Bashir’s Autocratic Regime is Fighting for its Survival – By Hamid E. Ali and Ahmed Hussain Adam
Omar al Bashir’s autocracy is unwinding faster than any observer can predict. The recent diplomatic fiasco over the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrants in South Africa clearly demonstrate his government’s lack of vision.
Simple legal counselling could have averted the humiliation, not only for Bashir but for the nation he claims to represent. This is a leadership submerged in its own crisis in a room full of smoke, and he cannot envision an exit door.
Just as clinically dead bodies cannot be resuscitated, neither can an ageing autocracy. This autocracy, the symbol of the national crisis, not only overshadows the complexity of the critical issues of Sudan, but also demonstrates the infeasibility of maintaining the status quo.
After 26 years of ruling with iron fist and sledgehammer, once again Bashir has decided to sail in a zigzag against the wind of change. The government’s condition is critical.
Recently, Sudan witnessed three major developments that have further deepened its complex crisis. First, President Bashir made a significant reshuffle in the leadership of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF). Second, Bashir has been inaugurated as president for another five years, despite the arrest warrants from the ICC, which are now his main concern. Third, Bashir has announced a new government that mostly consists of notorious security and militia elements.
These three major developments will only ratify the status quo. Bashir’s survival strategy is a necessary response to the perpetuation of the conflict and its associated human suffering, but it also sets the stage for the further disintegration of Sudan.
There has been a consensus that the presidential and parliamentary elections held on 13–16 April 2015 in Sudan were rigged. The majority of the Sudanese people, including civil and armed opposition groups, boycotted them.
The elections were marred by low turnout and serious human rights abuses. Many believe that the turnout was less than 16 percent rather than 46.4 as alleged by the government. The EU and other governments issued statements denouncing the results, insisting that they did not reflect the free and democratic will of the Sudanese people.
There is no doubt that the structure of the new government has shifted Bashir’s alliances and nearly destroyed the centers of power within the regime. Bashir has concentrated all the power in his hands.
He has surrounded himself with lightweight, third-tier political cadres affiliated with the National Intelligence Service (NISS), who have almost no political capital or even vision to set a roadmap for a national discourse. He sidelined the old guard.
Ali Osman Taha, the former vice president, lobbied to secure the position of the speaker of parliament. Sources in Khartoum confirmed that Bashir vetoed him. Reports also confirmed that supporters of Taha, Salah Gosh (the former NISS chief) and Nafie Ali Nafie (the former senior presidential assistant) were dismissed from the NISS.
Many sources predict that the structure of Bashir’s new government may trigger a factional power struggle within the regime. It is also clear that the members of the regime affiliated with the Shaigiya (one of three northern Riverain tribes that have dominated power since Sudan’s independence in 1956) have lost their positions and the strong influence that they used to enjoy.
Despite all the rhetoric, the composition of the government reveals both its intent and the policy alternatives at its disposal. So far, the members of Bashir’s new government are either army generals or NISS officers, or maintain strong connections with the NISS, the SAF, and the Janjaweed.
Bashir has even undermined the artificial federal system of governance by amending the 2005 constitution to give him the power to appoint and dismiss state governors (walis). He is keen to send a clear message to the outside world that he is in full control and that he is the only one for the international community to talk to.
Bashir has kept his confidants and loyalists in the new government. General Bakri Hassan Saleh has retained his position as first vice president. However, Bashir was pressured to remove his old friend and fellow fugitive from the ICC, Gen. Abdel Rahim Mohammad Hussein, from the Ministry of Defense to the position of governor of Khartoum state.
The majority of the army’s officers and many members of Bashir’s party regard Gen. Hussein as corrupt and incompetent. Ahmed Haroun, another fugitive from the ICC, was reappointed as governor of North Kordofan state. In fact, he is the only governor who kept his post as a governor in his state.
Reflecting on Bashir’s government, it should be clear that he leans overwhelmingly toward the Arab groups. He continues to marginalize the members of his own party who come from African origin tribes.
