As Sudan holds it presidential election today, attention is focused more on the opposition to the polls than the outcome itself. The polls, boycotted by the much of the opposition, is almost certain to return Omar Al Bashir as the President. Al Bashir came to power through a military coup 26 years ago, and although he has dropped the military uniform and held elections, he still maintains a stranglehold over the country and has continued to repress his political opponents. He has also been accused of multiple human rights abuses, and was in 2008, indicted by the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Luis Moreno Ocampo, for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed since 2003 in Darfur.
Prior to this election, Al Bashir initiated some rapprochement with the opposition, but he failed to carry out the reforms that the opposition believes are necessary to ensure a credible election. In this interview with Rebecca Tinsley, the founder of Sudan-focused group Waging Peace, we ask what the election holds for Sudan and its over 30 million people.
VA: Can you give us an overview of the upcoming coming election and what it could mean for Sudan?
Rebecca: Sadly Sudan is not about to have it’s “Nigeria” moment. It will be more like a “Zimbabwe” moment because a corrupt and violent regime will manipulate the polls, and intimidate its people into submission. It will be yet another missed opportunity for Sudan. The country is in desperate need of genuine reform; the government needs to reach out to its marginalised regions, and establish a more tolerant and inclusive vision of national identity. Instead, this election will perpetuate the old politics of ethnic division, ethnic cleansing, racism and fear.
VA: With just days to the polls, can you give us an idea of the mood on the streets?
Rebecca: Opposition rallies are attracting huge crowds, and a lot of enthusiasm. The people turning out are showing courage because peaceful demonstrations tend to be met with unhesitating brutality by the Khartoum regime.
VA: The opposition has reportedly threatened to disrupt the polls, could this lead to violence on election day?
Rebecca: If the Khartoum regime’s track record is any guide, then yes, any disruption or opposition will be met with brutality. But there is no shortage of brave opposition citizens in Sudan.
VA: How is the political crisis and election tension affecting business and people’s means of livelihood?
Rebecca: The government’s campaign of ethnic cleansing has led directly to economic sanctions and a pariah status that makes foreign investment in Sudan an unsavoury prospect. Many potential business partners will be put off working in Sudan because of the ongoing violence, but also because it is one of the most corrupt places on earth, with no rule of law or predictable property rights. Economic opportunity is being jeopardised by the regime’s extreme ideology.
VA: What will be the regional implication of the Al Bashir’s victory?
Rebecca: Bashir’s National Congress Party considers its closest ideological and military allies to be Iran and Hamas, which will alienate many potential allies. The Libyans, Egyptians and Saudis have been unhappy with Bashir for backing the Muslim Brotherhood and other jihadist groups within their own countries. The Ugandans believe Bashir has long supported Joseph Kony’s LRA; and South Sudan says Bashir supplies the rebels in its civil war. In other words, Bashir is a central node in several ongoing conflicts that have wider regional implications, especially since they seem to be supporting fundamentalist Islamist groups on the one hand, while telling the US they are “on their side in the war on terror.”.
VA: Can you an give an idea of the effect and impact of the political repression and lack of government reform on the economy of Sudan?
Rebecca: As mentioned, economic sanctions are a direct result of Sudan’s support for international terrorism and its ethnic cleansing ideology. Those sanctions have hit Sudan hard, and discouraged international investment. Until the government stops its current policies, Sudan will be in conflict with the minorities in its marginalised areas. Until the regime accepts that real economic reform is needed, business will be hampered by the cronyism, nepotism and corruption that has earned Sudan a rock bottom rating by Transparency International.
VA: South Sudan, whose independence came with so much optimism, has been wrecked by a civil war
Rebecca: South Sudan is in a tragic situation, with leaders who seem to lack any concern about the conditions in which their citizens live. There is no sincere effort on behalf of Sudan’s leaders, either the rebels and those in government, to end the bloodshed which has taken an estimated 50,000 lives. As ever, the patience and resourcefulness of Africa’s citizens is astonishing, in the circumstances, while the quality of the leadership is profoundly disappointing.(Ventures Africa)