Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 July 2019

A deeply precarious moment for Sudan

Power has remained with the people but the threat of anarchy is ever-present

Sudanese protesters have continued their sit-in, three days after Omar Al Bashir was ousted. Ashraf Shazly / AFP 
Sudanese protesters have continued their sit-in, three days after Omar Al Bashir was ousted. Ashraf Shazly / AFP 

In the past three days, Sudan has seen more upheaval than it has in years. Hours after longstanding president Omar Al Bashir was ousted in a military coup, his successor, defence minister Awad Ibn Auf, also stepped down after just 30 hours in power, leading protesters to chant: “We toppled two presidents in two days”. A formidable task now lies ahead of Lt Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan, who was sworn in yesterday. He faces the challenge of uniting a fractious country crippled by economic crisis, where poverty is rife and the cost of basic commodities has soared, leading to a shortage of flour and fuel. Yet there is hope on the faces of the tens of thousands of people who continue to mass outside military headquarters in Khartoum, demanding a transition to civilian rule. The downfall of Mr Al Bashir four months after protests over food and fuel prices began, and 30 years after he seized power in a military coup, has brought optimism for change but this is still a precarious moment. In the two-year transition period under a military council ahead of elections, there is the threat of a descent into chaos.

The transition to a civilian government was never going to be easy. Deposing Mr Al Bashir, who had ossified in power and neglected the needs of his people, was the first step but the hardest part lies ahead. Sudan now stands on the cusp of real change. Its leaders and people must seize the momentum to usher in a peaceful transition in which the voices of the Sudanese are heard, particularly the younger generation, who make up the majority of the 43 million-strong population. Lt Gen Al Burhan has made a promising start by meeting protesters and discussing their grievances. His report card is certainly cleaner; Mr Ibn Auf was the intelligence chief during the Darfur conflict and alleged genocide and was sanctioned by the US in 2007. Political parties across the board have also been asked to nominate two people to take part in talks on the country’s future. The military council must now uphold its promise to be “protectors of the demands of the people”. A meaningful transition will take time and all sides must exercise restraint. At a time of flux in the region, with violence and unrest gripping Libya and Algeria respectively, and when strenuous efforts are being made to cement peace in South Sudan, what happens in Khartoum will have a knock-on effect far beyond Sudan’s borders.

The list of grievances against Mr Al Bashir is long, including the genocide in Darfur and the aerial bombardment against rebels in the Nuba mountains. However, what ultimately pushed protesters to the street was the rising price of bread in a country where two-thirds of the population exists on less than $2 a day. Whoever ultimately takes charge will need to tackle inflation, food scarcity, unemployment and a weak economy. Across the region, economic malaise has been a trigger for unrest. For now, protests in Sudan have remained relatively peaceful but if a concrete attempt to improve people’s lives does not emerge, anger will continue to grow. The Sudanese people must feel they are being heard for real progress to be made.

Updated: April 13, 2019 03:49 PM

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