Friday, October 04, 2013

Blog #4: Slashed Subsidies in Sudan Lead to Further Social Unrest

     Sudan’s elimination of fuel subsidies raised the price of essentials including bread, cooking gas and bus fares. This fueled the rage in many Sudanese as deadly riots broke out resulting in the worst unrest in decades in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. These subsidies have been a part of the Arab world’s social contract; buying of social peace in lack of political freedom and economic opportunity. Sudan’s government leaders have been promising, since January, to increase minimum wage and public salaries. After the riots broke out last week, the Sudan government announced one-time aid payments to 500,000 needy families and reassured it would make good on the promised wage increases. Many critics of the Sudan government state that the leaders have mismanaged the economy, using up resources during an oil boom while investing little in education, hospitals or agriculture. Most family’s income is depleted quickly by rent, school fees and market priced foods. Many Sudanese worry that their livelihood will not survive without subsidies; leaving them with a life that is becoming unbearable.

     Tackling subsidies has been a major obstacle to economic recovery for many in the region. The near doubling of fuel prices spotlights a problem spreading across the Middle East. Over time, fuel and food subsidies have become increasingly less affordable leaving national budgets bleak. International lenders required scaled back spending, but the governments fear backlash, as this a delicate situation affecting many. Protests continue to erupt as a result of empty promises by the government and job creation lagging behind population growth. Critics have reported that these blanket subsidies benefit the wealthy more than the poor, divert public funds from health, education, and encourage over consumption and corruption. It was also reported that subsidized food is often traded on the black market or wasted altogether.  Changes are slowly being implemented across the regions.  Jordan started a new system where they have eliminated virtually all fuel and gas subsidies and switched to cash payments to the needy. Editor Farah Halime stated that there is an increased addiction to these subsidies, and it is difficult to tell the subsidy users that they are going to be taken away from them. Reformers state cuts should be coupled with targeted support for the poor and warn that without such a buffer, poverty could increase sharply. Abdel-Rahman al-Khidri, the governor of the Khartoum district stated, “The cuts were bitter medicine needed for treatment and recovery.” The Sudanese people hope they will come through with their promises and push toward economic reform.

Elaine Etzler

No comments: