By Khalid Abdelaziz
SHENDI, Sudan (Reuters) – Fed up by months of bread queues, price hikes and petrol shortages in Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir’s hometown of Shendi, office worker Louay Mohamed Kheir, feels there’s only one solution: “We need a new president.”
It is a startling statement from anyone living in the settlement down the Nile from Khartoum – long seen as one of Bashir’s firmest powerbases and his tribe’s main town.
Shendi has not seen any of the mass protests against Bashir’s rule that have rocked much of the rest of Sudan for the past six weeks. But it has not escaped the economic hardships that have been driving that unrest.
As Kheir speaks in his home, other residents stand in line outside downtown bakeries while cars queue up to get scarce petrol.
“Sudan has deteriorated during Bashir’s rule, and there is a failure in managing the country economically and politically,” the 43-year-old tells Reuters. “The protests will continue until the regime is gone.”
Not everyone out in Shendi shares Kheir’s views.
Emad Abdel-Rahman, 53, defends Bashir and says he does not want to see secular activists taking over.
“I am for implementing Islamic sharia laws and therefore I support the ruling party,” he tells Reuters. “Yes, we are going through economic difficulties but we support Islam and stability in Sudan.”
But the fact that anyone there is willing to call openly for the replacement of Shendi’s most famous son underlines how far even government strongholds have been shaken by the nationwide demonstrations.
Residents debate Bashir’s record in the streets. Some complain that food prices, even of locally-produced vegetables and meat, had been rising as inflation soars.
“Yes, Bashir is the son of this region, but 30 years is enough,” says one 27-year-old woman, who asks not to be named.
“We are not against Bashir, but I believe it would be better if he did not run in the 2020 presidential election. We need a new face.”
The conversation turns to what Bashir has done closer to home.
Bashir was born in 1944 in the nearby village of Hosh Bannaga, then went to school and grew up in Shendi.
Supporters give Bashir the credit for Shendi’s university, its hospital and a bridge crossing over to the other side of the Nile that was opened in 2009.
Detractors talk about the unpaved roads in both communities. In Hosh Bannaga, many still live in mud houses that line dusty roads, where donkey-drawn carts travel back and forth.
Sudan’s economic problems – ranging from severe cash shortages to spiralling inflation – have been exacerbated by the loss of three quarters of its oil reserves since the secession of South Sudan in 2011.
Many foreign investors have stayed away, unwilling to do business with a country whose leader is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of masterminding genocide in Darfur – charges he denies.
Bashir has blamed unnamed foreign enemies and foreign sanctions.
He has promised to bring in more investment and to lobby to get the country removed from a list of countries, along with Syria, Iran and North Korea, that Washington considers state sponsors of terrorism.
For many in Shendi, those are promises he still has to deliver on.
“We have no personal problem with Bashir, provided he fixes our problems, and provide bread, fuel and jobs,” says a 19-year-old university student who does not give her name.
“We have no problem if he wants to remain in power. We just want to have a better life.”
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Andrew Heavens)