Violence is Sudan’s old, new normal

by Claude Salhani

With every attempt to implement even minor social changes, Sudan finds it is falling back on its violent past. They say that if you want to peek into a country’s future, study its past. In the case of Sudan, you would not have to look very far.

Throughout Sudan’s history as an independent country, military regimes favouring Islamic-oriented governments have dominated Sudan’s politics since independence from British and Egyptian co-rule in 1956.

Sudan found itself embroiled in two prolonged civil wars during most of the second half of the 20th century. These conflicts were mainly due to northern economic, political and social domination of largely non-Muslim, non-Arab southern Sudanese.

The first civil war ended in 1972 but another broke out in 1983. Several accords were reached between the various factions but normalisation of relations between the government in Khartoum and the opposition never cemented.

Following South Sudan’s independence, conflict between Sudan’s government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North and has resulted in 1.1 million internally displaced or severely affected people needing humanitarian assistance.

A separate conflict broke out in the western region of Darfur in 2003, displacing nearly 2 million people and causing thousands of deaths.

Since its independence, Sudan has been plagued with strife. From interracial disputes to outright civil war, periodically the government backpedals and rescinds the little progress that may have been achieved. Instead of calling for fair elections, the president calls out the military.

This time is no different. After days of demonstrations against the rising cost of basic necessities, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir donned his military uniform, declared the reinstitution of martial law and decreed that any public demonstrations needed governmental permission.

As in the past, the military and the police were given additional powers allowing them to infringe on the lives of civilians. Naturally, the first thing to happen was a clampdown on the opposition.

Every attempt to take the country a tiny step towards normalisation was met with an authoritarian and heavy-handed response.

Images of al-Bashir, his cabinet and entourage shown dressed in their best military uniforms and broadcasted over Sudan’s nightly news send a clear message to the country and the world, to friends and foes alike. It says: “We are still in charge.”

Indeed, 30 years later, al-Bashir is saying he is still in control. He does this by turning the country over to the military, of which he is very much part.

This time, it is more of the same. There will be demonstrations. There will be riots. There will be some dead. Many more dissidents and opposition members will be thrown in jail.

And there will be empty promises by al-Bashir and his lackeys — promises of democratic changes, promises of giving the people more of a say in the running of the country and so on.

Of course, al-Bashir clearly wants to buy himself time because, as we’ve seen in the past, in Sudan, events just keep repeating themselves. Al-Bashir, who has been in power for 30 years, is not about to give up.

For the past 30 years, the country has been teetering on the edge of disaster. For all intents and purposes, Sudan can safely claim its place among what can be defined as a failed state.

There are three basic internationally accepted criteria that label a country as a failed state: The failure to provide the basic requirements in the fields of security, economics and politics to its citizens and residents.

This is how the Encyclopaedia Britannica defines a failed state: “A state that is unable to perform the two fundamental functions of the sovereign nation-state in the modern world system.”

First: it cannot project authority over its territory and people and it cannot protect its national boundaries. The governing capacity of a failed state is attenuated such that it is unable to fulfill the administrative and organisational tasks required to control people and resources.

Second, it can provide only minimal public services, such as health care and education.

Third, the country’s financial institutions fail to provide a safe business environment.

At this point, its citizens no longer believe the government is legitimate and the state becomes illegitimate in the eyes of the international community, thus, a failed state.

A failed state also can witness civil war, ethnic violence or genocide and predatory government and bureaucratic behaviour. State failure comes in degrees and is often a function of both the collapse of state institutions and societal collapse.

A strong state provides core guarantees to its citizens and others under its jurisdiction in the three interrelated realms of security, economics and politics.

Opposition parties have said it is an attempt to crack down on anyone who does not agree with al-Bashir and many protesters have vowed to defy the ban.

Al-Bashir clearly hopes to remain in power. Maybe, he should look at what happened to the rulers in Libya, Iraq and others who had overstayed their welcome. They, like him, had also ruled for some 30 years. Then their reign unceremoniously stopped.

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