24 December, 2018
The demonstrations that erupted last week in a number of cities across the country against rising cost of living has been characterized by one main feature: lack of leadership.
It was mere coincidence that the start of these demonstrations took place the very day the veteran opposition figure Sadig El-Mahdi returned to Sudan following almost a year of absence. Instead of riding high on the wave of demonstrations, El-Mahdi opted to covey a reconciliatory message that even some of his followers found hard to swallow and resigned from the party membership. El-Mahdi is not only the chairman of the Umma Party, but he heads Sudan Call, an umbrella for various opposition groups. But it became very much clear that demonstrations were to a large extent spontaneous with hardly any serious organized opposition participation. It worth noting that unlike the demonstrations of last January, this time no arrests of political figures in opposition camp were made.
That lack of leadership extends even to the government side, where demonstrators set fire on buildings belonging to the ruling party, the National Congress Party (NCP). More than the anger against NCP and its policies that led to such violent expression, the big question remains where is NCP as a political body that is supposed to shoulder the responsibility of explaining and defending the government policies at grass roots levels and not leaving that role to the sole activity of Prime Minister Moutaz Mousa.
More perplexing is the fact that the outbreak of these demonstrations took place in areas known to be in the heart of what was once called Hamdi’s Triangle. The part of northern Sudan from which many of the regime’s leaders descended and is seen as the main focus and beneficiary of Ingaz spending in terms of development projects and services with its hall mark the Merowe Dam and associate services.
This is yet another indication that the elites who ruled the country for more than six decades since it became an independent state has reached a dead-end. For many the failure of the government in shouldering its responsibilities to provide decent life to its citizens is only matched by the inability of the opposition to provide a convincing alternative able to rally people around its flag.
Sudan is not alone or unique in this phenomenon. The Yellow Vests movement in France that spread to nearby countries, the Arab Spring movements that rocked Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Tunisia and Yemen is only one face that has other faces like the populist movements that brought Trump to power and making significant inroads in Italy, Austria and a number of eastern European countries. The former British diplomat Carne Ross and author of the new book Leaderless Revolution pointed to the basic feature of these movements that they know what they do not want, but are not clear on what they want or how to achieve it.
The problems facing the people in these countries are well defined. From corruption, to deteriorating economic conditions to insensitive ruling class, people feel that there is no way out and even the multi-party democracy and the bill of rights are not enough to secure practical solutions.
Add to this the growing globalization, where markets, skies and even the way of life that has been guarded by sovereignty became subjected to constant erosion by excessive attacks from globalization. While in developed countries people feel more threatened by the influx of other and different people, which leads to rising trends of protectionism and populism to guard their interest and safety; in developing countries the toxic mix of mal-government coupled with deteriorating social, economic and educational conditions lead to typical environment of failed states unable to provide the basic services for its citizens.
A quick look at today’s theatre can easily identify a sharp lack of leadership or institutions able to face up to mounting problems facing the world. Clearly the world is still being run by institutions set up after World War 2, but with the outbreak of the communication revolution these institutions and accompanying ideas and programs that have been dominating the scene for several decades have outlived their usefulness, but at the same time a replacement did not force its way through.
And that is why there is this leaderless syndrome spreading all over.