The growing demonstrations in Sudan should not be reduced to a mere denunciation of the government’s recently introduced economic austerity measures. The protests are also an utter and overdue rejection of Omar Al Bashir’s entire regime, which has been hurling the country into episodes of political disasters and widespread suffering for the last 23 years it has reigned over Sudan. As they take to the streets, the protestors are demanding nothing less than the downfall of the regime in Khartoum.
Initially sparked by a handful of brave female students from the University of Khartoum who were protesting the spending cuts and increased living costs in the country, the protest movement has since spread across many towns and cities in Sudan and has been joined by wider demographics of society. Already into their second month, the protests are showing no signs of waning down. At the backdrop of it all is a recent history of bloody conflicts, political havoc and shattered hopes for those Sudanese who aspire to a better future. This history explains why the protests have come with determined calls for ending the Al Bashir regime.
A combination of ill-sighted political decisions and damaging policies by the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) led Sudan to this rather bitterly hopeful moment of its history. The independence of South Sudan last year set the stage for much of the economic turmoil that the country is experiencing now. South Sudan took with it 75% of the country’s oil production and that drastically dwindled state revenues leading to the austerity package imposed by the government last month. Many Sudanese blame the NCP directly for the separation of the South. Instead of making unity an attractive option for Southerners as stipulated by the peace agreement signed between the North and the South in 2005, the NCP alienated Southerners enforcing Sharia law in many parts of the country and creating deep mistrust through its murky management of oil resources. The secession also dealt a huge blow to sincere chants of unity coming from the North.
The regime’s ongoing military campaign against the Nuba people in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states following the independence of South Sudan is detaching even more Sudanese and sending the country into yet another episode of destruction.
Darfur is undoubtedly the darkest spot in the regime’s long list of failures. The conflict in Darfur has reportedly killed nearly 200,000 Sudanese and displaced about 2 million others, according to United Nations estimates. For a government to allow such crimes to happen in the first place is itself a crime of a magnitude that justifies all calls for leadership change. And having failed to fully resolve the conflict years after it broke out, on the other hand, is even a bigger injustice by further perpetuating the suffering of the Darfur people.
The NCP has been unable to deliver the kind of peace yearned for in Darfur by wasting considerable resources on unsustainable peace accords with the Darfuri armed groups and without addressing the root causes of the conflict. Moreover, many Sudanese are not exactly keen on having a president and a regime whose members are indicted by an international body for war crimes. The wreckage Darfur’s humanitarian disaster alone has unleashed on the Sudanese is enough for them to demand the downfall of Omar Al Bashir’s regime.
And what better explains the massive spending on defense and state security other than the wars and the nourishment of a police state with an abusive security apparatus? Sudan reportedly spends over 60% of its budget on defence and security after having managed to maintain a series of internal wars for years. This kind of spending on security meant less money available for health, education and economic development.
The impact of that on daily living conditions of ordinary Sudanese has been painful. The austerity budget put before the parliament last month included cuts in many areas but saw increases in defence and security spending instead. This large security apparatus has also been instrumental in besieging all forms of effective peaceful dissent. Sudan has been widely criticised for its crackdown on human rights and pro-democracy activists as well as journalists both Sudanese and foreign. Egyptian reporter Shaima Adel whose release from detention in Sudan last Monday was secured by direct pleas from the Egyptian president was covering the protests in Khartoum for the independent Egyptian Daily Al Watan newspaper.
As the protestors continue to march in the streets of Sudan, Sudanese cyber activists and bloggers are also waging a virtual war against the regime and using among other outlets the increasingly popular hashtag (#SudanRevolts). They have been posting pictures and footage of the protests and are calling for more extensive international media coverage of the events. They too have had their share of oppression from the regime whose censorship machine has often undermined their progressive pro-democracy messages.
In the light of all this suffering, it should not come as a surprise that the wider Sudanese populace is demanding an end to Omar Al Bashir’s regime and taking to the streets in ever-greater numbers. The austerity measures were perhaps only the last straw for the masses.