Mosaic Blog

From Arab Spring to Sudanese Summer: It Takes Oil (or a Lack Thereof)

After over 20 years, Sudanese citizens are finally rising up against Omar al-Bashir and his one-party rule. Even a month ago, some Sudanese activists were skeptical that an "Arab Spring"-style revolution could blossom in their country. After all, the Sudanese government has shown that it is willing and able to commit human rights abuses to stay in power; dissenters have kept silent for decades in fear of retribution. So what happened, and why now?


People wait to get fuel for their cars at a petrol station in Khartoum June 21, 2012: REUTERS/Stringer

To put it simply: Oil. The secession of the South left Sudan with only 30 percent of its oil production capacity, and the drop in government oil export revenues has resulted in a staggering budget deficit of over USD 2 billion and growing. In mid-June, the Sudanese government announced a new set of austerity measures that included increasing taxes and removing fuel subsidies, which doubled gasoline prices and thus transportation costs. This sharp rise in basic living expenditures was the final straw for an already impoverished nation.

However, it has been Sudan's educated youth who have led the charge. Students from the University of Khartoum were the first to hold protests against the austerity measures, and students from other universities have followed suit. Going back even further, in 2009 a group of students in Khartoum started the peaceful Girifna ("We are fed up") movement, in protest of the National Congress Party's monopoly over the Sudanese government. This group, along with other youth opposition groups, has risen to prominence during the recent protests, thanks to their multilingualism and their savvy use of the Internet to mobilize demonstrators both at home and abroad.

These young people know that Sudan does not have to resort to such drastic measures in order to meet its USD 2 billion deficit. In fact, the government can save five times that amount by cutting military spending. But the Sudanese are beginning to understand that the current regime may not be willing to solve this crisis by giving up the military might that has kept them in power for so long. For example, Friday's Dubai TV report on the arrests of Sudanese protestors in the name of "maintaining security" and fighting terrorists" draws some worrisome parallels to other regimes. This oppressive might, wielded by a man who is wanted by the International Criminal Court, has also alienated Sudan from countries that would otherwise be willing to help. And so, faced with a choice between starving slowly and risking their lives for change, the Sudanese people have begun to rise up.

Whether this budding uprising will take root and achieve its goals remains to be seen. The international community has remained quiet for now. But drawing worldwide attention to this crisis, whether it be through the media, business, or politics, will be crucial in pressuring Khartoum to serve the interests of its people. If that pressure is not enough, one can only hope that the world will not stand idly by and watch another Syria take place.


Image: People wait to get fuel for their cars at a petrol station in Khartoum June 21, 2012: REUTERS/Stringer


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Call it "Elections in Sudan"

The Iraqi elections are over but failed to produce a clear winner. While former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi narrowly finished first in the poll, it might take weeks before we find out if he'll be able to build the coalition needed to achieve the magic number of 163 seats in the Iraqi Parliament in order to form a government. But there is another election soon to take place in Sudan, and let me start by predicting the results: current President Omar el-Bashir will be elected for another term.

Opposition parties from the south have been calling for a delay of the elections, the first multiparty ones to be held since 1986, and threatening a boycott due to concerns over security and possible rigging. However, al-Bashir -- who is running for office again despite being wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in Darfur -- has been campaigning all over the country and insisting the elections be held as scheduled.


At a recent rally held at Damazin in the Blue Nile state, al-Bashir lashed out

at a coalition of opposition parties who have been calling for a temporary delay of the elections.

"Holding elections in Sudan is a national obligation that should be fulfilled... we don't have options in this respect. If they took the right to oppose the elections, we do have the same right to reject the referendum in the south."

Al-Bashir also threatened to kick out election monitors, and cancel a referendum on independence for the south should opposition parties boycott April 11-13 elections.

Meanwhile, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) announced on Wednesday that its candidate, Yasir Arman, would boycott the April poll because of electoral irregularities and the continuing conflict in the country's western Darfur region. A concern echoed by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

"Conditions in Sudan are not yet conducive for a free, fair and credible election," Georgette Gagnon, HRW's Africa director, said last week. "Unless there is a dramatic improvement in the situation, it's unlikely that the Sudanese people will be able to vote freely for leaders of their choice."

According to HRW, the problems in Darfur and repression of political opponents are major obstacles to a free and fair vote.

In a report released on Tuesday, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group accused the government in Khartoum of using flawed census figures to draft unfair election laws and skew electoral districts in favor of the ruling National Congress Party. Also, the U.S.-based Carter Center, which has been allowed to observe the process, has suggested that Sudan postpone the vote to ensure that it can be properly administered by the National Election Commission.

Khalil Ibrahim, the leader of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), the largest rebel group in Sudan's western Darfur region, also joined the call on for a delay of the elections.

"These elections are based mainly on false senses, especially in Darfur. Masses of populations ... will be excluded from the elections," He continued to describe the elections as a "theatrical act" on the Qatar-based al-Jazeera TV.

But al-Bashir remains unfazed. He has been campaigning diligently, appearing in different regions wearing different costumes. Last year he defied the International Criminal Court which issued an arrest warrant for his arrest for war crimes in Darfur. In a few days, he'll parade victorious in Khartoum; just another scene, from another act.


Article first published on the Huffington Post

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