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Challenges confronting Sudan in a post-Bashir era – Professor Hussein Solomon

May 2, 2019

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Challenges confronting Sudan in a post-Bashir era

By Hussein Solomon

Volume 7 (2019), Number 7 (May 2019)

On the 19th December 2018, a wave of public protests began across Sudan following the tripling of the bread price overnight. Whilst these protests had its origins in economics, it quickly morphed into a political movement with calls for Bashir to step down. Heavy government repression and the resultant civilian casualties only served to incense popular opinion further. By 1 March 2019, and with protests escalating in size and intensity across the country, Bashir opted to step down as the leader of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in favour of his deputy Ahmed Harun. He, however, remained as President of the country. This, predictably, did not appease the anger of citizens towards him or that of the NCP.  The call by protestors for Bashir to step down as President of the country grew ever more intense and crowds of protestors grew ever bigger. Second, Ahmed Harun, like Bashir himself, is sought by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in Darfur and given Harun’s own proximity to Bashir, it did not serve to endear him to the ever-growing protesting crowds on the streets of Sudan. Having given up control over the ruling party, and having little of a constituency beyond this, it was unlikely that Bashir would be able to continue as president for much longer. The end of the Bashir era was predictable. Despite the use of repressive measures, the protestors won the day and in April 2019 Omar al-Bashir was ousted from power.

Two sets of challenges confront Sudan  in this post-Bashir era. The first relates to domestic threats in the form of the men in uniform and their unholy alliance with Islamists. Tensions have escalated between protestors and the military with the latter insisting that the army maintains “sovereign powers” during this transition period. Sudanese civil society however are demanding a rapid return to civilian rule and distrust the military’s notion of a transition period, especially when no time frame is discussed as to how long this would last, when fresh elections will be held and so forth.

In this volatile situation, Islamist preachers have opted to support the military. It should be noted that these same Islamists are no friends of Sudanese democracy, having supported two coups, one in 1969 by General Nimeiri and the 1989 coup which brought Omar al-Bashir to power. These Islamists in sermons have been attempting to discredit protesters arguing that they intend to undermine shari’a law whilst serving as Trojan horses of the West in imposing Western concepts of freedom, democracy and human rights. The rhetoric emanating from the Islamists suggests that only the military can guarantee Sudan being an Islamic state. Ignored in this rendition is the fact that the men in uniform have no solution for an inflation rate upwards of 70 percent and the consequent rapid devaluation of the Sudanese pound. Moreover, since the military coup in 1989, the lot of the average Sudanese citizen has deteriorated calamitously. Perhaps, more to the point is the institutionalized corruption which the men in uniform have presided over. This was graphically illustrated when a raid on Omar al-Bashir’s home uncovered over a 100 million British pounds in cash.

The second set of challenges lay in the foreign arena with countries such as Egypt, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar all scrambling to seek to exploit the political vacuum and turmoil in the country in an effort to advance their own interests. Consider Saudi Arabia and the UAE. These two countries have provided liquidity to Sudan’s Central Bank and own large tracts of fertile land in Sudan growing food there to ensure their own food security. In addition, in exchange for providing protection to Bashir from the International Criminal Court, these have managed to woo Khartoum from its alliance with Tehran and secured its cooperation in their military campaign in Yemen as well as its support for the Gulf Cooperation’s Council’s isolation of Qatar. Their support for Bashir and the authoritarian system he presided over hardly endeared them to Sudan’s protesting masses. As such, protesters have rejected a US $3 billion aid package offered by Riyadh and Abu Dhabi on the basis of fears that this aid package is meant to keep the old regime in power without Bashir as the figure head. Mohamed Yusuf al-Mustafa, head of the country’s most powerful union – the Sudanese Professional Association – summed these fears up best when he declared: “A soft landing for the old regime is being orchestrated by some Middle Eastern powers so they can keep their allies in power”.

In all this, the West has largely remained distant from these developments. Given Sudan’s strategic importance in the Horn of Africa, Western countries need to involve themselves in support of the pro-democracy activists in the country as well as placing pressure on the military establishment to step aside whilst also exerting pressure on their international backers to respect Sudan’s sovereignty.

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