Bashir siege con­tin­ues in Su­dan cri­sis

Su­danese took to the streets to protest against high cost of liv­ing af­ter the gov­ern­ment in­creased the price of bread

The East African - - FRONT PAGE - By FRED OLU­OCH Spe­cial Cor­re­spon­dent

Af­ter three weeks of ri­ots, which started on De­cem­ber 19, the Su­danese op­po­si­tion and civil so­ci­ety are call­ing for a regime change.

The Su­dan Call, the Su­danese Pro­fes­sional As­so­ci­a­tion and op­po­si­tion groups, among them the Na­tional Con­sen­sus Al­liance and the Union­ist, now want Pres­i­dent Omar al-bashir to step down. In their dec­la­ra­tion on Jan­uary 2, they pro­pose a tran­si­tional gov­ern­ment to lead the coun­try for four years. They have agreed to back the na­tion­wide protests call­ing for Pres­i­dent Bashir’s exit cit­ing, among other things, the rise in the prices of food and other es­sen­tials.

The coali­tion of 22 groups says that dur­ing the tran­si­tional pe­riod, a tech­no­crat gov­ern­ment would hold a con­sti­tu­tional con­fer­ence af­ter ne­go­ti­at­ing peace agree­ments, in­clud­ing new se­cu­rity ar­range­ments with the armed groups.

Af­ter three weeks of ri­ots that started on De­cem­ber 19, the Su­danese op­po­si­tion and civil so­ci­ety are call­ing for a regime change.

The Su­dan Call, the Su­danese Pro­fes­sional As­so­ci­a­tion and op­po­si­tion groups, among them the Na­tional Con­sen­sus Al­liance and the Union­ist, now want Pres­i­dent Omar al-bashir to step down.

In their dec­la­ra­tion on Jan­uary 2, they pro­pose a tran­si­tional gov­ern­ment to lead the coun­try for four years. They have agreed to back the na­tion­wide protests call­ing for Pres­i­dent Bashir's exit cit­ing, among other things, the rise in the prices of food and other es­sen­tials.

The coali­tion of 22 groups says that dur­ing the tran­si­tional pe­riod, a tech­no­crat gov­ern­ment would hold a con­sti­tu­tional con­fer­ence af­ter ne­go­ti­at­ing peace agree­ments, in­clud­ing new se­cu­rity ar­range­ments with the armed groups.

"We, the Su­dan Call and our part­ners in the op­po­si­tion reaf­firm our sup­port to the revo­lu­tion,” Minni Min­nawi, Su­dan Call sec­re­tary-gen­eral, said in a state­ment.

Three weeks of protests have re­sulted in ar­rests of sev­eral po­lit­i­cal op­po­si­tion fig­ures and the loss of dozens of lives. Wide­spread dis­con­tent with Su­dan's soar­ing cost of liv­ing has fu­elled a wave of protests that's posed one of the great­est chal­lenges to Pres­i­dent al-bashir since he came to power in a 1989 through a coup. The gov­ern­ment says 19 peo­ple, in­clud­ing two sol­diers, have been killed in the un­rest that be­gan in ma­jor cities on De­cem­ber 19. Amnesty In­ter­na­tional said on De­cem­ber 24 it had cred­i­ble re­ports that 37 peo­ple were shot dead by se­cu­rity forces in the first five days.

But the head of com­mu­ni­ca­tion at the rul­ing Na­tional Congress Party (NCP), Mubarak al-fadel al-mahdi, said the group is ex­ploit­ing pop­u­lar protests to push a po­lit­i­cal agenda dif­fer­ent from the main rea­sons for the dif­fi­cult eco­nomic con­di­tions that trig­gered the demon­stra­tions.

Author­i­ties have blocked ac­cess to pop­u­lar so­cial me­dia plat­forms used to or­gan­ise and broad­cast na­tion­wide anti-gov­ern­ment protests, In­ter­net users said. In a coun­try where the state con­trols tra­di­tional me­dia tightly, the In­ter­net has be­come a key in­for­ma­tion bat­tle­ground. Of Su­dan's 40 mil­lion peo­ple, some 13 mil­lion use the In­ter­net and more than 28 mil­lion own mo­bile phones, lo­cal me­dia say.

Author­i­ties have not re­peated the In­ter­net black­out they im­posed dur­ing deadly protests in 2013. But the head of Su­dan's Na­tional In­tel­li­gence and Se­cu­rity Ser­vice, Salah Abdallah, told a news con­fer­ence that “there was a dis­cus­sion in the gov­ern­ment about block­ing so­cial me­dia sites and in the end it was de­cided to block them.”

Users of the three main telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions op­er­a­tors in the coun­try — Zain, MTN and Su­dani — said ac­cess to Face­book, Twit­ter and What­sapp has only been pos­si­ble through use of a vir­tual pri­vate net­work (VPN). Ac­tivists have used so­cial me­dia to or­gan­ise and doc­u­ment the demon­stra­tions.

Hash­tags in Ara­bic such as “Su­dan's_c­i­ties_re­volt” have been widely cir­cu­lated from Su­dan and abroad. Hash­tags in English such as #Su­dan­re­volts have also been used.

