Omar al-Bashir ruled Sudan for 30 years. Coming to power in a 1989 coup in the midst of a brutal civil war, his leadership of the country has been brutal and oppressive. He is the subject of an International Criminal Court arrest warrant on charges of war crimes, genocide and other atrocities in Darfur in the South of Sudan between 2003 and 2008. Before becoming leader of Sudan he was commander of an army carrying what was seen by many as a war of extinction against the South, and one of a number of armed forces press-ganging children into armed service in the late 1980s.
He has been mostly involved in the military side of government yet under his leadership Sudan has become increasingly Islamist, with Sharia law put in place in all provinces other than the South. It is thought during his time as President he has also amassed $9 billion in wealth. During his presidency, opposition figures have been intimidated and harassed, the media are prohibited from publishing stories on certain issues, journalists are regularly harassed, not to mention the lack of religious freedom, freedom of assembly or civil rights in general.
the next few months will determine how what course the country takes after so many years under one man’s fist
Despite winning elections in 2010 and 2015, these elections were marred by boycotts from leading opposition parties. It appeared that Bashir was an authoritarian leader who would rule until his death. Yet this has proved not to be the case, as Bashir has lost power much the same way as he gained it; in a military backed overthrow in April 2019, following nationwide protests which began in December 2018. The protests started over fuel and bread, escalating into opposition against Bashir’s rule in general. A state of emergency was declared in February and many army officers replaced governors on the provincial level. This was not enough to save Bashir, however, who was eventually toppled by the military on the 11th April.
Military rule of Sudan is unlikely to change much; Bashir was close to the military and they tend to be one of the more authoritarian groups in the country. The military claim they will oversee a transitional two-year period as a military council before allowing elections. Protesters rejected this suggestion and have vowed to stay on the streets, with a sit-in outside army HQ demanding that the military cede control. Yet there have been positive signs: two interim military leaders have already been replaced following public protest after they were deemed too close to Bashir, and a military-imposed curfew has been lifted. Current interim leader Abdelfattah al-Burhan has been praised by protesters for saying all the right things thus far, though there is a long way to go.
The current future suggestion is a government of technocrats, rather than well-known politicians or military figures however the controversy comes from the suggestion of a supreme council above the government, replacing the president. It is unclear what powers this council would have or who would be on it, an initial suggestion was seven soldiers and three civilians, it is thought the military would insist on having at least half the seats on it. Such a proposal would be hard to oppose given the military have the power and resources to prevent challenges. The most recent development is of a council to discuss a joint civilian-military council to discuss how to transition. Institutional and economic challenges lie in Sudan’s immediate future, meaning the business of government cannot long be halted before serious challenges arise. The secession of South Sudan, hit Khartoum hard on an economic front, as the South held much of the oil, yet in previous decades Khartoum had managed to hold influence and reap economic benefit from it, thus ensuing financial difficulties have not been resolved.
International reaction has been mixed. The African Union has given three months for Sudan to organise elections on threat of removal from the group. The US has also called for the military to give way to a civilian led-government. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have all shown support for the new order in Sudan. Support from these states normally averse to grassroots movements is surprising and may be indicative of attempts by these nations to maintain their influence in Sudanese affairs as the new order emerges.
Meanwhile Bashir remains in a high-security prison in Khartoum and Sudan’s prosecutor is expected to question him on charges of money-laundering and financing terrorism. The International Criminal Court would also like him in their custody to charge him with their long list of crimes. Uganda is allegedly consider offering him asylum- a surprising move given Bashir’s history involves supporting the rebel LRA- yet he is known to have patched his relationship with Uganda’s president Museveni (another African leader since the 1980s) in more recent times. Yet for Bashir, his time in Sudan has taken a turn for the worse, the next few months will determine how what course the country takes after so many years under one man’s fist.