Sudan President Omar al-Bashir declared this week a state of national emergency following continuous unrest in the country. Popular protests in Sudan have attacked Bashir’s overextended 30-year rule which has seen countless conflicts and deaths, the most notable example involving Darfur. Another major factor behind the demonstrations has been the poor economic situation in the seemingly oil-rich region. Bashir, in response to this, has stated that he would step down eventually, announcing a year-long state of emergency as a way of ‘addressing’ the protests. The president also named Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Auf, the Defence Minister, as Vice President, whilst replacing all state governors in the country with military personnel.
Bashir has been accused of suppressing political opposition and failing to equally distribute wealth throughout the nation. Whilst the latter has become the focal point for local unrest via demonstrations for many years, the president’s violent conduct during the conflict in Darfur has captured the world’s attention. Accordingly, the International Criminal Court (ICC) declared Bashir’s actions as constituting ‘crimes against humanity,’ claiming that the leader had “acted with specific intent to destroy in part the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups.” Since then, and throughout his 30-year rule, Sudan’s president has responded to protests with violence and has refused access to both UN peacekeeping forces and aid missions.
Akin to the ICC arrest warrant for Bashir on the charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide, most of the international community deem the rallies against Bashir to be based on legitimate grievances. Somewhat surprisingly, the president has even described the underlying motives for the demonstrations as “legitimate,” though argued that outside influence has attempted to destabilize the region by replicating the ‘Arab Spring’ protests in Sudan. Perhaps for this reason, Egypt and Turkey have expressed support for Bashir and have thus condemned the rallies as illegal. Empathetically, a high official in Turkey’s ruling party – Cevdet Yilmaz quoted, “We support the legitimate government of Sudan. Turkey has faced similar ploys many times.” Sudan’s government receives this support despite its violent response to unrest in the nation, which Amnesty International confirms has killed at least 40 people. However, Bashir has argued that these killings are orchestrated by “infiltrators” that “were instructed to infiltrate the protests and kill the protesters in order to fuel the conflict.”
Whilst Bashir’s sympathy for the motives behind the demonstrations may seem like a long-awaited shift in narrative, the president’s actions, both presently and historically, have left Sudan under deep military influence. Bashir’s appointment of military officials to government positions illustrates this. Yet, this growing influence of militarism in the country does not offer the needed long-term solutions for peace. Consequently, the militaristic rule of the nation, plagued by conflicts in Darfur and South Sudan, is predominately borne by the local population some of whom are regularly detained and even killed by the nation’s security forces. Moreover, the recent declaration of a state of emergency is largely aimed at suppressing those who are protesting the corruption and inequality occurring under Bashir’s rule. With increased powers given towards the police and security forces under this ‘emergency,’ it is evident that little is being done to target the long-term root causes in Sudan that encourage indefinite unrest – specifically, the deprived living conditions.
The potential removal of Bashir from office will not eradicate the strong military presence, as seen with the constant integration of military officials in government positions. Instead, to steer the country away from its violent militaristic past, at least in the short-term, the rights and safety of those protesting should be protected and prioritized. This would limit the narrative of responding to issues in the nation with violence. In response to the long-term root causes in the region, transparency must also be spearheaded to foster the equal distribution of wealth among ethnic groups. Achieving both short-term peace and long-term sustainability would pave way for peaceful dialogue between all parties and would reduce military overextension in political and social circles.
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