No one should lose their life for the price of a loaf of bread

The Sudanese people must have democratic systems in place to air their grievances

Sudanese demonstrators chant slogans as they march along the street during anti-government protests in Khartoum, Sudan December 25, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
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A loaf of bread costs 3 pounds, or 23 fils, in Sudan. That might sound like small change but last week it tripled from 7 fils, severely crippling a population where half earn less than $2 a day and prompting nationwide protests, in which an estimated 37 people have been shot dead by government forces. For seven days, demonstrations against the rising prices of commodities and fuel shortages have been met with live ammunition. The protests threaten to turn more violent still after the military vowed to back president Omar Al Bashir and moved troops to Khartoum, amid calls from some quarters for Mr Al Bashir to step down.

A potentially explosive situation is brewing. Mr Al Bashir, who took over in a military coup in 1989, is seeking a constitutional amendment which will allow him to run in the 2020 presidential election. Meanwhile his main challenger Sadiq Al Mahdi, toppled by the coup and newly returned to Sudan after a period in exile, has blamed "armed repression" for the deaths. This volatile cocktail of events threatens to spill into more violence, with Mr Al Bashir, a man accused of war crimes, crushing opposition with force during unrest earlier this year. Continuing human rights abuses have raised concerns among the international community, particularly those carried out by the government-protected Janjaweed militia, a law unto themselves in Darfur.

Sudan's current economic woes were partly fuelled by the 2011 secession of South Sudan, when it lost three-quarters of its oil reserves. Inflation is among the world's highest at 69 per cent. Yet much has been achieved in recent months. One of Barack Obama's last acts in office was to revoke economic sanctions against Sudan after 20 years of hardship because of a marked scaling down in military aggression, the opening of humanitarian corridors to famine-affected areas of South Sudan and increased co-operation with the US in counter-terrorism. Donald Trump went further still in October last year by dismantling trade and economic embargos. The UK has also been investigating the possibility of investment and trade after Brexit, a move which would bolster the flagging economy. Meanwhile the 2016 Khartoum Process has been working since 2016 to address migration and human trafficking. There is a danger the hard work could be undone by Mr Al Bashir's authoritarianism and the violent response to protests. Moreover, corruption is endemic, with Sudan faring worse globally than Libya and North Korea. Mr Al Bashir has introduced reforms but they have done little to curb the economic crisis and discontent is rife. Faith must be restored in the nation's democratic institutions, the economy stabilised and, crucially, Sudan must have good governance and systems in place for people to air their grievances – because no one should lose their life for the price of a loaf of bread.