget. Consequently, the government called for an economic conference in six months to bypass the political-economic stalemate. Unfortunately, the Coronavirus pandemic postponed the conference, and the government still has no annual budget proposal. Moreover, the global pandemic delayed the Friends of Sudan Conference, which is a conference organized by a group of western and regional countries committed to fund Sudan's transitional period.
In an attempt to address these divisions, Hamdok formed a new joint committee to manage the crisis and stop the economy's free fall. The council consisted of Sovereign Council members, cabinet ministers, and FFC representatives. Mohamed Hamdan Hemedti, the Vice President of the Sovereign Council and the leader of the controversial Rapid Support Forces (RSF), was named a member of the committee. Hemedti resigned from the committee several days after due to criticism being leveled by the FFC. He would return only a month later as the head of the Higher Committee for Economic Emergencies, with Hamdok as the committee’s vice head, a clear sign of the military’s growing influence over the transitional period. In the meantime, el-Badawi needed to recruit support for his measures that would counter FFC’s economic narrative. On March 31, he launched a media campaign to raise awareness on the disadvantages of commodity subsidies and the government’s plans to address these distortions. Furthermore, Hamdok launched Stand For Sudan, a public crowd-funding campaign aiming to restore public support of his government. FFC’s Economic Committee has long called for such a campaign to address the budget deficit. It was not clear how the government was planning to use these funds until it announced three primary objectives three days later: improve electricity supply, provide lifesaving medicines and prepare Sudanese infrastructure for rainy seasons.
Adding to the economic issues, the government ordered a total lockdown, and the shutdown of Khartoum International Airport on March 16 to fight the spread of COVID-19. Yet, people are defying the government's orders to stay at home to get food and gas. Most of the Sudanese working people cannot afford to stay home for 21 days as they depend on their daily jobs. Like other African countries, social distancing will have graver consequences on Sudan's poor populations, given the vulnerabilities of healthcare systems and the absence of direct financial aid. Many suburban areas in Sudan don't have regular water supply and suffer from diseases brought about from poor hygienic conditions such as Cholera. The measures that Khartoum's government has taken will add to the growing dissatisfaction of people who are in an enduring struggle to secure food and fuel.
The problem of Sudan’s economy has always been in the macroeconomics: Sudan has a current account deficit of $ 1445 million and a negative annual growth rate of 2.4%. Inflation skyrocketed to 81 percent as of last March, and it is expected to continue to rise given Sudan’s negative balance of trade. These are structural problems, and the left-right rift inside the FCC will risk worsening the people’s daily suffering.
Sudan’s transition to democracy is burdened by the economic decay that was inherited from the previous regime. However, there is an opportunity in Sudan's vast agricultural potentials that are yet to be utilized. Two weeks ago, 40 tons of Sudanese onions were sold out in Kuwait because of the increasing demand worldwide that has resulted from the ongoing global pandemic. Unlocking these opportunities will require the FFC to reach an agreement on their economic agenda, and to smooth over their ideological differences. Sudan needs a consensual economic vision before it's too late to reform.