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Sudan after Omar al-Bashir’s overthrow
For the first time in 30 years Sudan is no longer governed by Omar Al-Bashir. He faces instead a war crimes tribunal for crimes against humanity, either in the Sudan itself, or in The Hague at the International Criminal Court.
Omar al-Bashir came into power in Sudan in 1989 following a military coup. President Bashir’s regime proceeded to introduce an Islamic legal code into Sudan’s governance structures and even hosted Osama Bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda group between 1991 and 1996. The president of the largest country in Africa, in a 2011 referendum South Sudan seceded and became independent state following a 2005 peace agreement which ended the country’s brutal 22 year civil war between the Arab north and non-Arab South.
Having won the electorally flawed 2010 and 2015 elections, Omar Al-Bashir has been an international pariah, accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, and in 2009 an international arrest warrant was issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The first ever made against a sitting head of state by the court. A decade later his ouster in 2019 at the hands of a wave of popular protests offers Sudan a new beginning, and the families of his victims an opportunity for justice.
Why did the protests start?
The nationwide protests started across Sudan in December 2018 after the government announced an increase in fuel and bread prices. Sudan’s economy has plummeted since South Sudan became independent as it took a majority of the country’s oil reserves. The popular discontent was further exacerbated by commodity shortages, corruption, unemployment and economic stagnation. This led the people to demand Omar Al-Bashir’s resignation and fresh elections.
In February 2019, Bashir declared a state of emergency followed by replacing all of the regional governors with members of the army and security forces loyal to him. Faced with rising discontent and rising civilian deaths Sudan’s military intervened in April removing Omar Al-Bashir from office and placing him and his allies under house arrest.
A transitional Military Council with army generals ruled Sudan immediately after Al-Bashir’s overthrow, desiring to retain power. However, the widespread protests continued, and following strikes and the Khartoum Massacre, a new body called the Sovereign Council was agreed upon. The Sovereign Council is a joint civilian-military transitional body, part of a three-year power sharing agreement in place until the 2022 national elections. In September 2019, a technocratic Cabinet took office under Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and 18 ministers.
What is the situation in Sudan post-Omar Al-Bashir?
The new transitional government’s main priorities are improving the economy and achieving peace in the conflict areas of Sudan. The government has been involved in overturning the public order act, a law which prevented selling on the streets and oppressed women’s rights. Additionally, the former National Congress Party has been dismantled and dissolved.
The legacy of Omar Al-Bashir’s autocratic regime is devastating for Sudan and its economy. His time in office saw an increase in foreign debt, inflation, unemployment, and a shortage of foreign currency.
Consequently, new economic reforms proposed by the transitional government include reducing subsidies, direct cash payments and the support of the international community needed to integrate Sudan in the global economy. The United States recently lifted a trade embargo on Sudan, but refuses to remove it from the terrorism blacklist. This classification has hindered Sudan as international banking and overseas investors have largely kept away.
Sudan’s economy post-Bashir is faltering, the country continues to export crude oil to China, but this accounts for only 1% of Sudan's economy after South Sudan’s independence. Chinese infrastructure investments are noticeably increasing in the Sudan under the Belt and Road Initiative.
Additionally, Sudan’s geostrategic location on the Red Sea grants access to the world’s busiest shipping lanes. Turkey and Qatar have recently announced a $4billion deal to develop Port Sudan.
The situation along the Blue Nile and South Kordofan remains critical. Fighting was ongoing between rebels and Bashir’s forces during the regime, with the Sudanese armed forces killing and displacing millions with humanitarian organisations expelled. Following talks between the Sovereign Council of Sudan and rebel groups, a power-sharing and security agreement was signed in South Sudan with Mr. Agar’s Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLMN).
The agreement has allowed vital humanitarian aid to reach people, alongside granting special status for the Blue Nile and South Kordofan region, equal citizenship rights to all citizens, a permanent ceasefire, and the creation of a new professional national army representing the country’s diversity by integrating different groups including the SPLM-N and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
Nonetheless, the lack of international guarantors and the support of the Alhilu’s rebel group as in previous deals is a weakness of this deal.
Questions remain regarding the continued roles in Sudan of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia, both of whom had extensive ties with Bashir’s fallen regime, providing financial help and supporting the status quo, whilst recruiting Sudanese fighters to support the coalition’s military campaigns in Yemen and Libya.
Following Bashir’s ousting, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have promised to financially support Sudan’s economy with a loan of $3 billion. However, protesters see their involvement in the country as a means to continue recruiting young men as mercenaries. Sudan’s new civilian government is opposed to being involved in Yemen and Libya, however given the devasting economic conditions, fighting overseas represents a source of income for many in Sudan.
Following President Omar al-Bashir’s overthrow, Sudan is beginning the slow process of democratisation. Progress has been made but the transitional government faces extensive governance challenges in the run up to the 2022 elections and given the brutal legacy of Omar Al-Bashir rule the chances of a lasting peace and rebuilding Sudan’s shattered economy are far from guaranteed.
Gida Malafronte is a graduate student of International Relations and Global Studies from Nottingham Trent University, UK. Her areas of interest include the Middle East and North Africa and security aspects. Image credit: CC by Al Jazeera/Flickr.