After 30 years of iron-fisted rule in Sudan, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, 75, fell from power last week after four months of persistent protest by Sudanese people. A daily outrage that began over the increase in the price of bread, the protesters defied threats of violence, a state of emergency and cabinet reshuffle by al-Bashir. They eventually brought down the man who had manoeuvred his way to lord himself over the people of Sudan over the years.
Omar Al-Bashir had a humble beginning. He worked at a construction site as a schoolboy and served in the army as a paratrooper. Al-Bashir crept into power on the back of a military junta that sacked Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi in a bloodless coup in 1989. In order to consolidate his image as an Islamist, he formed an alliance with the prominent cleric Hassan al-Turabi, who was popular for his oratory and learning. After years of cooperation, Al-Bashir however fell out with the man initially seen as his ideological mentor.
Since he ascended to that position, Al-Bashir held sway in a vast African country which has been plagued by protracted warfare, suffering and poverty that defied the decade-long oil boom in Sudan. The protesters who insisted on his ouster last week pitched their argument on Al-Bashir’s failure to turn around the economy, massive unemployment, lack of food security and general misery in the country. It was amazing that the protesters could prevail in their peaceful protest in spite of the fact that al-Bashir had a network of security forces and armed militias that have fought his cause and have been well-remunerated over the years. In spite of the religious garb that al-Bashir has put on, the atmosphere around him had been militarized, making Sudan one of the police states on the African continent.
Al-Bashir was a strongman in his country but he had a series of clashes with the Western powers. They accused him of having ties with Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The two also clashed over the conflict in Sudan’s Western Darfur region, which pitched the mostly black population against the Janjaweed militia. Western powers accused Al-Bashir’s regime of supporting the Janjaweed, a charge he strongly denied and described the Janjaweed as armed robbers beyond his regime’s control. Two cases were brought against al-Bashir at the International Criminal Court. The US government blacklisted his government as an international sponsor of terrorism and imposed sanctions on Sudan. The African Union decided that member countries would not cooperate in bringing him to trial at ICC.
When the protest that ousted him began on December 19, 2018 al-Bashir had initially dismissed the actions of the protesters. However, on April 6, the protesters, in the large numbers, occupied al-Bashir’s residence which doubled as the headquarters of the Sudanese army. That marked the beginning of his end. Al-Bashir will however be remembered as the man who negotiated an end to the bloody decades-old civil war in Southern Sudan. He allowed a referendum to be held that led to the creation of a separate country for the people of South Sudan, whose people had for decades alleged discrimination and marginalisation by the Arab North.
Al-Bashir was one of the sit-tight African rulers who defied the will of the people, changed the constitutions of their countries to perpetuate themselves in power. There are few of such in Africa today, like Paul Biya of Cameroon, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Idris Deby of Chad. In 2017, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe was compelled to quit in a bloodless coup. The fall of al-Bashir should be a lesson to sit-tight African leaders. They should learn to quit at the end of their tenures, and when the ovation for their positive impact is loudest. From Algeria to Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and now Sudan, it is clear that the people have the power to change governments without guns and bullets.