Sudan conflict wreaks havoc on small businesses

At a market outside Sudan’s capital, where battles continue to rage, Ibrahim Abdelqadir sat for hours waiting for customers to buy his produce but by the end of the day, it remains unsold.

With fighting in Khartoum showing no signs of abating, small business owners are struggling to stay afloat.

Getting produce to market represents a significant challenge, let alone selling it — with fuel prices skyrocketing 20-fold and trucks loaded with goods at risk of getting caught in the crossfire.

“Buyers are offering 2,000 Sudanese pounds ($3.40) for 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of tomatoes, which doesn’t even cover the transport cost,” said Abdelqadir at the Al-Kamlin market in Gezira state south of Khartoum.

“This is all because of the war,” he said.

Deadly violence broke out on April 15 between forces loyal to Sudan’s de facto leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who commands the army, and his deputy turned rival Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, who commands the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

At least 750 people have been killed and 5,000 wounded.

For Abdelqadir, who used to travel from Gezira, his home state, to Khartoum to sell his goods, the conflict has eroded his livelihood.

Many Sudanese, especially in the capital of five million residents, have been unable to afford the inflated prices required to escape, sheltering instead in their homes as they run desperately low on food and water supplies, amid frequent power cuts.

Al-Khatib Yasin, 40, grows peanuts in his village north of Khartoum and says he has “one problem: there are no more buyers”.

– Dashed hopes –

Agriculture generates 35-40 percent of impoverished Sudan’s gross domestic product, according to the World Bank, and employs 70-80 percent of the workforce in rural areas, according to the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

Hussein al-Amin, another farmer growing five acres of okra, says he made his last sales the day before the fighting erupted in Khartoum.

Since then, his crops have been left to rot.

“The crops are starting to go bad,” said Amin, adding that severe fuel shortages made it difficult to water his fields.

“We hoped the war would stop quickly, but this seems far-fetched.”

Well before the conflict began, 65 percent of Sudan’s population was already living below the poverty line, according to a 2020 UN report.

Nearly 16 million people face severe food insecurity in Sudan, according to World Food Programme, which warned the fighting could plunge a further 2.5 million more into hunger.

Haram Adam had to abandon her Khartoum business selling tea with mint and aromatic coffees with ginger and cardamom.

The mother of three fled the fighting to Hasaheisa, a city some 120 kilometres (75 miles) south of Khartoum.

“My daily income used to be 100,000 Sudanese pounds… now it’s no more than 10,000 pounds per day,” she said, seated on the street near other women tea vendors.

– Fearing the worst –

Adam Eissa, a tailor, had to abandon his livelihood of three decades as his sewing machine was too heavy to bring with him when he fled Khartoum’s fighting.

He now sits with a rented machine in the alleyways near shops in Hasaheisa, drinking coffee and waiting for business to trickle in.

“I had three sewing machines in my shop in Khartoum. Now I am renting one and paying rent for this new shop,” he said, adding that he can barely cover the basic needs of his family of six.

Zaher Dafaallah, a former steel factory worker in Khartoum, had to change jobs entirely due to the war.

As the conflict continued the factory shut down and Dafaallah took his family to safety in a village south of the capital.

The fighting has seen around 200,000 Sudanese fleeing to safety in neighbouring countries like Chad, the UN refugee agency said Friday.

The agency, the UNHCR, had previously said it is bracing for “the possibility that over 800,000 people may flee the fighting in Sudan for neighbouring countries”.

“I hope that the owners of the factory have not decided to leave Sudan permanently,” Dafaallah said.

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