DOWN FALLS THE SUDANESE TYRANT


Omar al-Bashir
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    Written by: Meshack Masibo

    “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants” – Thomas Jefferson

    The saying goes that the bigger they are the harder they fall. Several months ago when Sudanese protesters hit the street of Khartoum with fierce and unrelenting demonstrations it would have been easy to dismiss them. Perhaps deposed Sudanese leader, Omar El Bashir might have just done that. Wrinkled under the tyranny of the ruler who came to power through a military coup in 1989, the people of Sudan had decided and no one was going to stop them.

    How did it begin?

    Sudan has been engulfed in a state of massive anti-government protests which have now spread to several other cities. The protest which metamorphosed from complaining about the rise in the price of bread to demanding the resignation of president Omar al-Bashir could be likened to demonstrations that were exhibited during the Arab Spring.

    Demonstrations against the government began on 19 December in the city of Atbara. The initial rallying call was the rise of bread and fuel prices, and in less than a week, the protests had flared up intensely, spreading to other cities across the country, including the capital, Khartoum. The scope of the protests has continued to widen and the goal was crystal-clear: the overthrow of long-time president Omar al-Bashir.

    Mr Bashir initially responded to protests with heavy-handedness and brute force, and there have been reports that live ammunition was used on civilians.  Although the rise in the cost of bread, from one Sudanese pound to three (about $0.02 to $0.06) was the apparent cause of the demonstrations, there have been simmering issues going on for long, and this rise of price was just the spark.

    The Sudanese have been angry at their government for long, as prices continued to skyrocket and economic hardships took centre-stage. The anger being described as a “ticking time bomb”. Soaring inflation and limits on bank withdrawals were forcing the Sudanese people to the edge.

    Furthermore, the independence of South Sudan, which seceded from Sudan in 2011, dealt the country a huge blow. Sudan had mostly relied on the oil fields that became part of South Sudan upon the independence of the latter.  In essence, Sudan lost about three-quarters of its oil reserves. And even though the United States lifted trade sanctions that had been in place for 20 years, nothing really changed because of the impacts of losing oil.

    Basically, an economic protest now transcended the political barriers. The protesters seem to have achieved their goal today when the Army announced the official ouster and house arrest of Mr Bashir. After nearly 30 years in power, Speaking on state TV, in a long awaited announcement, General Awad Ibn Auf said the armed forces have taken over for a two-year transitional period that will be followed by elections.

    Mr Auf, a former vice president, has also announced he will head the High Council of Armed Forces, according to Channel 4 journalist Yousra Elbagir. A three-month state of emergency has also been put in place with curfew set at 10pm. Bashir, who ruled with an iron fist since he took power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989, has been removed after deadly force failed to end four months of nationwide protests for his ouster.

    The veteran leader, who swept to power in a 1989 coup, was one of Africa’s longest serving presidents. He is wanted on charges of genocide and war crimes by the International Criminal Court. Since early morning huge crowds of jubilant Sudanese had begun thronging squares across the centre of Khartoum on Thursday as the army promised an “important announcement”.

    Chanting “the regime has fallen,” thousands poured into the open ground outside army headquarters where defiant protesters have braved tear gas to keep up an unprecedented sit-in for six days. The security agency also announced it was freeing all political prisoners.

    What next for Mr Bashir?

    What is likely to follow is that the former leader, who is indicted by ICC for crimes against humanity will join the ranks of Charles G. Taylor, the former president of Liberia and Laurent Gbagbo, former president of Sierra Leone to face the International Criminal Court. Taylor, a once-powerful warlord, was sentenced to 50 years in prison for his role in atrocities committed in Sierra Leone during its civil war in the 1990s.

    In what was viewed as a watershed case for modern human rights law, Mr. Taylor was the first former head of state convicted by an international tribunal since the Nuremberg trials in Germany after World War II. Mr. Taylor was found guilty of “aiding and abetting, as well as planning, some of the most heinous and brutal crimes recorded in human history,”  On the other hand, Laurent Gbagbo, the former president of Ivory Coast also appeared at the ICC in 2011 on account of war crimes.

    What type of legacy does he leave behind?

    When he seized power, Sudan was in the midst of a 21-year civil war between north and south. Although his government signed a deal to end that conflict in 2005, another one was breaking out at the same time – in the western region of Darfur, where President Bashir is accused of organising war crimes and crimes against humanity.

    He won consecutive elections in 2010 and 2015. However, his last victory was marred by a boycott from the main opposition parties. The arrest warrant has led to an international travel ban. However, Mr. Bashir has made diplomatic visits to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and South Africa. He was forced into a hasty departure from South Africa in June 2015 after a court considered whether to enforce the arrest warrant.

    Before taking the helm, he was a commander in the army, responsible for leading operations in the south against the late rebel leader John Garang. When he signed the peace deal with Garang and his Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, he took pains to stress the deal had not been a defeat. His goal was always to keep a unified Sudan, but a referendum on secession for South Sudan was agreed as part of the peace deal.

    Today, enduring hot temperatures outside army headquarters, dozens of joyful protesters climbed on top of land cruisers and armoured vehicles that had been posted to protect them from intervention by other branches of the security forces as they celebrated the fall of the tyrant.

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