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Bread Shortages In Sudan Mark A Fragile Period For The Country's Government

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A couple of years ago, the price of bread doubled in Sudan. That's led to mass protests and the ouster of the longtime leader Omar al-Bashir. Sudan's now in the middle of a fragile transition as it navigates towards a civilian government and democratic elections. And once again, people are looking at the price of bread, as NPR's Eyder Peralta reports.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: This neighborhood in Khartoum was the epicenter of protests during the uprising in 2019. On a recent weekday, it's mostly quiet, but there are a couple dozen people crowded around a bakery. Imadaddin Taja is 70 years old, and he's been here since 8 in the morning.

IMADADDIN TAJA: I need only five breads. I am waiting here for five hours.

PERALTA: Five hours?

TAJA: Yes.

PERALTA: Taja has lived through periods of war, military coups, through three decades of Islamist rule. But he says nothing compares to what's happening now.

Is it only bread, or is it everything?

TAJA: Everything. In Sudan, we are suffering.

PERALTA: In Sudan, we are suffering, he says. They can't get fuel. Hospitals and even vegetables have become too expensive. The price of bread has doubled. But as we talk, a baker finally hands Taja five baguettes.

You've got your bread.

TAJA: You see this bread?

PERALTA: Yeah.

TAJA: This is not for a human being.

PERALTA: There is so little wheat in the country that the flour to make bread is mixed with sorghum. Sudanese eat flat bread - soft, puffy goodness that almost tastes buttery. But you can't make flat bread out of this wheat and sorghum mix.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in non-English language).

PERALTA: Back in December of 2018, the government of Omar al-Bashir was facing a huge budget shortfall, so they cut the subsidies on bread and the price doubled. Sudanese took to the streets to call for his ouster.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in non-English language).

PERALTA: By the spring of 2019, Bashir was gone. And Sudan began a transition into a more democratic and a more secular country. It was a moment of great expectations. But one thing did not change.

KHALID ALI: The government is broke, essentially. There is no money - right? - because we are not exporting anything. We are not producing anything.

PERALTA: That is political analyst Khalid Ali. He says this transitional government has plugged the budget shortfall by printing money. And that has triggered massive inflation. It means workers can't afford basics with their salary. It means imports have become expensive or nonexistent.

ALI: People are finding it more difficult to get by on a day-by-day basis.

PERALTA: Protesters have once again taken to the streets. But they have stopped short of calling for the ouster of the government. Ali says that's because unlike when Bashir was in power, Sudanese right now have hope that things can change.

ALI: If it wasn't for that glimpse of hope, our life would be really difficult here. It would be really, really difficult.

PERALTA: Back at the bakery, the owner, Hamid Zaid Abdulrahim, gives me a short tour.

HAMID ZAID ABDULRAHIM: (Speaking Arabic).

PERALTA: "In the good days," he says, "these shelves would be totally full of pillowy flat bread."

Is this the best bread in the neighborhood?

ABDULRAHIM: (Speaking Arabic).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: He said he used to be the best, but now he's not.

PERALTA: So what happened?

ABDULRAHIM: (Speaking Arabic).

PERALTA: It's the ingredients, Abdulrahim says. Like everyone in Sudan these days, he's just trying to make the best out of what he's been handed.

Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Khartoum.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.