They are two nations thousands of kilometers apart and regime change is happening nearly 30 years apart, but the activities in Sudan are similar to those that happened in Somalia in 1991 than many would want to admit
The fall of the regime of Omar al-Bashir begun in December 2018 and it is understandable that anyone, including political scientists, probably didn’t see it coming. Having been in office for about 30 years, the man had mastered the art of wielding power, manipulating the public with anti-Western rhetoric and using
the military to quash any form of dissent in the country. No one would have imagined that a man with this kind of control and power over the nation would be brought down by the prices and availability of bread, fuel and the youth. Conscious of the worsening economic situation, and the constantly shrinking freedoms, the youth were just too tired to be afraid.
Protests over bread that started in the East soon moved to Khartoum, bringing with it thousands of young, hungry, angry and politically charged Sudanese youth. They engaged the police in running battles, occupied the square in front of the military HQ and told army generals that they (the protestors) wouldn’t leave until they (the military) had kicked Omar al-Bashir out of office. This was April. Five days after they made this demand, the military announced that it had overthrown Omar al-Bashir.
The strongmen who wouldn’t quit
It is clear that Omar al – Bashir had stayed far too long as the president of Sudan. But he is not the first African leader to overstay his/ her welcome at the Big House. Siad Barre was president for about 22 years. This appears to be the first similarity between the current situation in Sudan and the events that happened in Somalia back in 1991.
Siad Barre, just like Omar al-Bashir, was overthrown for being a dictator and a high handed leader who didn’t know when to quit. Bashir, who has been characterized in the press, for years, as a ruthless, scheming and brutal leader was at the helm of Sudan from 1989.
Both the two men got into the Presidency through a coup in their various countries. Once they were in office, their trajectory, though years apart, bear similar features. They started off as reformers who moved in haste to build and develop their nations. However, after a certain amount of time in office, their dictatorial tendencies came out.
The two men began using either the military (Sudan) or the National Police Service (Somalia) to intimidate, bully, torture and at times kill their opponents or critics. They surrounded themselves with people from their ethnic/ tribal groups or clan and kept the rest at arm’s length. At the same time, they let the economy of their specific countries go the dogs. The love that they enjoyed turned into public derision, public fear, and hate and finally led to their downfall.
After the ouster of Siad Barre in 1991, what followed was chaos and anarchy as different political factions and different clans jostled for their chance to clinch power. Clan-based war-lords fought each other as they struggled for control of Mogadishu and power over various parts of the country. During this period, thousands of Somali nationals lost their lives as a result of the clashes that occurred between the different groups.
These different groups controlled little pockets of the country, but with no one (or no group) in particular controlling the country as a whole. The same thing appears to happen in Sudan. After Omar al-Bashir was overthrown in April, military generals took over and the public, mostly the young protestors, insisted that the military should hand over power civilian leaders. This was the first bone of contention.
The Transitional Military Council (TMC), led by Lt-Gen Abdel Fatah Abdelrahman Burhan said it needed to be in office for some time in order to stabilize the situation before handing over to civilian leaders through an election. When it felt that it couldn’t reason with the protestors, the council, which has been running things since April 11th, ordered soldiers to shoot protestors in a bid to disperse them.
The violent attack on the protestors that happened on June 3rd led to the death of over 100 people. The Transitional Military Council is not just dealing with protestors-under the banner of Alliance for Freedom and Change and Su- danese Professional Association (APA); there are factions of the army that not in support of the TMC. They too are on the streets looking for their piece of the pie. There are other paramilitary groups/organizations and various militias that have joined the fray too.
The delayed humanitarian response
After the fall of Siad Barre, a humanitarian crisis gripped Somalia in a way would have occasioned immediate response from the international community and from regional neighbors. But this did not happen. Instead, chaos raged on and by the time that the UN and the international community responded by sending the UN Mission
peacekeepers and aid, it was almost too late and the peacekeepers bit off more than they could chew by attempting to restore order and civil governance in Somalia.
Four years into the crisis in Somalia back in 1991, 31 US soldiers had died, the US withdrew its remaining soldiers from Somalia and the rest of the foreign peacekeepers soon left the country all-together, abandoning Somalia to its own devices.
In the case of Sudan, the response has been inspiring but without any practical solutions. The world has shown that they know and care for/ care about what is going on in Sudan.
There has been talk about how unfortunate the events in Sudan are or how abhorrent they are (This one came from the US National Security Advisor, John Bolton). Africans have changed their profile pictures in social media platforms to indicate their support for and solidarity with Sudanese protestors. But, these feel-good statements and actions have not brought any real change in the deteriorating state of affairs.
In fact, it appears as though most nations or most organizations would rather stay away than get involved. Saudi Arabia called for a sit-down and dialogue between the protestors and its leaders and TMC. Curiously though, Saudi Arabia didn’t condemn the attack by the military on the protestors. UAE and Egypt are ‘silent’ on the events in Sudan.
The African Union decided to suspend Sudan from the organization as a way of exerting pressure on it till a civilian government or a civilian transition authority is put in place, but won’t help much either. The UN, on the other hand, responded to the crisis by announcing that it was removing all the non-essential staff from Sudan while China and Russia still want to operate with Sudan as if it is business as usual – they blocked moves to impose sanctions on Sudan and its current military regime. It might not be a straight up delayed response, but the reaction of the international community is far from helpful or even proactive.
Just like Somalia, Sudan is at the moment in a state of uncertainty and anxiety. No one knows the direction that the country will take. This transition might be brief and short for Sudan or it might be long and delayed like the case of Somalia. It took over 20 years for Somalia to get back to its foot. And going by the slow and often painful
change of leadership (as witnessed in Libya, South Sudan, Egypt, and a few other African countries) the future as it is, for Sudan is not just unclear, but it might turn out to be messy too.
Somalia seems to have gone through the tunnel of anarchy and lawlessness way before their Arab counterparts. While Somalia is putting its pieces together the Arab world is experiencing political and sometimes economic crisis that has so far cost a number of countries their peace and prosperity.