Omar al-Bashir keeps iron grip on Sudan against all odds

Friday 01/05/2015
Five more years

Khartoum - More than 60% of the population of Sudan has known no leader other than President Omar al-Bashir. The figure is likely to grow following mid-April elections that allowed al-Bashir and his National Congress Party to retain power.

Sudan’s National Electoral Com­mission (NEC) released vote totals on April 27th that showed al-Bashir took 94% — more than 5.2 million votes — of the presidential vote. His closest challenger in the field of 16 candidates was Fadl el-Sayed Shuiab, who claimed 79,665 votes (1.43%), NEC said.

Turnout was reported to be 46.4% — African Union observers had put turnout at 30-35% — indi­cating support for the call by ma­jor opposition parties to “Boycott the Blood Elections” — as popular graffiti put it. But even before that plea, there was little doubt that al-Bashir, 71, would claim another five-year term and retain power for the foreseeable future.

Al-Bashir, then an officer in the Sudanese Army, assumed the pres­idency in a June 1989 coup, begin­ning a reign that is approaching 26 years. Nearly two-thirds of the Su­danese population of 35.5 million is 25 years old or younger, meaning they have known no Sudan other than the Sudan ruled by al-Bashir.

That does not mean, however, they are satisfied with the situa­tion.

Al-Bashir and his regime have ef­fectively silenced political opposi­tion through arrests, intimidation, threats of legal action on specious charges and the heavy-handed ap­proach of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS). The agency, formed to gather informa­tion, has had its mandate expand­ed to serve as a security force. This has greatly reduced visible dissent.

September 2013 saw large anti-government protests but al-Bashir-aligned forces violently stopped the demonstrations and about 200 people were killed.

Sudan has far from flourished in the quarter century since al-Bashir took power. Its gross domestic product (GDP) is about $70 billion. Per person, that is about $4,500, 175th among the 230 countries listed in the CIA’s World Factbook. Poverty is rife across the country.

Sudan lost about one-third of its territory — and a great deal of its oil wealth — when South Sudan broke away in 2011. The country has been torn by internal wars and battered by international sanctions for al­leged support of terrorism.

Aside from years of horrendous crimes in its Darfur region, Sudan is perhaps best known as having the first sitting president wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Al-Bashir has been charged as being responsible for “genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes”. The president allegedly masterminded plans to have mili­tias wipe out several ethnic groups in Darfur.

Despite oppression and econom­ic privation, Sudan was relatively untouched when the “Arab spring” swept across the region. The pub­lic, perhaps swayed by government assertions that chaos would rule should al-Bashir be removed, or cowed by fear of swift and brutal retaliation by government forces, did not rise as it did in other coun­tries.

“After the peace with the South in 2005, and throughout the ‘Arab spring’, we could make speeches outdoors and meet on campus,” 25-year-old activist Bedreldin Mo­hamed told Reuters. “Now we’re meeting in the dark or at home.”

Most of Sudan’s main opposition parties boycotted the April elec­tions, saying the government con­tinues to detain and harass them despite al-Bashir’s promises last year to allow more political free­doms. At least two presidential candidates pulled out citing irregu­larities in polling, Reuters reported.

As a result, say government crit­ics, voters have few viable alterna­tives to al-Bashir and his National Congress Party.

But there are voices calling for change even though they endure hardships while they seek to re­move the al-Bashir regime.

“The main concept is humilia­tion,” Salah said of his time in the Ghost House. Detention is a tool used by al-Bashir aimed to instil fear in the detainee by controlling and isolating him, he said.

“In the end, I keep this in my mind,” Salah said to the AP. “The death of an individual will not kill the cause.”

Medani told the AP that gather­ings, such as the 2013 protests that ended in the deaths of some 200 people, actually indicate the emer­gence of more youthful opposition, which could lead to change.

“We haven’t lost the spirit,” he said.

(Compiled from reports by the Associated Press and Reuters news agencies. )