Ishraga Youssef was running out of options as food prices spiraled in Sudan’s capital Khartoum, so she decided to take drastic action by giving up meat.
Over the weekend, her children were due to sit down to some rare vegetarian dinners − partly to save money and partly to join an equally rare protest, an organized boycott of lamb, beef, chicken and all other meat products, the staples of a Sudanese diet.
“Meat is so expensive so from today we don’t have meat any more in our house ... It’s not healthy anyway,” the Khartoum lawyer told Reuters, standing in front of her city-centre home.
The organizer of the boycott, the Sudanese Consumer Protection Society, is hoping many will join her over the weekend, to turn their kitchens into the front line of a mass movement against rising prices of basic commodities.
Protests are rare in Sudan. A handful of street demonstrations earlier this year, inspired by uprisings across the Arab world, were quickly crushed by the security services.
But pressures on Sudanese households keep mounting.
Meat prices rose more than 41 percent in August from the same time last year, according to Sudan’s Central Bureau of Statistics, against a background of soaring inflation that Sudan’s government has blamed on hoarders, but critics say is down to state mismanagement.
Overall inflation hit 21.1 percent the same month, up from 17.6 percent a year ago. The cost of cooking oil jumped 47.7 percent from a year earlier, while the price of fish, much of it fresh out of the Nile, rose by 33.2 percent.
“Meat has become too expensive though it’s mostly locally produced. Prices are not justified,” said Yassir Mirgani Abdulrahman, head of the Sudanese Consumer Protection Society.
“A kilo of meat costs 30 ($11.20 at the official rate) or even 36 (Sudanese) pounds. One year ago it was 20 pounds,” he said while distributing campaign stickers in central Khartoum.
“We’ll continue with other products. Milk and vegetables such as lentils are also too expensive,” he said.
Gloomy economic outlook
The protests have come at a particularly gloomy time for the Sudanese economy, weighed down by years of civil wars and U.S. trade sanctions.
In July this year Sudan’s south declared independence, taking with it about 75 percent of the country’s oil reserves − the lifeblood of the country’s economy.
Khartoum has promised to compensate for the loss by exploring new oilfields on its side of the border, building up its small gold industry and diversifying further into agriculture and other industries.
So far there has been little evidence of progress to inspire confidence in the future of the economy and the Sudanese pound has fallen to new lows against the dollar on the black market.
Inflation has more than doubled since November when the government effectively devalued the pound to match the black market rate, making it more expensive to buy imported food and consumer goods. The cutting of state subsidies, as part of emergency austerity measures after the loss of the south, has also pushed up prices.
Critics accuse the government of neglecting and mismanaging the country’s agriculture and livestock industries during Sudan's oil-rich years.
“Most of our meat goes into export, to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and elsewhere,” said Babikar Aisha Bakr who runs a popular restaurant in the upmarket Khartoum-2 district.
“If you stopped exports then prices would fall.”
Fresh violence along Sudan’s new, ill-defined border with South Sudan has also pushed up prices by hampering trade and blocking access to markets.
In Southern Kordofan, a region where the army is fighting armed opposition groups, inflation jumped to 35.6 percent in August − compared to just 5.1 percent a year ago, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.
“It’s not just meat that’s expensive. Vegetables cost too much too. A kilo of tomatoes costs 20 pounds,” said Tamer Abdulkarim, a young hospital doctor in Khartoum.
“Every day prices rise, just every day,” said Allawiya Mohammed, a housewife.