‘Hunger is worse than corona’: Sudanese demand end to lockdown

Workers in informal sector say government extended restrictive measures without addressing their core economic needs.

An empty avenue is seen in Khartoum , Sudan, Tuesday, March 24, 2020 as Sudanese government ordered a nighttime curfew to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Marwan Ali)
Sudan has reported 6,081 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, with 359 deaths [Marwan Ali/AP]

Like many Sudanese, car mechanic Mohamed Othman said the government must end its coronavirus lockdown so that he can get back to work because “me and my family have no other source of income”.

Sudan’s transitional civilian government, which runs the country under a power-sharing deal with the army, ordered most businesses, markets, schools and mosques to shut and imposed travel restrictions nearly two months ago.

But Sudan is facing growing demands to end the restrictions from a population mired in poverty and facing annual inflation of nearly 100 percent – as well as fielding complaints that promised aid for poorer Sudanese has failed to materialise.

“We demand that the lockdown is lifted immediately so that we can … get on with our lives, because hunger is worse than corona,” said Othman, who is a daily wage earner.

The government said the lockdown, extended in the capital Khartoum until June 18, has helped to stem the spread of the virus.

Sudan has reported 6,081 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, with 359 deaths. 

Weak enforcement 

The government blames technical issues for the delays in aid to the poor.

Officials say only 60 percent of some half a million designated families have received food baskets and cash transfers.

“There are now efforts to distribute the rest of the aid supplies,” said Information Minister Faisal Mohamed Salih.

The Multipurpose Women’s Cooperative Union, which represents 15,000 tea sellers and street vendors, said its members had not received aid despite presenting the government with lists of those impacted when the lockdown began.

“They’re isolating, but they’re in a difficult situation,” union leader Awadiya Mahmoud Kuku said last week. “We need to stand with these people so they don’t go back onto the streets [to sell].”

The government later announced it would begin to provide money transfers to union members.

Some Sudanese complain that the lockdown is being widely flouted, with some stores remaining open and people continuing to mix in public.

“The government is being lax in enforcing the lockdown and the government forces are only present at the bridges and main markets, while life in the rest of the city is almost as it was before,” said school teacher Nadia Ahmed.

Health minister Akram Ali Altom has criticised security forces for not fully enforcing the lockdown. 

Adil Mohamed said he had tried unsuccessfully to report mosques that continued to host banned congregational prayers during the holy month of Ramadan.

“Why make the announcement of shutting mosques if you’re not going to enforce it?” he asked.

Source: Reuters