Thursday’s announcement that President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the 75-year-old African leader was ousted from power after a 30 year tight fisted rule in power was refreshing news for the citizens of Sudan, Washington policymakers and international practitioners.
Al-Bashir orchestrated the killing of hundreds of thousands of people from Darfur. He turned his country into a safe haven for al-Qaida’s founder, Osama Bin Laden. Since 2009, he has been wanted by the International Criminal Court for War Crimes on charges that include rape and murder. During his visits to foreign countries, he repeatedly escaped arrest for these crimes. Al-Bashir has left his country economically and politically isolated from the global community.
Now Sudan faces the aftermath of al-Bashir’s rule. The country must rebuild and chart a smooth transfer of power to eventual civilian rule. Central to that task is the need to engage its citizens in the process of rebuilding civil society, to ensure that past mistakes are not repeated. Like other Arab and African nations, Sudan’s organic citizen revolution has actively and purposefully utilized the power and voice of women. Viral photos of many young women, including Ala’a Salah have been distributed on various social media platforms and her gestures, chants and statements have been seen as an inspirational and welcome depiction of the new Arab and African world. There is cause for future optimism.
Like elsewhere in Africa, Sudan has a large youth bulge. Employment and other opportunities for the young will be a key priority for any transitional and permanent government. It is also important to understand the 30-year legacy of al-Bashir cannot be removed overnight. Government technocrats and individuals aligned to al-Bashir will continue to jockey for influence and attention. China, Turkey and Russia all have strong ties to al-Bashir and maintain economic and ideological influences in the country. These relationships are unlikely to evaporate with the removal of al-Bashir. Finally, Islamist groups and Islamist inspired networks have put great effort into establishing their influence in Sudan. It will be interesting to see what their next move will be.
As a former US Government Africa Counterterrorism analyst, I know Sudan well. We have been down this path before with other African nations. Sudan has an opportunity to engage actively and early with the international community, in conjunction with internal civil society groups to chart a new path forward. We will need to pay the closest of attention to developments over the next few months as we observe the chess moves that that the military, civil society and the Sudanese citizenry seek to play.
Dr. Muhammad Fraser-Rahim is the Executive Director, North America for Quilliam International