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.

Britain’s William and Kate begin ‘complex’ tour of Pakistan

Updated 18 min 15 sec ago

Britain’s William and Kate begin ‘complex’ tour of Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Prince William and his wife Kate arrived in Pakistan to a red carpet welcome late Monday for their “most complex” tour to date, with Islamabad eager to tout improved security after years of violent militancy.
The couple — the Duchess of Cambridge in a sea-green shalwar kameez, and the Duke in a dark suit — were greeted by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and presented with flowers after they landed in a British government plane at a military base in Rawalpindi, the garrison city adjacent to the capital Islamabad, state television images showed.

Details of the five-day visit are being kept under wraps. Security is expected to be tight for the couple’s first official trip to Pakistan, and the first visit by a British royal since William’s father Charles and his wife Camilla came in 2006.
In addition to Islamabad they are set to visit the ancient Mughal capital of Lahore, as well as the mountainous north and the region near the border with Afghanistan in the west.
Kensington Palace has called the trip “the most complex tour undertaken by The Duke and Duchess to date, given the logistical and security considerations.”
The couple are also expected to meet Prime Minister Imran Khan, who was close friends with William’s mother, the late Princess Diana.
“I’ve always been struck by the warmth in Pakistan toward the Royal Family,” British High Commissioner Thomas Drew said in a video published to Twitter late Sunday.
The couple’s program will pay respect to Britain’s historic relationship with Pakistan, once part of colonial India, he said.
“But it will focus largely on showcasing Pakistan as it is today, a dynamic, aspirational, and forward-looking nation,” Drew continued.
They are expected to see Pakistan’s efforts to combat climate change and learn about the “complex security” of the region, among other issues, a statement from Kensington Palace said earlier this month.
Pakistan has waged a long battle with militancy which has seen tens of thousands of people killed in the past 15 or so years.
Charles’ and Camilla’s 2006 trip was tainted when they were forced to pull out of a visit to Peshawar over safety concerns after the military launched an airstrike on a religious school that killed 80 people.
But security has improved dramatically since the army intensified a crackdown on militant groups in 2015, with several countries changing their travel warnings for Pakistan as a result, and Islamabad eager to promote both tourism and foreign investment.
There are promising signs, such as the British Airways return earlier this year after more than a decade, and the slow but steady revival of international cricket.
Analysts have long warned that Pakistan is not yet getting to the root causes of extremism, however, and militants retain the ability to carry out attacks, including in urban areas.
Moments before the couple’s arrival Monday, Qureshi used televised comments to invoke the memory of Diana, who charmed Pakistanis when she visited in her official capacity in 1991.
She also made several private visits in later years to help Khan — then a cricketer-turned-opposition politician married to her friend Jemima — raise money for a cancer hospital in Lahore.
“She is held in very high esteem in Pakistan... We are happy that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are now coming,” Qureshi said.
The visit showed that Pakistan has come out of “difficult times,” he added.
Pakistan was carved out of colonial India to become independent from Britain in 1947, creating an Islamic Republic for the subcontinent’s Muslims.
Britain is home to more than a million people of Pakistani origin, making it the largest Pakistani diaspora community in Europe.