“So­cial me­dia has a big im­pact, and it helps in form­ing pub­lic opin­ion and trans­mit­ting what's hap­pen­ing in Su­dan to the out­side,” said Mu­jtaba Musa, a Su­danese Twit­ter user with over 50,000 fol­low­ers who has been ac­tive in doc­u­ment­ing the protests.

Net­blocks, a dig­i­tal rights NGO, said data it col­lected, in­clud­ing from thou­sands of Su­danese vol­un­teers, pro­vided ev­i­dence of “an ex­ten­sive in­ter­net cen­sor­ship regime.”

Bader al-kharafi, CEO of par­ent com­pany Zain Group, told Reuters: “Some web­sites may be blocked for tech­ni­cal rea­sons be­yond the com­pany's spe­cial­i­sa­tion.”

Ob­servers said the op­po­si­tion is against the de­ci­sion in Au­gust by the NCP to change its con­sti­tu­tion to al­low Pres­i­dent al-bashir to con­test an­other term.

The Mo Ibrahim Foun­da­tion, which fo­cuses on lead­er­ship and gov­er­nance in Africa, said in a state­ment on Thurs­day that peace­ful protests by Su­danese peo­ple have es­ca­lated into vi­o­lence and a heavy se­cu­rity crack­down.

“The Foun­da­tion notes tight cen­sor­ship around news on the protests in Su­dan, with author­i­ties re­strict­ing ac­cess to so­cial me­dia and the In­ter­net,” said the state­ment.

The foun­da­tion urged the Khar­toum gov­ern­ment to up­hold the right of the Su­danese cit­i­zens to peace­fully protest and ex­press their le­git­i­mate griev­ances. The dis­con­tent and anger among the peo­ple have led to spo­radic protests, which the gov­ern­ment has sup­pressed ruth­lessly.

We, the Su­dan Call and our part­ners in the op­po­si­tion reaf­firm our sup­port to the revo­lu­tion.” Minni Min­nawi, Su­dan Call SG

The protests over the high prices of es­sen­tial com­modi­ties such as fuel and bread — which have now been taken over by politi­cians — are likely to con­tinue, given that there are lit­tle signs that the econ­omy will im­prove.

Su­dan has since the be­gin­ning of 2018 ex­pe­ri­enced a de­bil­i­tat­ing eco­nomic cri­sis, af­ter the gov­ern­ment lifted the sub­si­dies on ba­sic com­modi­ties.

Eco­nomic down­turn

Econ­o­mists said eco­nomic down­turn is the re­sult of South Su­dan tak­ing away the 75 of the oil wells at In­de­pen­dence in 2011. Su­dan's econ­omy is strug­gling, with cash shortages in banks and a soar­ing in­fla­tion rate now at 70 per cent.

De­spite the United States lift­ing the eco­nomic sanc­tions in Septem­ber 2018 af­ter 20 years, Su­dan's econ­omy con­tin­ues to strug­gle.

Most in­ter­na­tional banks and busi­nesses that had been blocked from trad­ing with Khar­toum due to the sanc­tions are still hes­i­tant to deal with Su­danese banks. Pres­i­dent al-bashir has in­vited US com­pa­nies to in­vest in the agri­cul­ture and the min­ing sec­tors.

The eco­nomic down­turn forced Pres­i­dent al-bashir to push for peace agree­ment in South Su­dan in Septem­ber 2018 to al­low the re­sump­tion of oil pro­duc­tion, which feeds into the econ­omy through trans­porta­tion fee on the pipe­line.

Cen­tral Bank Gov­er­nor Mo­hamed Khair al-zubair said this week that the coun­try is seek­ing fund­ing from uniden­ti­fied na­tions to ease its eco­nomic cri­sis.

Mr al-zubair men­tioned pos­si­ble for­eign fund­ing dur­ing a Tues­day press con­fer­ence, out­lin­ing a three-month plan to boost rev­enue, bring in hard cur­rency and print more ban­knotes. Su­dan de­val­ued its pound at least three times in 2018.

Mr Al-zubeir didn't iden­tify whom Su­dan may tap for funds. Uniden­ti­fied Gulf Arab na­tions ex­tended about $2 bil­lion in con­ces­sional loans to Su­dan in 2015, the Fi­nance Min­istry said at the time, while state me­dia in the past two years has re­ported the Cen­tral Bank re­ceiv­ing de­posits from the United Arab Emi­rates.

Su­dan, which once counted Iran as an ally, has strength­ened its re­la­tions with Saudi Ara­bia and the UAE in the past four years, con­tribut­ing air­craft and thou­sands of troops to their bat­tle against Houthi rebels in Ye­men.

Pres­i­dent al-bashir, 75, who has been in­dicted by the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court for al­leged war crimes in the west­ern Su­danese re­gion of Dar­fur, be­came in mid-de­cem­ber the first Arab head of state to visit Syria since its up­ris­ing be­gan in 2011.

Pic­ture: AFP

Protesters run from po­lice of­fi­cers in Khar­toum.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kenya

© PressReader. All rights reserved.