The Africa Confidential Blog
The cost of living and dying
'Protests over Sudan austerity measures' say the headlines. Yes, people are indeed protesting about the government removing subsidies on fuel and sugar, two of the commodities that Sudanese hold most dear. And they are protesting when the government tells them to cut back on spending when most go to bed hungry – especially when that government spends petro-billions on its private bank accounts, its Islamist projects at home and abroad, its wars against its own people and on the dark glassed 'security chic' buildings now scattered through the largely mud-brick capital.
In other words, it's more than the economy, it's the regime. That's what Sudanese are risking life and limb to protest about.
This week, 23 years ago, the Islamist party which now calls itself the National Congress Party but was then the National Islamic Front seized power in a military coup, on 30 June.
The target of that coup was a civilian government whose prime minister was El Sadig el Mahdi. It was Sudan's third period of democracy. Although dictatorship has taken up more of the years since Independence in 1956, the yearning for democracy is also part of Sudanese DNA.
Sadly for the Sudanese, Western and African governments which proclaim their democratic credentials have preferred to engage with the NCP rather than give political (let alone military) support to those struggling for human rights or an independent judiciary. Sudanese North and South regularly ask me why Western governments do not think they 'deserve' democracy.
Sudanese feel isolated in their struggle for liberation from one of the world's most murderous regimes. Khartoum is still killing its own people – unarmed civilians – in Darfur, in Blue Nile, in the Nuba Mountains and even in South Sudan, a year after its independence. Yet those who have taken up arms to resist – now grouped together in the Sudan Revolutionary Front – receive at best indifference, at worst condemnation from the international community. Why are we different from 'Syrians' or 'Libyans?' people often ask.
The protests in the Sudanese capital have continued for over a week now and spread to other towns. This is not just about the cost of living.