Sudan is witnessing a wave of protests never seen before in the reign of the current ruling regime. The protests were sparked by a standoff made by the occupants of the female dormitories at the University of Khartoum on the 16th of June, demanding more funding towards educational facilities. The dorms were raided by police and security personnel late at night. The raid sparked a series of protests by University of Khartoum students the following week, which were met with a heavy police clampdown.
The protests have since moved out of the university campus and into other areas in Khartoum. Last week saw residents of several areas in Khartoum, and other major cities, take up the demand for the fall of the regime.
As expected, the media coverage of the Sudanese protests has been poor, and will continue to be as the government is taking all the necessary measures to stifle any attempt of a revolution. Late last week, Bloomberg correspondent and Egyptian national Salma El Wardany, was deported for covering the protests. On “Lick your Elbow” Friday, AFP’s Sudan office was raided by security personnel and one of their photographers was detained for taking photos during the protests that day in Wad Nubawi, Omdurman.
Image: Rob Pinney at robpinney.com.
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The measly amount of coverage that was eventually received saw a direct comparison between the protests in Sudan and the Arab Spring. Some news agencies have even claimed that “the Arab Spring has arrived in Sudan.” These comparisons are not only wide of the mark, but highlight the consistent lack of coverage of Sudanese issues, with or without protests.
The protests in Sudan have been sparked by the austerity measures taken by the government to make up for a $2.5 billion budget deficit. The measures include the removal of fuel subsidies – which has a direct impact on food prices – and cutting down on government expenditure. The Sudanese economy has seen inflation reach the 30% mark with economists predicting an increase still.
The protesters took to the streets chanting against high commodity prices, and eventually calling for the fall of the regime. The development of events in Sudan is proof that the only way forward for Sudan is regime change. The protesters understand that whatever measures the government has taken to fix the ailing economy are a little too late. The government’s budget allocation seems to favour the survival of the regime more than anything else.
In 2011, the government spent 80% of its budget on defence and security, with a meagre 1.5% and 2% going towards health and education respectively. This has been the case for several years. It is evident from such figures that the government’s priorities are towards maintaining its grip on power while fending off rebel groups in South Kurdofan, Blue Nile State and Darfur.
Some sceptics have claimed that it is necessary for the current regime to be in power because of the security situation on the ground. They claim that if the regime falls there would be no guarantee that the rebels from the aforementioned areas wouldn’t march into Khartoum and claim the throne. Another security issue is the proliferation of arms around the country. However rather than guaranteeing security, the current regime has long been the cause of the country’s insecurity.
The three wars that the government is currently engaged in are all symptoms of government mismanagement. The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) founded by the late Khalil Ibrahim took up arms against the government due to a lack of allocation of funds towards the state of Darfur. Ibrahim was a member of Hassan al-Turabi’s NIF that brought the current military regime to power, but later announced his resignation and established the JEM after blatant marginalization of Darfur and its residents. Despite the signing of the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD) between the government and a unified Darfurian opposition – of which the JEM did not approve – the JEM, now headed by Ibrahim’s brother, is still continuing in its fight for representation in the central government. After the signing of DDPD, Omar al-Bashir appointed Haj Adam Yousif – an Islamist from an Arab tribe in Darfur – as his second vice president. The appointment was meant to appease the rebel groups in Darfur. However, this appointment did not represent the marginalized African tribes in Darfur, mainly the Fur, represented by Abdul Wahid Nur’s Sudanese Liberation Movement (SLM), and the Zagahawa, represented by Ibrahim’s JEM.
In South Kurdofan, again, a rebel group is fighting for the same representation in the central government. During the North-South civil war, the inhabitants of the Nuba Mountains, lead by Abdul Aziz Al-Hilu, saw an opportunity to address their plight and joined the ranks of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). After seeing what Al-Hilu claimed as rigged elections for the governorship of South Kurdofan which brought Ahmed Haroun on as governor, Al-Hilu took up arms - independently this time - against the central government in Khartoum with what was left of his Nuba SPLM soldiers.
In the Blue Nile State, Omar al-Bashir appointed Al-Hadi Bushra for the governorship of the state after sacking elected governor Malik Agar, chairman of the SPLM-North, following clashes between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and SPLM-North. Al-Hadi Bushra served as Director of Military Intelligence in Sadig al-Mahdi’s government until 1989, at which point he fled the country after the military coup orchestrated by Hassan al-Turabi and led by Omar al-Bashir. Bushra eventually made peace with al-Bashir’s government, the NCP, and came back in 1996 and since then served as Minister of Roads and Bridges and governor of some states.
All the above scenarios illustrate the government’s unremitting effort to bring all Sudanese states under the rule of the National Congress Party (NCP). The government’s allocation of funds towards defence and security is a direct consequence of the wars it’s engaged in against its own people. It’s a never ending cycle. The longer the wars continue, the more money would be spent on defence, and less on civilian needs. The same civilian needs that brought rebels to arms, and the protesters to the streets.
The proliferation of arms around the country finds its roots in the Darfur conflict. The government armed Arab tribes to use as proxy armies against the rebels of the JEM and SLM. These arming processes were not monitored, and there are currently many armed individuals in Darfur and other regions in Sudan. However, since the government had made the choice of arming civilians so haphazardly to fight its wars, there is no guarantee that this same government will be able to introduce a workable disarmament process.
The security situation in Sudan has been caused by rapacious and belligerent policies by a regime that is losing its grip on power. The desperation of the regime is evident in the violence it has used in suppressing the recent wave of protests sweeping the country.
The current wars in Sudan are not directly linked to the protests around the country, but they do share a common factor: government mismanagement. The rampant corruption that has been plaguing Sudan under the auspice of the government has seen an overwhelming number of cases of political appointments and unlawful wealth accumulation. This caused a divide between the ruling elite and the civilian population. Income inequality in Sudan is at an all time high, the health system is chaotic, the educational system has been destroyed, the infrastructure is inexistent, the judiciary is run by the regime, and there’s a lack of cohesive state institutions.
The rebel SPLM-North, led by Malik Agar, has recently shown its support for the ongoing protests in Sudan and has vowed to declare a ceasefire should al-Bashir’s government fall. Agar went on to say that a ceasefire would be necessary to create an environment favourable to a peaceful transition of power. This is indicative of the common grievances between civilians and armed rebel groups
When the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed between John Garang’s SPLM/A and Omar al-Bashir’s government in 2005, there were many indications that the South was eventually going to secede. However, not only did the government not make a united Sudan enticing, but it failed to make the necessary contingency plans for possible secession. The oil years in Sudan saw the demise of the agricultural sector, which employs most of Sudan’s labour force. Now that 75% of the oil income has been lost to the South, the government has made frantic attempts at gold excavation to make up for the loss of oil income.
Now, 7 years later and one year after the secession of South Sudan, the regime in Khartoum is trying desperately to fix an economy it had consciously mishandled. The protests taking place in Khartoum and other cities around Sudan are a corollary of this wealth mismanagement and corruption. It is obvious now, and has been for a while, that this current regime doesn’t have the necessary expertise or knowledge to run a country.
As the protesters have been chanting for two weeks now, regime change is the only way forward for Sudan. The current regime has been in power for 23 years with nothing to show for it. Al-Bashir and his ilk should recognize their ineptitude and hand over power to those who are capable and have no personal agendas.