Protesting farmers barricade Sudan's highways, halting exports to Egypt

A Sudanese activist blocks the way for lorries transporting goods on the highway that leads to the Egyptian border. Photo posted on February 1 on the Facebook page "Resistance Committees/Northern State".
A Sudanese activist blocks the way for lorries transporting goods on the highway that leads to the Egyptian border. Photo posted on February 1 on the Facebook page "Resistance Committees/Northern State". © Facebook, تنسيقية لجان المقاومة/الولاية الشمالية

Defying security crackdowns, Sudanese people have continued to rally in the country's cities in protest against the military coup carried out on October 25, 2021 by General Abdul Fattah al-Burhan. More recently, a new type of resistance has emerged in the rural Northern state: since early January, protesters have prevented lorries from transporting goods to neighbouring Egypt. 

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It all began on January 9, when hundreds of peasants in Ed Debba blocked the highway leading to the Egyptian border to protest against hikes in the cost of electricity, which recently rose from 9 to 22 Sudanese pounds per kilowatt/hour. According to the Ministry of Energy, this increase in prices stems from a series of austerity measures imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help relieve the country's debt burden, estimated to be more than 50 billion dollars (or 43 billion euro).

Since then, protesters have set up barricades along highways in the north of the country, blocking hundreds of lorries carrying goods to Egypt. 

Lorries parked along the road in the region of Ed Debba, in the north of the country, on Wednesday, February 2.
This video shows dozens of lorries stationed on the side of the highway, near the Argeen border post on January 18. “It’s a crisis, lorries are backed up for 15 kilometres,” says the Egyptian driver filming.

'We’ve intercepted about forty Egyptian lorries'

Yasser is a farmer. He’s been taking part in protests in the region of Atbara, located 250 kilometres north of Khartoum.

At first, we just wanted to force the authorities to scrap the electricity price hike. But now we're demanding more. 

The lorries transport raw food items to Egypt. Egypt buys them here at a low price and then processes them and exports them to Europe in exchange for foreign currency, among other things. 

These lorries carry livestock, sesame, peanuts, sorrel, garlic, etc. We want the authorities to build factories in Sudan so that the products can be processed here. That would create jobs and foster development in regions like ours. And it would allow us to export our products at better prices. 

Smuggling is also a major issue. Many lorries transport animals and agricultural products with no documents showing where they were purchased. When we intercept them, we hand them over to the authorities. 

For us, it doesn’t matter who is leading the country. Whether it is soldiers or civilians, successive governments have done nothing to support us. We just want development in our region. We aren’t really part of the protests calling for an end to military rule. 

Peasants block access to a road used by lorries transporting goods in northern Sudan on January 30. Carrying banners that say “the voice of the north”, they sing and dance joyously.

>> Read more on The Observers: Sudanese security forces 'hunt down' injured protesters in hospital

Map showing the main locations where activists blocked the national highway to prevent the passage of lorries headed to Egypt.
Map showing the main locations where activists blocked the national highway to prevent the passage of lorries headed to Egypt. © FRANCE 24

However, the grievances of some protesters, which were, initially, economic, have become increasingly political. They are calling for the military government to step down and for the transitional government, unseated during the coup, to return to power.

In recent weeks, resistance committees – modeled after the committees that organise weekly protests in the capital, Khartoum – have been formed in the north. 

'There can’t be an improvement in socio-economic conditions without democracy'

Ibrahim is one of these activists. He comes from the town of al-Berguig, located more than 500 kilometres north of Khartoum. 

The fight to stop the rising cost of electricity is no longer the central issue for us. First, we need to return to the political transition towards democracy and the establishment of democratic institutions. There can’t be an improvement in socio-economic conditions without democracy. 

Today [Wednesday, February 2], I helped erect a barricade in Hafir [Editor’s note: a town located in the al-Berguig region]. Around 200 lorries carrying Egyptian products were stalled. The lorries were carrying livestock, frozen meat and cotton, among other things. 

When the lorries are stopped, we check with the drivers to see if their documents are in order, if they have receipts. That’s one way to combat smuggling, because there is a lot of camel smuggling between Sudan and Egypt.  

However, we don’t search the goods because we can’t step in for the police. 

In order to avoid the barricades along the highway in Northern state, lorries carrying goods bound for Egypt have been traveling through the Port Sudan region, located in the northeastern part of the country. But protesters there have also started to block this highway, as shown in videos posted on social media. 

This video shows a row of lorries blocked by protesters in Port Sudan on January 28.

According to Sudanese economist Mohamed al-Nayer, quoted by al-Araby, these barricades will have an effect on the economies of both countries. Sudanese exports to Egypt represent 10% of the country’s total exports. He said that the volume of exchange between the two countries surpassed one billion dollars in 2021.