Violence, scarcity, risk of famine. How did Sri Lanka come to this?
South Sri lanka is experiencing its worst economic crisis since its independence in 1948. Residents are facing food shortages, long daily power outages, and record inflation.
Sri Lanka is descending into anarchy. For weeks, the South Asian country has seen protests and violent clashes as a new prime minister was appointed with the goal of forming a unity government to try to save an economy on the verge of collapse.
This 22-million-person South Asian island is experiencing its worst economic crisis since its independence from the United Kingdom in 1948, with shortages of essential goods, long daily power outages, and record inflation.
The Easter 2019 Islamist attacks, followed by the Covid-19 pandemic, depleted foreign currency reserves provided by tourism revenues and diaspora remittances. Foreign currencies are still required by the country to purchase imported goods on which Sri Lanka relies, as well as to maintain stock levels.
A violent night, a state of emergency, and a curfew
The country's political crisis began on the night of March 31 to April 1 when hundreds of protesters attempted to storm President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's residence in Colombo and demanded his resignation.
For the past two decades, the country has been ruled by the Rajapaksa family. The President and Prime Minister, as well as the Ministers of Finance and Agriculture, are all brothers. A form of government that the people of Sri Lanka no longer support.
On April 1, protests against the government spread across Sri Lanka, prompting the president to declare a state of emergency. A 36-hour curfew was imposed on the 2nd, but hundreds of people defied it by protesting in several cities. The army is on the ground to assist law enforcement.
The government resigns on March 3rd, with the exception of the president and his older brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. The curfew is lifted on the 4th. The opposition rejects the president's invitation to form a national unity government.
President Rajapaksa lost his majority in Parliament on the 5th due to a series of defections from the ruling coalition Podujana Party (SLPP). Finance Minister Ali Sabry leaves office the next day, and the state of emergency is lifted.
The country faces famine on September 6th. Sri Lankans no longer have enough to eat or to care for themselves. Shops and pharmacies are deserted, prices have risen by 30% in April alone, there is no more gasoline at service stations, and power outages can last up to fifteen hours per day.
Colombo demonstration and payment default
Tens of thousands of people demonstrated against the president in Colombo on September 9th. Employers join the call, as do 23 industrial federations calling for a change in government. Thousands of protesters decide to set up camp in front of the White House. Some opponents of the current regime are now calling for the resignation of Sri Lanka's president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the brother of the deposed leader.
Doctors warn on the 10th that they are running low on life-saving drugs. Sri Lanka defaulted on the repayment of its 51 billion dollar external debt on the 12th, claiming that it was its "last resort" to import essential goods.
A new government that does not calm the anger of opponents
On April 18, Sri Lanka's President announces the formation of a new government, dismissing two of his brothers and a nephew but retaining his older brother as Prime Minister.
On May 9, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa resigns, shortly after his supporters launch violent attacks on demonstrators camped outside the president's office. According to police, eight people were killed and at least 225 were injured in these clashes, which were the deadliest in recent weeks. Authorities impose a general curfew.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF), with whom Sri Lanka had begun talks to obtain three to four billion dollars in aid, asked the government on the 20th to "restructure" the country's massive external debt before a bailout programme could be finalised.
Sri Lanka is paralysed by general strikes on April 28 and May 6. President Rajapaksa declares an emergency.
Army evacuation and unity government
After thousands of protesters broke through one of the complex's gates on May 10, the army expelled the former prime minister from his official residence in Colombo. The UN condemns the escalation of violence and urges the army to "exercise restraint." The Ministry of Defense gives the rioters the "order to shoot on sight."
On May 12, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appoints Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister, with the intention of forming a unity government to deal with the crisis. Six hours after it was lifted, the curfew is reinstated.
A country running out of gas
The country is running out of gas because it cannot find dollars to fund essential imports, according to the prime minister on May 16.
"At the moment, we only have enough oil for one day," Ranil Wickremesinghe said, warning that his country may face more difficulties in the coming months. He also stated that the government was unable to raise funds to pay for three oil shipments, with ships waiting outside the Colombo port for payment before unloading.
Due to a severe lack of foreign currency, the island is unable to import essential commodities, resulting in severe shortages and a sharp rise in commodity prices. There are numerous reasons for Sri Lankans to continue mobilising.