The year 2022 marked a significant turning point in Sudan’s political and economic landscape, with widespread unrest that spilled over into 2023. A confluence of political, social, and economic factors has been responsible for the turmoil, with the gum arabic industry, a critical raw material for various global industries, being heavily affected. As a primary exporter of gum arabic, accounting for nearly 80% of the global supply, Sudan’s instability has far-reaching consequences for its trading partners.
The unrest in Sudan began in earnest in 2022, as widespread protests erupted against the military government, accusing them of corruption and mismanagement. For example, protests in the capital, Khartoum, drew thousands of participants, resulting in a violent crackdown by security forces that left dozens dead and hundreds injured. Although the protests were initially peaceful, the situation quickly escalated, with the military cracking down on demonstrators and dissidents. The resulting chaos and violence have disrupted the daily lives of Sudanese citizens and severely impacted the nation’s economy.
Gum arabic, also called gum acacia, a natural substance obtained from the hardened sap of Acacia trees, is of particular concern. Sudan’s gum acacia industry is central to its economy, with the raw material being a key ingredient in the food, pharmaceutical, and cosmetic industries worldwide. For instance, gum arabic is an essential component of beverage and flavor formulations and is widely used in many other food and pharmaceutical products. The unrest has disrupted the harvesting, production, and transportation of this vital natural material.
The knock-on effects of the unrest on the gum arabic trade are manifold. Inflationary pressures have increased, as companies reliant on gum arabic work to secure supplies. For example, a confectionery giant reported difficulties in obtaining sufficient quantities of gum acacia, leading them to explore alternative sources. This has led to a surge in demand for alternatives, such as modified starches, which are currently constrained by their own supply issues. Moreover, regional instability has made it difficult for aid agencies like the World Food Program to engage with Sudan, further exacerbating the nation’s economic woes.
The Sudanese government’s response to the crisis has been lackluster, with limited attempts to address the underlying issues. The absence of meaningful dialogue with opposition groups has only served to fuel the unrest. Experts warned that without a comprehensive and inclusive political resolution, the situation was unlikely to stabilize. This warning became reality when fierce fighting between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) broke out in Khartoum, Omdurman, and Port Sudan on April 15, 2023.