Sudan: Felled Strongman Awaits His Fate

Almost a decade after the Arab Spring dictators are still not secure.

Omar al-Bashir sits in a maximum-security prison in Khartoum, the capital of the country he ruled for three decades. An economic meltdown, compounded by international sanctions, culminated in mass protests forcing Africa’s fifth-longest-serving autocrat to exit.

Decades of economic mismanagement and corruption precipitated the economic crisis in 2018, but the beginning of the end was in 2011, when South Sudan seceded and oil revenues dried up. US-imposed sanctions on Sudan begin in 1993 and were not lifted until October 2017, exacerbating the decline.

To survive, al-Bashir “needed to stop all conflicts his regime engaged in and cut the spending on security and the military,” says Hafiz Mohamed, a member of the human rights group Justice Africa Sudan. “The government spent less than 10% of its budget on health and education. The economic problems manifested the political problem Sudan faced.”

Now, al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity and genocide. Since his fall, neighboring Uganda has offered to provide asylum, and al-Bashir hopes to avoid prosecution. There is a question about his assets; a cable released by WikiLeaks in 2009 speculated that al-Bashir stashed $9 million in foreign bank accounts.

While his fate is being decided, Sudan attempts to turn the page, politically and economically. A Transitional Military Council (TMC) led by Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan, formerly the country’s third-highest-ranking military official but widely considered to be less dependent on the military cabal that backed al-Bashir, is now set to rule the country until a return to civilian government in two years.

Opposition leaders are skeptical that the transition will be carried out, however, and suspended talks with the TMC last month while calling for further demonstrations. The Alliance for Freedom and Change, the opposition bloc that led the protests that brought down al-Bashir, was formed by professionals in Sudan’s frustrated middle class.

“Inflation is skyrocketing and national currency is declining,” says Hassan Elhag Ali Ahmed, professor of political science at the University of Khartoum. “We have an acute economic crisis. People are facing serious hardship trying to meet their daily needs.”