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Trouble next door
Sudanese demonstrators chant slogans as they march along the street during anti-government protests in Khartoum, Sudan on December 25, 2018

Trouble next door

The recent protests that are rocking the Arab Republic of Sudan initially emanated from frustration and anger regarding escalation in the prices of bread and fuel. Now, it looks like politics took center stage with different political groups, workers’ associations and civil societies joining the protest and calling for the Government of President Omar al-Bashir to step down.

Indeed, the aforementioned demands were the immediate causes behind the protest which began on December 19, 2018. Unlike previous trends in the country, the protests began in small towns outside of the capital, Khartoum.

For years, especially following the departure of South Sudan as an independent state, the economy of Sudan was deeply affected. More specifically, Sudan lost its significant revenue from oil and petroleum export which exacerbated the downfall in Sudan’s economy.

Days after the protest, the Sudan government brutally responded to the protesters. So far, more than 40 people were believed to be killed by police and many were arrested.

Al-Bashir, the troubled president, ruled Sudan with an iron and fist for the past three decades.

“He has lasted nearly three decades in power through a combination of moderated ruthlessness, tactical political intelligence, and luck,” Alex De Lawaal, a political scientist and commentator, wrote in an article.

A distressed Al-Bashir, in his recent public appearance, branded some of the protestors as troublemakers.

In fact, Al-Bashir also said that third party is being involved in fueling up the protest and using it for their own agenda.

"Some traitors, agents, mercenaries and infiltrators are exploiting the current daily life hardships to sabotage and serve the enemies of Sudan," Al-Bashir said during his speech in Wad al-Haddad, Gezira State.

In fact, in the past few years, the economy of Sudan has been experiencing a downward trend which makes the lives millions of Sudanese cumbersome.

A number of reports indicate that the country’s oil revenue has significantly diminished following the independence of South Sudan back in 2011. Just recently, the Sudanese government decided to cut down its subsidies on foods particularly on bread.  

This, however, began to negatively affect the lives of many ordinary Sudanese. In addition, inflation has seen a historic high which currently stands at 70 percent.

Just over the past one year alone Sudan has devalued its currency more than twice which has exacerbated the inflation to hike up to 70 percent and not only that the economy has experienced a shortage of cash.

Herman J. Cohen, former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs with the US Department of State, in his on of his recent tweets described the situation in Sudan saying: "Sudan is on the edge of a major explosive upheaval where there is no food, no money and no hope.”

Weeks after the protest, the Sudanese government promised to introduce a number of reforms.

The longtime president of Sudan, who took power via a coup-d’état back in 1989, promised to come up with new foreign investments to heal the current economic crises. In addition, the Central Bank of Sudan has also proposed plans to boost the country’s revenue by bringing in more hard currencies and also print more banknotes.

The government also called upon an ‘inquiry’ into the protest.

Over the weeks of the protest, the government owned news agency, SUNA, reported that a cell of individuals was caught in Khartoum with rifles and guns.

Safe Hassan Ibrahim, State Secretary with the Ministry of information, said: “The cell had been involved in the rebel movement and that their tasks were to carry out assassinations of the protesters.”

However, despite such obvious rhetoric and short-term solutions that is coming from the side of the Sudanese government, the protests seem to continue and are feared to have larger regional implications in the Horn of Africa.

“Neighbor countries will of course be watching, Sudan is a big country and the government is involved in regional issues; Yemen war, Renaissance Dam politics, South Sudan peace efforts, EU and migration policies,” Isma’il Kushkush, a freelance Journalist based in the US told, The Reporter via Twitter.

Kushkush, who is now closely following what is happening in Sudan, has lived there for eight years covering stories concerning politics, economy and culture in different countries specifically in the Horn of Africa.

During his stay in Sudan, Kushkush also covered stories in South Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Burundi, Sweden, and Israel.

Unlike previous times, the region is experiencing shifts which involve a number of actors particularly from the Gulf region. Ethiopia is already in a political transition backed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Saudis.

Yet, Ethiopia is also experiencing internal conflicts and ethnic tensions which have resulted in the internal displacement of close to 1.5 million of its population. 

The political uprising in Sudan is also feared that it might be followed by ethnic and religious tensions where the troubled areas of Darfur are still volatile.

Over the weeks of the protest Ethiopia has sent two of its top officials; Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen and its Foreign Minister, Workneh Gebeyehu (PhD).

The visit of the two officials did not come by accident where both affirm their government strong stance when it came to the relationship between Ethiopia and Sudan.

Workneh was reported to have delivered a message from Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD). In addition he also visited Ethiopians who live in Sudan.

Martin Plaut a well-known researcher on the Horn of Africa argues that an unstable Sudan would have an impact.

“Clearly PM Abiy has been trying to have good relations with Khartoum, so my guess is that it would be a blow to him - a setback to his plans for regional stability and growth,” Plaut told The Reporter.

It is to be recalled that a couple of months ago, President Al-Bashir, upon the invitation of Prime Minister Abiy, came to Ethiopia along with his top aides including his foreign minister and head of national intelligence. The two leaders inaugurated the Jimma Industrial Park with together with their Djiboutian counterpart; President Ismail Omar Guelleh.

Ethiopia will also significantly be affected by the political situation in Sudan if it continues to deteriorate. For instance, economy wise, Ethiopia uses the Port of Sudan as one of its alternative sea outlets. In addition, Ethiopia imports almost 50 percent of its fuel from Sudan – a few years back the amount stood at 80 percent.

Be that as it may, the protest in Sudan seems to be gaining more momentum.

A group of 22 political opposition parties are already calling for a radical change whereby they issued a declaration calling for Al-Bashir to step down from power

The declaration called for the establishment of a transitional government, a ‘sovereign council’ that would only remain in power until free elections could take place in Sudan.

“This is perhaps Al-Bashir’s enduring legacy: he has cultivated mediocrity, corrupted the country and its ethics, and created – by longevity as much as by design – a political apparatus that only he can run,” said Dewaal.

“It’s time for President Bashir to step down,” he said.

Contrary to this rhetoric, Al- Bashir is on the defensive.

He has already declared a state of emergency, particularly focusing more on the conflict zones of Darfur and South Kordofan. In addition, he is also reportedly creating a new paramilitary consisting of members of the so called Janjaweed Militias. 

This move by Al-Bashir is said to emanate out of fear and lack of trust in his lower level soldiers particularly those who are from the marginalized areas of Darfur.

“This is the fourth wave of protests. There were protests in 2011, 2012 and 2013 in Sudan and anything can happen at this point. This is the most serious challenge the government has faced in years,” Kushkush said.

Cohen on the other hand speculated that the lower level officers would soon take over power from Al-Bashir. However, his view is downplayed by others.

“There is no indication at the moment that Al-Bashir will be stepping down, even less of him being pushed out,” Ann M Fitz-Gerald, Director of Security and Defense Management and Leadership, Cranfield University Defense Academy of the United Kingdom, told The Reporter via email.

“Of course, if the situation in Saudi Arabia weakens, this might affect Al-Bashir, given his close ties and networks with the country,” she said. “But, at the moment, this seems fairly unlikely.”