Sudan political turmoil drives fears of economic collapse

Hashem Abul Fadel, a Sudanese millionaire businessman, fears that internal turmoil can bring economic collapse. (AFP)
Updated 18 July 2019

Sudan political turmoil drives fears of economic collapse

  • The millionaire businessman depends heavily on imports to stock his five Khartoum malls

KHARTOUM: Sales have tumbled at Hashem Abul Fadel’s shopping centers in Sudan, where he and fellow business owners fear that months of political turmoil could bring on a full-scale economic collapse.

Sudan’s ruling generals and protesters inked a deal on Wednesday aimed at installing a civilian administration and breaking months of political deadlock.

But the country’s fragile economy has already been hard hit by months of mass protests which led to the military council’s toppling of longtime president Omar Al-Bashir in April.

Demonstrators have continued to demand a transition to civilian rule, keeping up their campaign despite a June 3 crackdown on a protest sit-in that left dozens dead.

Abul Fadel said the unrest had slashed his overall sales by 20-25 percent — or as much as 40 percent for some items.

“The government has yet to announce its economic policies, and as an investor, I can’t take any decisions in the current climate,” he said.

The millionaire businessman depends heavily on imports to stock his five Khartoum malls, but he said many firms have stopped bringing in goods due to the uncertainty.

Fellow entrepreneur Mohammad Hussein Madwi, who owns a string of agricultural and manufacturing firms, echoed his concerns.

“Sales are down by at least 30 percent because of the lack of demand and the collapse of the Sudanese pound,” Madwi said.

“The state of political uncertainty makes me hesitant to invest or import goods, so things have pretty much come to a standstill.”

Since the last devaluation of the pound in October by the then-Sudanese authorities, the currency has plunged by a further 70 percent against the dollar on the black market.

Inflation has meanwhile fallen from a high of 70 percent in December to below 50 percent, according to the country’s central statistics bureau.

Mother of seven Hanadi Mohammad, shopping at one of Abul Fadel’s malls in northern Khartoum, said the lack of liquidity was stopping her spending.

“I don’t know how long we can live like this,” she said, walking past household appliances which, despite heavy discounts, were sitting unsold on the shelves.

Economic concerns were among the initial sparks for the protests, which broke out in December when the government announced it would triple the price of bread.

Months later, the army and protest leaders have agreed on the form of the country’s governing institutions, but further talks will be needed to settle other contentious issues.

That means political uncertainty — and economic woes — are likely to haunt the country for some time to come.

Decades of US sanctions had already devastated Sudan’s economy before the protests broke out in December. The demonstrations quickly burgeoned into a nationwide movement against Bashir — and the resulting unrest, along with persistent power cuts, soon hit the economy.

“Trade activity has been at rock bottom since January,” said Khaled Al-Tijani, a prominent business journalist.

“The economy is suffering from a lack of confidence because of the lack of a government to oversee it.”

In April, Saudi Arabia and the UAE announced a joint $3-billion package of economic aid for Sudan, including a $500 million deposit in Khartoum’s central bank to strengthen the currency.

The remainder is allocated for food, medicine and petrochemicals purchases.

Agriculture is a major sector and a key source of income for most of Sudan’s 40 million inhabitants.

The latest crisis has hit farmers hard, particularly as the collapsing pound has stopped them importing agricultural chemicals.

On Sunday, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi sent Sudan an emergency batch of more than 50,000 tons of fertilizers and other agricultural supplies, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

Faisal Mohammad, an importer of agricultural supplies, said the lack of foreign currency had hit imports hard.

“Even if they are available, we’re hit by the weakness of the pound and the rising price of goods, as well as a lack of confidence among buyers, all of which negatively impacts farming operations,” he said.

Tijani warned that damage to such a vital sector could harm Sudan’s economy more broadly — bad news for entrepreneurs like Abul Fadel.

“Everyone is alert and waiting,” Abul Fadel said. “If this state of tension and uncertainty continues, the economy will collapse.”

For the tycoon, there is only one way forward.

“A political deal between the military council and (protest leaders) is the only way out of the current economic situation,” he said.

Family backs Tlaib’s decision not to visit Israel

Updated 18 August 2019

Family backs Tlaib’s decision not to visit Israel

  • Israel said a humanitarian travel request by Tlaib would be considered as long as she promised not to promote a boycott against Israel

RAMALLAH: Relatives of a US congresswoman say they support her decision to decline Israel’s offer allowing her to visit them in the West Bank because the “right to travel should be provided to all without any conditions.”

Rashida Tlaib said she would not see her family, even after Israel lifted a ban on her entry, because the government had imposed restrictions on her trip.

“We totally understand her position and support her in her efforts. The right to travel should be provided to all without any conditions,” her uncle Bassam Tlaib told Arab News.

He was speaking from the family home in Beit Ur Al-Fuka, which is 3 km from the West Bank city of Ramallah, and was flanked by his elderly mother.

He said his niece had visited them many times in the past, but there had never been any conditions attached to her travel.

“She said we will meet when she can come without conditions,” Tlaib said. “One idea has been floated of flying the grandmother to the US or finding a way to have the two meetings in a third country. You know my mother is nearing 90 and it is not easy for her to travel but we are checking out all options.”

Tlaib, a Democrat, has criticized Israel’s policy toward Palestinians and had planned to make an official visit to the country.

Israel said a humanitarian travel request by Tlaib would be considered as long as she promised not to promote a boycott against Israel, local media reported.

But the congresswoman, who is Palestinian-American, lashed out on social media.

“I can’t allow the State of Israel to take away that light by humiliating me & use my love for my sity to bow down to their oppressive & racist policies,” she tweeted, using the word sity to refer to her grandmother. “Silencing me & treating me like a criminal is not what she wants for me. It would kill a piece of me. I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in — fighting against racism, oppression & injustice.”

The NGO hosting and organizing the trip, Miftah, has been criticized by supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

Hanan Ashrawi, the NGO’s founder, said her staff had organized other congressional trips. “This was the third trip we have organized, and we try to do our work professionally and seriously,” Ashrawi told Arab News. “Our very mission is to promote global dialogue and democracy.”

Ashrawi said the attacks on Miftah were unwarranted.  “Miftah has been targeted with the expressed goal of trying to discredit us even though our record is clear. We believe that they are trying to keep organizing congressional delegations within the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) monopoly, while we are trying to provide visitors with an opportunity to learn about Palestinian life under occupation and to understand the Palestinian narrative by providing opportunities for delegations to see and engage with Palestinians of all walks of life.” 

Ashrawi said Miftah had been “vetted” by the US Congress’ ethics committee. “We might not be able to bring hundreds of congress people like AIPAC, but we can bring a few and have them see, hear and interact with Palestinians.”

US President Donald Trump had called on Israel not to allow Tlaib and fellow congresswoman Ilhan Omar into Israel as admitting the two “would show great weakness.”

He tweeted that the pair “hate Israel and all Jewish people, and there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace.”