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Sudan and the new military man

Apr 15,2019 - Last updated at Apr 15,2019

I remember clearly April 6, 1985, when my Sudanese colleagues rushed into my office to share with me the news that a military coup had overthrown Sudan’s incumbent leader Gaafar Nimeiri. 

I was not sure what would be the polite reaction: In principle, I believe little good comes from military rule in any country; but I also believed that even less good could come to Sudan from the rule of Nimeiri, who had seized power in a coup in 1969. So, I asked them if they thought this was good news. They answered unequivocally that it was.

This started my interest in Sudan. Through some basic reading, I discovered, not for the first time, that most of what I had been taught at school was less than scientifically accurate. Sudan is composed of many ethnic and religious groups, of whom Arabs and Muslims are components, possibly the majority. 

Moreover, Sudan’s problems are not entirely caused by evil imperialist anti-Arab conspiracies, but a combination of bad government, civil war, inept civil service, absence of justice and corruption. Ottoman, Egyptian and British imperialism did not diminish these problems, nor did the national governments after independence.

And now, the Sudanese people, after months of protests, have to contend with yet another military takeover. 

Nobody knows whether the coup leaders wanted to appease the protesters with a cosmetic change of president or whether they sincerely planned to transition to civilian rule in four years as they announced, but the people refused to wait that long. 

They courageously defied the curfew, which pushed the original coup leader to resign and pass the political can of worms to another general, and now the transition period went down to two years.

How events will unfold nobody knows; but some lessons should be learned from Sudan’s modern history: In a country with many different ethnic and religious groups, failing to respect this diversity leads to disaster. Nimeiri started a civil war when he tried to impose Arabism and Sharia throughout Sudan, and Omar Al Bashir’s attempt to reimpose them in 1989 led to the country’s fragmentation with the independence of South Sudan, a country the size of France. 

Second, deposed president Bashir had a heavy security apparatus, which was possibly the only efficient agency in the country, a situation only too common in Third World countries. But, as Napoleon said, soldiers can do many things with bayonets but not sit on them, meaning that repression alone cannot maintain a regime indefinitely.

Finally, people want food on their tables more than patriotic slogans in the media. Nationalist posturing cannot distract people from the hunger of their children, so whatever else the leaders may have in mind, their top priority should be economic reforms that seriously improve their people’s living standards. 

Sudan is a beautiful country with a rich history and enormous potential. Its people have suffered immensely over the years. Let us pray that their new rulers have the wisdom and integrity to let the people have a share of their country’s prosperity.

 

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