Why the Sudanese leader is a hero not a villain for nurturing the progressive forces that removed him
THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | Finally prolonged popular protests have brought down the 30 years long rule of Sudanese president, Gen. Omar Al Bashir. This was inspiring news for the Ugandan opposition who wish President Yoweri Museveni, who has ruled Uganda for 33 years now, suffers a similar fate. Sadly, these wishes are unlikely to yield anything because actions, not wishes, are what really bring down governments. Most likely Sudan may provide Museveni an opportunity to look for ways to manage future uprisings better.
Be that as it may, for those of us interested in a meaningful transition in Khartoum, there are some worrying signs. The Sudanese military, without whose support the protesters would never have removed Bashir, took over power and promised to rule for two years in order to organise a transition to a civilian administration. The protesters are suspicious, and legitimately so, of the army’s intentions. So they have remained on the streets, insisting the military hand power to a civilian government. But who selects this civilian government and how? This is a critical issue activists on social media seem indifferent to.
It is rare in human affairs to have a perfect solution. Hence, in making decision we always have to make a trade off. In this case, the choice facing Sudan is not simply to transfer power to a civilian administration but how to achieve such a goal in a reasonable way. It is, therefore, absolutely necessary to risk military rule for two years than plunge the country into the unknown. The protesters on the streets are united by one thing – to see Bashir and the military leave power. Beyond that, there is little ideological or policy harmony among them, leave alone an organisation, for anyone to imagine they can be given power and it does not lead to internal quarrels and recriminations over the spoils.
Secondly, there is no evidence that the protesters represent the will of the Sudanese people as opposed to the wishes and ambitions of a few elites in Khartoum. It is possible there are many people who still identify with Bashir in Sudan, and they may constitute a majority in that country. The fact that urban protests brought down his government does not mean he lacked popular support; it could be that the protesters held the political center of gravity. Therefore, Sudan needs a transition organised by the army that ensures different competing groups organise to demonstrate their political muscle. The fear of the military later changing its mind and seeking to cling to power should not blind us to this reality.
There is a common but mistaken view that the fall of tyranny automatically leads to the triumph of democracy. Unfortunately this view is born of naïve hope rather than historical experience. All too often, the fall of a dictator has led to renewed tyranny (as in Egypt in 2014, DRC in 1997) or to chaos – as was the case of Uganda in 1979, Somalia in 1990, Liberia in 1990 and recently in Libya after the fall of Muammar Gadaffi. Rarely, as in Tunisia and Burkina Faso, have street protests produced a smooth transition of power.