April 22, 2019

The fall of Sudan’s Omar Al-Bashir


Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is seen during the opening session of the AU summit in Johannesburg, Sunday, June 14, 2015. A South African judge on Sunday ordered authorities to prevent al-Bashir, from leaving the country because of an international order for his arrest, human rights activists said.(AP Photo/Shiraaz Mohamed)

BARELY a week after Algerian dictator, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, was forced out by people’s power, it was the turn of 75-year-old Sudanese President, Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, to bite the dust after 30 years of authoritarian grip. Al-Bashir, an army paratrooper, led an Islamist junta which ousted Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi in a bloodless coup in April 1989.

Al-Bashir bestrode Sudan like an emperor. To strengthen his autocratic hold on power, he had introduced policies that sustained corruption and nepotism. It was a situation that also triggered off years of conflict and insecurity in the Darfur, South Kordofan, and the Blue Nile.

In fact, the International Criminal Court at The Hague, ICC, had issued two arrest warrants against him over the Darfur conflict bordering on genocide. He was also accused of murder, rape and torture. He was the first sitting president to be so charged.

Al Bashir armed Arab pastoralists (Janjaweed) to attack and seize lands from non-Arab black ethnic groups, a scenario that has also unfolded in Nigeria. He presided over the split of his country, leading to the independence of South Sudan.

Over the years he had to contend with crises arising from sustained opposition to his autocratic rule. But relying on the military, he responded to every opposition with brutal repression, including frequent arrests and incarceration of opposition leaders with some of them forced into exile.

Al-Bashir, Bouteflika and Change in Africa

The main precursor to Al Bashir’s downfall was the recent downturn in the economy. He responded to it by removing subsidies on essential commodities and the price of bread soared. Apart from the opposition parties, the Sudan Professional Association, made up of teachers, lawyers, doctors and others, quickly rallied the people to stage nation-wide protests against the regime in more than 35 cities.

Al-Bashir also proposed cosmetic constitution amendments which would still enable him seek reelection in 2020. When that failed, he declared a nationwide state of emergency with a one-year duration which prohibited unauthorised gatherings and movements. He dissolved the federal and state governments and replaced almost all of Sudan’s 18 state governors with army officers.

The military eventually turned their backs against him. Emboldened by this, the protesters who had been baying loudly for his blood, closed in on him. The end came on April 11, 2019. He is expected to keep a date with the ICC at The Hague for war crimes in the Darfur and other places.

The Al-Bashir rise and fall saga should serve as another lesson to all sit-tight dictators in Africa. There is always a day of reckoning when their autocratic will gives way for the people to have their way. And it comes when they least expect it.