As the year closes and a new one begins, it is clear that Sudan is in the worst economic and political crisis it has ever experienced during its independence. Even if there is a sudden dramatic completely unexpected improvement in its economic fortunes going forward, my prediction that 2018 would be a make or break year for the country has sadly ended in a miserable state of affairs that has seen dozens of protestors killed, hundreds injured and hundreds more incarcerated as the country has almost been brought to a standstill.
The resilient, super patience Sudanese public, so often praised by its own government, appears no longer willing to stand by while every facet of day-to-day Sudanese life is ripped apart by the harsh economic conditions. Horrendous queues for basic services like bread, fuel and cash, sometimes stretching back for miles, has turned the Sudanese public against its government in search of a viable alternative.
It is too early to say whether they will achieve the objectives to pull down the 29-year old incumbent government of President Omar Al-Bashir. However, even if the claims are true that outside foreign elements – like Israel or the Abdul Wahid Sudan Liberation Movement faction from Darfur – are trying to sabotage the public order and spread chaos; even if the West’s embargo has caused the economic problems, the government’s “excuses” of blaming everyone for its woes but itself have fallen on disbelieving deaf and angry ears.
The emergence of the professional unions in support of general strikes and stoppages has further increased the pressure on the president to step down. Ironically, the hope of many of the protestors I have spoken to is to internationalise the issue to lead foreign “elements” from the international community to intervene. Many are promising to keep the protests going right into the New Year, defiantly, until “the tear gas and the live ammunition” runs out and the security forces eventually unite in solidarity with the people against the interest of the government it is being asked to protect.
Talk of the president running for another term in 2020 and of the government’s determination not to delay the forthcoming elections has brought into question whether President Al-Bashir can remain in power that long. The decision to change article 57 of the Constitution and allow unlimited presidential terms has infuriated many and alienated even more. Al-Bashir’s arrest warrant issued for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in Darfur is now viewed as the principle reason the president wants to hold on to power to avoid prosecution. Talk of him being the most “appropriate man” to take the country forward may have support in some small political circles, but it appears that the desire among the Sudanese public for his 30 years to be extended is all but non-existent.
However, it would be a mistake to think that the entire Sudanese public are against Al-Bashir’s government. To its credit, the government in the main has allowed protestors to exercise the democratic right of protest has not declared a State of Emergency across the entire country. However, those familiar with its inner workings who have been in loyal service to its people, party, and president hope – against all hope – that the situation will get better. They quietly admit the government has run out of ideas and have become idle spectators to the “wheels of misfortune” spinning out of control while one economic landmark of despair is followed by another.
For some, there is anger about foreign conspirators working against Sudan and no doubt some of that is true, but most are honest enough to admit that the dream of the National Salvation Government that swept to power under a wave of optimism and euphoria in 1989 – with the hope of a strong Islamic orientated resilient Sudan – has all but died. Staunch faithful lieutenants of the government no longer speak with confidence but rather they speak strictly – in confidence – of an end that is nigh.
It has been undoubtedly a bad year for Sudan and a disastrous one for the Sudanese. We can expect the streets to continue to be filled with protesting crowds, while shouts of “the people want the fall of the regime”, resonate. Sudan is moving into uncharted territory. Not since 1964’s popular uprising, known as the “October Revolution” have the people rather than the army led the call for change.
The present government is trying to escape the bad omens that ended in the removal of the Abbud regime. On 25 October 1964, the National Front of Professionals – including university staff, teachers, judges, lawyers, engineers, and doctors – and the National Front of Political Parties – including the Ummah Party, the National Umma Party (NUP), the Communist Party, and the Muslim Brotherhood – joined the leadership of the campaign, forming one organisation: United Front.
Within days the United Front had brought about a transitional government and Abbud, the beleaguered president, eventually resigned under pressure. Those years ago, the government of that day and the present government tried to mitigate the frustration of the protesters and promised wide reaching reforms. However, as in 1964, it is becoming increasingly difficult to see how the will of the people, as it stands at the end of 2018, can be forever denied.