For instance, in Darfur, he rewarded the clans of the Rizeigat (Arab-origin) ethnic group of South and East Darfur. Reliable sources confirm that Hasabu Mohamed Abdel-Rahman, who retained his position in the new government as a vice president, and Mohamed Hamdan Daglo (known as Hemeti), the commander of the Janjaweed that was reconstituted as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), succeeded in securing some key positions for their relatives and supporters in the government at different levels.
Hasabu and Hemeti both belong to the Mahariya, one of the main clans of the Rizeigat tribe. The government includes six members from the Rizeigat, and Hasabu is widely perceived as a representative of the Janjaweed in Sudan’s presidency.
The newly appointed governor of West Kordofan, Abulgasim al-Ameen Baraka, is from the Rizeigat. Baraka is one of the Janjaweed leaders of West Darfur; he played an instrumental role in mobilizing the Janjaweed militias against the Masalit ethnic group in West Darfur state.
Adil Hamid Dalgo (Hemeti’s cousin) has preserved his position as a state minister of tourism and environment. Adam Jamma (Rizeigat) was appointed a governor of Kassala state in East Sudan. Governor Jamma was also part of the Janjaweed mobilization campaign during the early years of the Darfur conflict.
Abulhameed Musa Kasha (Rizeigat), a Janjaweed mobilizer and former governor of East and South Darfur, has been appointed governor of the White Nile state. El Sadig Mohamed Ali (Rizeigat) has been appointed state minister at the ministry of trade and investment.
In Darfur, it is clear that Bashir has chosen brigadier Hemeti, the notorious commander of the RSF, over Musa Hilal, the former Janjaweed leader from the Rizeigat of North Darfur (Mahameed clan). Similarly, Abdul Wahid Yousif Ibrahim (from the Arab Hamar ethnic group in West Kordofan), a Bashir loyalist and a NISS officer, has replaced Osman Mohamed Yousif Kibir as a governor of North Darfur.
Many believe that this move may have been made in order to satisfy Musa Hilal, who repeatedly demanded the removal of Kibir as governor of North Darfur state. However, money can always buy Hilal’s loyalty.
The five governors of the Darfur states are either NISS officers or associated with the NISS and the Janjaweed. Hemeti and his Janjaweed militia (the RSF) have been given the upper hand in the new government and crowned as Bashir’s personal army.
Even the recent reshuffle in the SAF’s leadership serves the RSF/Janjaweed. The previous SAF leadership refused to incorporate the RSF into the army, insisting that the RSF lacks professionalism and training. Hence, SAF’s new leadership cannot afford to challenge the rising RSP/Janjaweed.
Bashir’s new government is designed to continue the wars for Bashir’s survival. The government has neither the will nor a strategy for peace. The situation in Darfur may lead to a new phase of rebellion by the youth and further threaten Sudan’s unity.
Therefore, a new framework for peace across Sudan is needed. The United Nations Security Council should be an advocate for lasting peace, stability and genuine political transition in Sudan, rather than supporting the piecemeal approach that serves the Government of Sudan’s objectives and prolongs the suffering of growing numbers of civilians all over the country.
Similarly, the African Union should depart from its long-standing policy of shielding Bashir from justice. It should work in good faith with other well-intentioned members of the international community to realize a lasting peace and a new inclusive and peaceful political transition in Sudan. The United States and other international key players should reach out to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other Gulf countries to pressure Bashir to allow a peaceful and meaningful democratic transition in Sudan.
The road to Sudanese unity and democratic transformation is no place for a one-man show. The civil and armed opposition should move beyond the stage of declarations to forge an inclusive democratic alliance that can serve as a credible alternative to Bashir’s regime.
Hamid E. Ali is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Public Policy and Administration at the American University in Cairo. Ahmed Hussain Adam is a Visiting Fellow at Cornell University’s Institute for African Development (IAD), also Research Fellow at the Department of Public Policy and Administration at the American University in Cairo.