The growing mass movement of citizens forcing long-term rulers out of office in Africa berthed in Sudan in the first week of April and by April 11 they got President Omar Hassan al-Bashir out. The exit of al-Bashir followed quickly after the success of the revolt of the street in Algeria. The Algerian citizens’ revolt saw to the end of the 30-year reign of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. The movements in both countries represent a significant awakening that is wholesome for the lessons they teach. The question across Africa is who is next?
The fall of al-Bashir has raised once again the spectre of military rule in Africa. The military took over and announced April 11 a two-year transition programme.
Protests over the continued stay in power of President al-Bashir commenced in December 2018. It owed to worsening economic conditions andthe increased price and unavailability of the world’s number one staple, the humble but powerful bread. Bread was scarce or unavailable. There was no money for bakeries to buy wheat. Prices were high where the product is available.
Resistance to the high price of bread caused the first demonstration in Atbara on December 19, 2018. It grew in intensity. The Sudanese insisted on getting al-Bashir out with the battle cry, “Just fall, that’s all”. The strong message resonated with all citizens.
President al-Bashir rose to power following a military coup in 1989. He ruled Sudan with a strong arm since then. The breakup of Sudan owed in part to the strictures of his style. He then fought a bitter war with South Sudan over many years.
President Omar al-Bashir had a stronger hold on power in Sudan and a perverse incentive to hold on despite the protests than President Bouteflika did in Algeria. Mr al-Bashir runs the risk of prosecution and indictment by the International Criminal Court now that he has lost the immunity the presidency offers. His carefully selected acolytes holding significant positions in the country could not save him despite their vested interests and efforts to ensure he remains in power.
The Sudanese took many risks on the streets to get their president out. There were signs that al-Bashir would not go down smoothly over the weekend of April 5-7, 2019. It manifested with the presence on the streets of Khartoum of the Janjaweed militia. The Janjaweed are notorious for the atrocities they committed in Darfur. The Government has renamed them as the Rapid Support Forces.
The conduct of the Janjaweed is one of the reasons the West treated Mr. al-Bashir and his country as pariahs. Sudan also hosted Osama Bin Laden when he was the most wanted man in the world. President al-Bashir stands alone amongst leaders of nations wanted by the International Criminal Court. The court has indicted him for crimes against humanity and genocide for the atrocities in Darfur. The ICC holds that al-Bashir played “an essential role” in that crisis and the ugly way it played out.
Records show officials killed 60 persons since the commencement of the protests. The number is probably more. The Government’s crackdown included the declaration of a state of emergency in February 2019 and replacement of civilian governors with military officers.
The resolve of the citizenry benefitted from a division in the ranks of the military. The Army provided cover for the demonstrators and prevented other arms of the government from chasing them away. The Army then stepped in on April 11 to end the al-Bashir.
There was also the young Alaa Salah, a 22-year old Engineering student whose image standing on a vehicle in defiance went round the world as a symbol of resistance and defiance.
In Algeria, the significant risk is instability from a hiatus in leadership. Protesters want the entire system pulled down rather than have Bouteflika’s men take over. Bouteflika wanted a fifth term after 20 years in power.
Significant lessons abound in the movements in Algeria and Sudan. Which country is next in Africa is blowing in the wind. The only certainty is that it would happen elsewhere on the continent.
Rulers must pay attention to the stomachs of their citizens — the economic conditions of man condition all his other conditions. While citizens of most African states live seemingly joyfully with obtuse leadership and low standards of performance, they react to existential threats such as deprivation of livelihood.
Citizens must work against tenure elongation for any leader, no matter how popular or well-intentioned his motivation. Every official must respect the integrity of term limits. It is usually one step to impunity when they dislodge the boundaries of the constitution. Citizens should also be vigilant.
It will be salutary for all Africa if the movements in Sudan and Algeria lead to improvements in both countries.