Sudanense struggling to make ends meet as consumer prices skyrocket

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Men sell batteries in traffic on the streets of the Sudanese capital of Khartoum. (Photo: AFP)

By: May Ali

Published Friday, October 17, 2014

The prices of basic consumer goods continue to skyrocket in Khartoum’s markets, as the authorities have confirmed the value of the dollar against the Sudanese pound has been falling, in parallel with inflation decreasing to nearly 7 percent.

Khartoum – Ali Ahmed is employed in a private company and supports a family of five – his wife and his four children. Ali encounters difficulty in meeting the daily needs of his family, from breakfast for his kids, who are all students, to all the other needs of his household and his wife, who is not employed.

Ali says that his salary is barely enough to cover their expenses for half a month, and like most other people in his position, he has to borrow money for the remainder of the month.

Speaking to Al-Akhbar, Ali explained that his monthly salary in the past few years, in addition to the extra income he made by taking on more work, used to be sufficient to cover a month’s expenses with perhaps even a small surplus. However, he continued, with the “insane” rise in prices and the chaos in the little-regulated markets, in parallel with stagnant wages, “our lives have turned into hell.” Ali says this has affected his health, because he now has to spend long hours working exhausting side jobs to make ends meet.

Amjad Mohammed, another private sector employee, believes that the government’s failed economic policies are to blame for the current situation. He told Al-Akhbar that the high cost of goods like meat, oil, milk, and sugar, as well as vegetables and bread, has drained his finances, with his salary all but gone before the middle of the month.

Amjad said that he needs over 100 pounds a day just to buy these simple items for his small family and to cover his children’s school expenses, bearing in mind that he earns no more than 1,000 pounds a month, or around $120. Amjad believes there is no other way to rein in prices than the government reversing its policy of liberalizing prices and imposing tight control on the markets.

Average salaries for workers and employees in both the public and private sectors range between 500 and 1,000 Sudanese pounds, or $50 to $100. This is while economists estimate the cost of living for an average-sized family at 2,000 Sudanese pounds a month or $240.

The Salvation Government, since taking power in 1989, has pursued a policy of economic liberalization. This has taken a toll on ordinary citizens, albeit its proponents claim it has contributed to economic recovery.

Although economic experts affiliated to the ruling National Congress Party confirmed the exchange rate of the dollar had fallen against the Sudanese pound recently, the prices of consumer goods continue to rise.

Economic expert Abdel-Azim al-Mahel said that logically, prices should fall with the fall of the dollar, but added that this has not happened possibly because the value of the dollar has not yet stabilized, but continues to fluctuate. Mahel said he believes prices could fall gradually over a period of time, pointing out that if the dollar value remains stable at a fixed rate for a long time, this would help bring down prices as well.

According to Mahel, the prices of “competitive” goods and services could be affected by the declining dollar value, while the prices of monopolistic goods and services – whether the monopoly is governmental or private – would not fall.

Since the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, consumer markets in the capital Khartoum and other major cities saw a dramatic rise in the prices of many basic items, in parallel with shortages of items like bread.

The attempts by the government to clamp down on soaring prices, by creating special discount markets in a number of neighborhoods, have not succeeded, with people complaining prices there did not differ much from the regular markets. In addition, the discount markets do not cover all communities.

Meanwhile, statements by politicians about reining in traders who price goods arbitrarily, without legal oversight or accountability, have not been translated into action on the ground.

The chairman of the Consumer Protection Association, Yasir Mirghani, said that the link between a high exchange rate for the dollar and skyrocketing prices is just an excuse to cover up the practices of speculators and greedy traders.

Mirghani pointed out that an honest merchant sets the indicative price on his goods, while greedy ones increase prices. For this reason, he explained, prices have continued to rise even as the value of the dollar has fallen. Mirghani said that the government’s economic liberalization policy is unsuitable, for having created an unethical market, and proclaimed, “I call for ethicizing trade.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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