Sudanese observe quiet Eid celebrations after crisis

Sudanese supporters of Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, the deputy head of the military council, during a rally in the East Nile province. (AP)
Updated 11 August 2019

Sudanese observe quiet Eid celebrations after crisis

  • Sudan is set to have civilian rule after months of bloody protests

KHARTOUM: As Muslims in Khartoum marked their first Eid Al-Adha feast without Omar Al-Bashir as ruler in three decades, the mood was upbeat on Sunday but the menu stayed frugal.

Months of bloody anti-regime protests created a historic opportunity for civilian rule in Sudan but also saw prices soar, putting a damper on celebrations.

In Khartoum markets, the price of a sheep — a must in the Feast of the Sacrifice which is considered the holiest day in the Islamic calendar — has doubled since last year.

“You used to be able to find a sheep for 3,500” Sudanese pounds ($60), said Mohamed Abdullahi, a farmer who lives on Tuti, a rural island wedged between the twin cities of Khartoum and Omdurman, where the Blue and White Nile meet.

This year he paid 8,000 pounds, an amount he could not really afford even after raising the selling price of the milk from the few cows he rears on a small plot by the riverbank.

“I have three children, I had to bring them something for the feast,” the greying 43-year-old said.

In Khartoum’s Bori neighborhood, considered one of the cradles of the protest movement that brought down Bashir earlier this year, an Eid market known for its low prices is witnessing record turnover.

“There’s a lack of cash in Sudan at the moment. Here we are using electronic payment cards a lot, to make it easier for the people,” said one of the traders, Maki Amir.

“Many people feel happy because of the revolution and the peace that was signed last week, that’s why they want a real Eid celebration,” he said.

Sudan’s economy was sent into a tailspin when the oil-rich south seceded in 2011 and the past eight months of turmoil — which initially erupted with protests over a tripling of bread prices — have taken a further toll.

As buyers swarmed the huddled sheep on the dusty open market ground and inspected the animals’ teeth, the haggling was sometimes acrimonious. Some men looking to buy a sheep to slaughter blamed traders for taking advantage of the power vacuum to raise their prices.

The traders retorted they were being taxed by the government more than ever before.

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.

A deal was reached a week ago between the country’s generals and protest leaders to transition to civilian rule in just over three years.

The landmark constitutional agreement is to be signed at a ceremony on Aug. 17 but, even if its provisions are implemented, the country remains on the brink of economic collapse.

On the capital’s walls, some of the protest murals have already been painted over and its streets were largely empty, many residents having left town to celebrate Eid Al-Adha in their villages.

At the market in Bori, Amir Abdullah came to buy a goat for an expatriate friend who wants it donated to charity but he will not be able to afford one for himself this year.

He also said celebrating did not feel like a priority after so many protesters, an estimated 250, were killed in their efforts to take down the military regime.

“Eid is not the same for everybody. Now I’m still in mourning for those who lost their lives,” said Abdullah, sweat pearling on his forehead from the afternoon heat.

“Definitely, the situation is getting worse, there is no work, no income and no investment ... but we have to stay focused on achieving the goals of the revolution: Freedom, peace and justice.”


UN agency for Palestinian refugees on tenterhooks over probe

A Palestinian refugee holds a placard at a school belonging to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) in the town of Sebline east of the southern Lebanese port of Saida, on March 12, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 22 October 2019

UN agency for Palestinian refugees on tenterhooks over probe

  • UNRWA’s budget for this year is $1.2 billion, with around 90 percent of that being linked to paying for the 30,000 staff it employees, most of them teachers, doctors and nurses

BRUSSELS: The UN agency for Palestinian refugees is waiting anxiously on the outcome this month of a probe into alleged mismanagement that has dented its already severely depleted funding, one of its top officials said Monday.
The UN Relief and Works Agency hopes the results of the investigation will enable it to get past the scandal that has worsened a cash crunch threatening the school and health services it provides to 5 million Palestinians.
UNRWA’s director for West Bank operations Gwyn Lewis told AFP in Brussels: “We’re waiting with bated breath because it obviously has financial implications.”
She said the conclusions of the probe are expected to be delivered “around the end of October” to UN chief Antonio Guterres, who would then issue public and internal “follow-up steps.”
The timing is crucial as the agency’s three-year mandate is up for renewal this month, and money is tight.
UNRWA has been skating on very thin financial ice since last year, after US President Donald Trump decided to suspend, then yank entirely his country’s contribution to the agency’s budget, robbing it of its top donor.
Those woes were compounded by the allegations of abuse by the agency’s management, leading other key donors — the Netherlands and Switzerland — to snap shut their purses.
That has left the agency struggling to provide the schooling, medical and sanitary programs it runs for Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza.
According to a copy of an internal UN report obtained by AFP in July, senior management at UNRWA engaged in “sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation, discrimination and other abuses of authority, for personal gain.”

FASTFACT

The UN Relief and Works Agency hopes the results of the investigation will enable it to get past the scandal that has worsened a cash crunch threatening the school and health services it provides to 5 million Palestinians.

Lewis did not confirm those allegations, noting only “rumors” and leaks to the media.
“None of us have actually seen it,” she said of the report, adding: “Our sense is that it’s not about financial misappropriation or corruption, it’s linked to management and human resources issues.”
She did note that the agency’s deputy chief, Sandra Mitchell, had been replaced in August by an acting deputy commissioner-general tasked with strengthening human resources and financial oversight.
Lewis said she was in Brussels for two days of meetings with European Commission officials to shore up UNRWA’s mandate renewal and, importantly, to maintain funding.
Despite program cutbacks, the agency faces an $89 million shortfall for the rest of this year, she said, and “financial uncertainty” beyond that.
UNRWA’s budget for this year is $1.2 billion, with around 90 percent of that being linked to paying for the 30,000 staff it employees, most of them teachers, doctors and nurses. Making up for the pulled US funding was a “challenge,” she said.