Omar al-Bashir’s presidency has been one plagued by war, turmoil and zeal. His re- nomination for the next presidential election by the ruling party in Sudan, the National Congress, will likely promise more of the same.
More a military leader than a political one, and having become the president of Sudan as a brigadier during a bitter, 21-year-long civil war, it is unsurprising that al-Bashir and his government has partaken in civil war for every year of his presidency. All of this despite the south of Sudan eventually seceding to become (you guessed it!) South Sudan in 2011. During his rule, successive Sudanese governments led by al-Bashir have faced accusations of human rights violations and war crimes in the region of Darfur, including: the apparent genocide of the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups; the forcible transfer of thousands of civilians; the rape of thousands of women by the Sudanese army and militias they arm; and the use of chemical weapons. These accusations eventually came to a head in the latter stages of the 2000s, when the International Criminal Court indicted him on multiple counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes as the leader of the Sudanese forces. As of today, al-Bashir has still not answered the charges and has continued to avoid visiting countries that have ratified the Rome Statute, which confirms the legitimacy of the ICC in specific countries.
It would be unfair to ignore that these charges have not been universally accepted; both the Arab League and the African Union have rejected the charges and called for their suspension. Either way, the indictment prompted al-Bashir to expel many European and Western aid groups including the UN, as well as adopting a foreign policy that opposes Western intervention. This, by many accounts, has led to a decline in living standards for a large portion of Sudanese society.
In addition, much of the oil from the united Sudan which had accounted for a large portion of the Sudanese economy is now in South Sudan; this has, unsurprisingly, caused a major downturn in investment from states such as Russia and China (although investment from both states is still comparably high compared to the rest of Africa). Al-Bashir’s attempts to strengthen ties with Saudi Arabia and distance himself from former allies Iran and North Korea highlights his desperation to remain a key player in the North African oil business.
Despite such controversies and the subsequent damage to the Sudanese economy,
Al-Bashir has twice run successfully for the presidency, in the elections of 2010 and 2015 (albeit he won in 2015 after a boycott of the election by every other political party). Although it’s constitutionally impossible to run again – no president can hold office for more than two terms - if al-Bashir gets re-elected, it’s unclear how much will actually change in Sudan despite the economic downturn.
Firstly, let’s address the conflict in Darfur. There has been peace treaty after peace treaty during this conflict and the Darfur Peace Agreement of 2006, which was lauded as a success, is now clearly ineffective. Further treaties in 2010 and 2011 have also achieved little, with reports from rebels in Darfur accusing Sudanese forces of continuous attacks on non-Arab villages, leaving over 190,000 people displaced.
Secondly, I must touch upon a theme that has not yet been approached in this article. Al-Bashir is a zealous proponent of Sharia law, and has stated that he wishes to continue the implementation of such a system; such laws were a primary factor in the referendum which caused South Sudanese secession. If this isn’t to change, I doubt many freedoms that Sharia law opposes will be implemented.
However, this continuation is only on the basis that al-Bashir gets re-elected. The flouting of the constitution could have the capacity to unite the opposition in a way that Brexit seemingly hasn’t in the UK. The deterioration of the economy could have the same effect; it’s not like Sudan can reclaim South Sudan back along with her oil. If the opposition - previously divided by a disagreement over giving al-Bashir a “safe exit” from power – can provide an effective alternative, then there may be a new leader of Sudan in 2020.
To conclude, Omar al-Bashir is at the centre of a myriad of controversies. From the rape and pillage of non-Arab villages to his unconstitutional attempt to remain president, we are certainly viewing a flawed military man. However, one should expect more of the same from the leader of more than 30 years if he gets re-elected.