As bakers in flour-stained clothes knead dough and slide trays of loaves into ovens in Sudan’s capital, a cluster of yellow-vested volunteers keep watch.
The goal of the self-styled guardians of the uprising that toppled Omar al-Bashir is to stem smuggling of heavily subsidised flour and bread destined for citizens struggling through a long-running economic crisis.
Bread was a symbol of the revolution – an attempt to raise bread prices was one trigger for the first major protests in Atbara.
Flour and fuel are still being siphoned into the black market, contributing to shortages and left a weak civilian government struggling to respond.
“We are monitoring what enters and leaves the bakery – flour before it is made into bread, the bread that comes out, who it goes to, at what time and why,” said 20-year-old student Mohaned Babeker, standing watch at a bakery in the Khartoum neighbourhood Arkawit.
Volunteers have caught wheat or bread being smuggled out – in one case 2 000 loaves for sale at triple the price outside Khartoum, Babeker said. The culprits received a police warning.
Bread is sold to restaurants at a 20% mark-up, a second volunteer said.
For the past two weeks, volunteers have entered data on flour deliveries, bakery closures and smuggling into a mobile app piloted in Arkawit.
They hope to expand to flour mills and distribution networks and that the app will help reveal where smuggling and diversion is occurring.
“I think fuel supply and the bread crises will be solved by collecting the right data,” said Mohamed Nimir, a 31-year-old software engineer who developed the app.
The volunteers, who work in shifts, are drawn from “resistance committees” connected to the movement that mobilised street protests before and after Bashir was forced from power.
SLEEPING ON FLOUR SACKS
The latest supply crisis has led to lengthy fuel and bread queues, they deployed at bakeries across Khartoum and beyond.
Trade and Industry Minister Madani Abbas Madani, responsible for bread policy and a prominent figure in the anti-Bashir movement, publicly thanked the committees, tweeting pictures of volunteers including one sleeping on sacks of flour. Both the ministry and the committees they will pool their efforts.
Government retreated from raising the bread price, but Madani said commercial bakeries where bread can be sold at a higher price would be expanded from April and the size of fully subsidised loaves sold at one Sudanese pound would be cut from 70to 42-48 grams.
At a bakery in Khartoum’s Al-Riyadh district, customers waved smaller loaves, lamenting the reduced size. Owner Hisham Sharfi said bakers faced rising costs and dwindling supplies of flour and the ministry should have set the size a little larger.
“The citizen who sees the loaf says this is small. It is better he pays 1.5 pounds for a big loaf, it’s more credible,” he said.
Suggestions subsidies could be lifted angered some, but opinions are split.
“My view is if government removes the subsidy, it would be better than the old regime coming back,” said 55-year-old Salah Ibrahim in Arkawit.