A peoples’ revolution is unfolding in Sudan, albeit thirty years too late. President Omar al-Bashir better start planning his exit strategy before his own compatriots hand him over to the ICC. This is the third revolution in Sudan’s history, and the previous two in 1964 and 1985 forced a change in government. This one may prove to dislodge another autocrat.
Since Bashir came to power through a military coup in 1989, he has ruled with an iron fist, seeking to make Sudan the greatest military power on the continent by procuring billions of dollars worth of military hardware at the expense of social services. He wreaked havoc against the black Southern Sudanese, with decades of bombing runs on civilian villages, as well as against the Darfuris and other marginalised groups.
His ethnic cleansing campaign against the Darfuris was nothing short of genocide, and it is for these crimes against humanity that he is wanted by the ICC. We all remember the scenes of the infamous marauding Janjaweed on horseback setting villages alight, raping and then slaughtering Darfuri women, all at Bashir’s instigation. Over 200,000 Darfuris were slaughtered in that bloody campaign just a decade ago.
Well Bashir’s day of reckoning has finally arrived, and this time the people have had enough. They had launched an uprising against the regime in 2013 – primarily the youth and marginalised Darfuris – but 270 protestors were massacred by the security forces in five days. But this time things are different, the country is seething and the grassroots revolution has taken hold across the country and in almost every sector, with a concerted determination to see the back of Bashir and his cohorts.
Over forty peaceful demonstrators have been killed since the start of the revolution on December 19th, but there is no turning back, and grassroots structures are mobilising their constituencies day and night. The government may have blocked facebook, whatsapp and twitter, but the people are using VPN.
All Bashir has at his disposals is the brutality of his security forces who are shooting to kill, and the deployment of snipers on rooftops in cities across the country to intimidate the masses. He has even gone as far as to turn to Russian mercenaries from the private Russian military company Wagner to train his forces and act as snipers. These are the same Russian mercenaries that were active in Syria and Ukraine using much the same tactics. In a meeting last July between President Vladimir Putin and Bashir, the two agreed to increase military cooperation with Sudan pledging to buy Russian weapons, while Russia was offered an airbase on the Red Sea. Russian companies are also heavily invested in the country’s gold mines.
This will be a fight to the end, and people are disappearing in droves, taken from their homes and workplaces, and disappearing off the streets. Lists of the disappeared are being formulated by civil society and updated on a daily basis, with well over 1000 believed to be detained over the past three weeks, with many being tortured and then released.
What started as protests against price hikes due to spiraling inflation, and shortages of basic necessities such as bread, fuel, and cash, quickly morphed into a country-wide revolt against the entire political system. The people are seeking an end to corruption, human rights violations and the regime itself, with chants of “the whole country is Darfur.”
When demonstrations erupted against the regime in 2013 they were met with indifference by the international community, and there has not been the expected support from European countries for the current popular uprising given the vested interests in working with the Bashir regime on intelligence gathering and migration control. An agreement between the regime and the EU has seen 250 million Euros of EU funding going to control the movement of migrants headed towards Europe on the Libyan-Sudanese border. Ironically it is Bashir’s Rapid Support Force, the former Janjaweed militias, that are taking on this border control function.
So once again the EU is prioritising its own interest of stemming African migration to its shores over the need for real democracy and change in Sudan. It is now left to civil society and the African Union to raise its voice in support of the people of Sudan. To date the AU has said little more than that the government needs to show restraint, but far more will be needed.
This time the world will not be able to turn a blind eye to the protests for change in Sudan, as solidarity protests have been taking place in Dublin, Philadelphia, Edmonton, Toronto, and even in Pretoria this week. Its seems that for Bashir time is running out and his idea of amending the constitution in order to run for re-election in 2020 is a lost cause.
Shannon Ebrahim is the Foreign Editor for Voices360.