Sudan's President Omar Bashir File picture: Burhan Ozbilici/AP
Sudan's President Omar Bashir File picture: Burhan Ozbilici/AP

Beginning of the end for Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir

By Shannon Ebrahim Time of article published Jan 11, 2019

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Johannesburg - A people’s revolution is unfolding in Sudan, albeit 30 years too late. President Omar al-Bashir had better start planning his exit strategy before his own compatriots hand him over to the International Criminal Court. This is the third revolution in Sudan’s history, and the previous two in 1964 and 1985 forced a change in government. This one may yet dislodge another autocrat.

Since Bashir came to power through a coup in 1989, he has ruled with an iron fist, seeking to make Sudan the greatest military power on the continent by procuring billions of dollars worth of military hardware at the expense of social services. He wreaked havoc against the black Southern Sudanese, with bombing runs on civilian villages, as well as against the Darfuris.

His ethnic-cleansing campaign against the Darfuris was nothing short of genocide, and it is for these crimes against humanity that he is wanted by the ICC. We all remember the scenes of Janjaweed on horseback setting villages alight, raping and slaughtering Darfuri women, all at Bashir’s instigation. More than 200000 Darfuris were killed in that campaign a decade ago.

This time the people have had enough. They launched an uprising against the regime in 2013 - primarily the youth and marginalised Darfuris - but 270 protesters were massacred by the security forces in five days. But this time, the grassroots revolution has taken hold across the country and in almost every sector.

More than 40 peaceful demonstrators have been killed since the start of the revolution on December 19, but grassroots structures are mobilising their constituencies day and night. All Bashir has at his disposals is the brutality of his security forces, and the deployment of snipers on rooftops to intimidate the masses. He has even gone as far as to turn to Russian mercenaries to train his forces and act as snipers. People are disappearing in droves. Lists of the disappeared are being formulated by civil society, with well over 1000 believed to be detained over the past three weeks, with many being tortured and then released.

What started as protests against price hikes due to spiralling inflation, and shortages of basic necessities, has morphed into a countrywide revolt.

When demonstrations erupted against the regime in 2013, they were met with indifference by the international community, and there has not been the expected support from European countries for the current uprising given the vested interests in working with the Bashir regime on intelligence gathering and migration control.

An agreement between the regime and the EU has seen e250 million of EU funding going to control the movement of migrants headed towards Europe on the Libyan-Sudanese border. Ironically, it is Bashir’s Rapid Support Force, the former Janjaweed militias, that are taking on this border-control function.

Once again the EU is prioritising its own interest of stemming African migration over the need for democracy in Sudan. It is now left to civil society and the AU to raise its voice in support of the people of Sudan. To date, the AU has said little more than that the government needs to show restraint, but far more will be needed.

This time the world will not be able to turn a blind eye to the protests, as solidarity protests have been taking place in Dublin, Philadelphia, Edmonton, Toronto, and even in Pretoria this week. It seems that time is running out for Bashir, and his idea of amending the constitution in order to run for re-election in 2020 is a lost cause.

* Shannon Ebrahim is the Group Foreign Editor.

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