Khartoum - Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir called on Saturday
for a battle against inflation as part of efforts to reform the country's
indebted, cash-starved and sanctions-hit economy.
"We must fight high market prices which affect the
economy and the people," he said in a speech opening a two-day forum of
economic experts, politicians, business leaders and others seeking solutions to
the economic troubles.
The government-organised gathering follows a similar forum
last year, and critics predicted little would be accomplished.
"The economic situation is getting worse," Khalid
Tijani, chief editor of the weekly economic newspaper Elaff, said ahead of the
Khartoum lost billions of dollars in export earnings when
South Sudan became independent in 2011, taking with it most of Sudan's oil
Since then the government has struggled with a shortage of
hard currency and revenue as the pound sank in value on the widely used black
market and inflation soared.
The local currency has lost almost 50% of its value on the
black market over the past two years.
Inflation officially reached 40% last month.
In September, the government slashed fuel subsidies and
unified its multiple foreign exchange rates, measures recommended by the
International Monetary Fund.
The resulting jump of more than 60% in the retail price of
fuel drove thousands into the streets in protest.
Explosive shortage of bread
Security forces are believed to have killed more than 200
demonstrators, Amnesty International said, but authorities reported a toll of
less than half that.
The price of bread, a staple food for residents of Sudan's
cities, has also risen since September.
Over the past week, a politically explosive shortage of
bread occurred when the lack of foreign exchange limited wheat imports.
The bread supply has since improved, after Vice President
Ali Osman Taha ordered officials to ensure that enough wheat reaches the flour
In his speech to about 500 people, Bashir called for a study
of the country's declining productivity, and urged more balanced development
among the country's regions.
Rebels are fighting in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states,
as well as in the Darfur region, fuelled by complaints of economic and
"We need proposals to increase living standards and
reduce poverty," said Bashir, who took power in a 1989 Islamist-backed
Criticism of his regime has mounted since the September
Prominent reformers within his National Congress Party
announced they would creat a new political party, while Tijani and a group of
scholars formed a National Movement for Change.
The scholars' movement said it hoped to lead a dialogue on
alternatives to the country's "failed" political system.
"Without addressing the political problem you can't
solve this economic situation," Tijani said. "The government,
actually, I don't think they are taking things seriously."
Sudan has a debt of more than $40bn, much of which is in
arrears and owed to a range of creditors including Western nations and
This restricts its access to additional low-interest
Sudan also remains under a US trade embargo, first imposed in
1997 over what the Washington said was Khartoum's support for terrorism,
efforts to destabilise neighbouring governments and human rights violations.
South Sudan voted overwhelmingly to separate in a referendum
under a peace deal that ended 23 years of civil war.
Tensions remained with the north, and the two countries
clashed intermittently along their disputed border last year.
Relations have improved since a September summit between
Bashir and his southern counterpart Salva Kiir.
In his speech, Bashir said enhancing economic relations with
South Sudan and neighbouring countries is a priority.
A new report by the United Nations Development Programme
said the economic shock of losing most of the oil production "could have
been mitigated had the government pursued diversification to non-oil productive
sectors such as agriculture during the oil boom period".