Sudan still struggles under Omar al-Bashir’s shadow

It will take a long time to fix the damage done by al-Bashir’s regime on the social fabric of the Sudanese society.

Sudan''s former president Omar Hassan al-Bashir smiles as he is seen inside a cage at the courthouse where he is facing corruption charges, in Khartoum, Sudan August 31, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin
Sudan's former president Omar Hassan al-Bashir sits inside a cage at the courthouse where he is facing corruption charges, in Khartoum on September 28, 2019 [File: Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters]

The last year has not been easy for the Sudanese people. It has been marked by a few major victors and many setbacks.

On April 11, 2019, after months of popular protests against the regime of Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese military removed him from power and announced the formation of a Transitional Military Council (TMC) to rule the country.

Knowing all too well that no real political change would come from a military government, the sit-in in front of the army headquarters in Khartoum and protests in other cities continued. A day before Eid Al-Fitr on June 3, forces loyal to the TMC attacked the sit-in, killing dozens, gang-raping young women and going to terrorise civilians across the country for days.

The purpose of the massacre was to suppress the revolutionary movement, but it failed to do so. The Sudanese people mobilised again, and on June 30, hundreds of thousands marched in Khartoum and other cities, calling for civilian rule.

We kept the pressure on the military throughout the summer until finally, it accepted a power-sharing deal with civilian forces. As a result, in August a Sovereign Council was formed with civilian members selected by the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), the coalition that led the protest movement.

On August 21, a civilian prime minister, Dr Abdullah Hamdok, was sworn in and two weeks later, he formed his council of ministers.

Since then, the new government has tried to manage the country’s ills while remaining preoccupied with dismantling the corrupt networks of al-Bashir’s National Congress Party, putting an end to the wars he waged all over Sudan, and reforming the country’s discriminatory and oppressive legal system.

Progress has been slow and has been threatened by continuing political instability and military interference in civilian matters. There have also been attempts to destabilise the civilian government. In early March, Dr Hamdok survived an assassination attempt in Khartoum.

Nevertheless, efforts have persisted. A day before the one-year anniversary of al-Bashir’s removal on April 11, the committee responsible for dismantling the party-state, fighting corruption and repatriating of looted resources, held a news conference to announce the dissolution of the Islamic Dawa Organization (IDO) and the seizure of all its assets.

The IDO was one of the social arms of the former party and its headquarters were used to record the first statement made by al-Bashir after the 1989 coup that brought him and the Islamists to power.

The “dismantling committee” as it is called was formed in November last year after the transitional government approved a law to dismantle al-Bashir’s regime. Since then, the body has been instrumental in breaking the NCP’s grip on the political scene, state resources and institutions.

This committee is, by far, the best initiative taken by the transitional government and the only body that is actively trying to help Sudanese people reclaim their country after 30 years of dictatorial rule.

But while there has been some progress on the political scene to dismantle the ancien regime, its legacy in the social sphere very much persists.

We are still suffering from the remnants of the NCP’s “civilisational project” which sought to carve the Sudanese society into some kind of an Islamist utopia that would inspire and lead the way for other Muslim nations.

It sought to forcefully homogenise a nation instead of celebrating its religious and ethnic diversity, thereby destroying inter-communal trust and tolerance. It also created a pool of brainwashed youth who were easily recruited to wage wars on behalf of the regime, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and devastated whole regions of the country, leading to its break-up in 2011 as well as continuing deadly tribal conflicts.

The civilisational project has mentally and psychologically damaged the Sudanese people, and the healing process requires sustained efforts to help people mitigate conflicts, trust each other and understand that the transitional period needs collective work.

The NCP also promoted a culture of corruption within its ranks and at every level of the bureaucracy and state institutions. Corrupt practices have become so mainstream that even ordinary people would casually hoard commodities, such as flour and petrol, by buying them at wholesale prices and re-selling with exorbitant mark-ups.

They are taking advantage of a lack of consumer protection and a society that is complicit in protecting what we call “middle-men”. Being a “middle-man” has grown into a legitimate and very popular career for a large sector of young men. The “middle-men” are in every neighbourhood, selling goods on the black market and engaging in various fraudulent deals, including selling plots of land without the knowledge of the owner, by relying on the corrupt networks at various government offices.

The security apparatus of al-Bashir’s dictatorship sought to spread mistrust in society by actively encouraging spying and recruiting informants among ordinary citizens. This has also had a lasting and profound effect on the social fabric of the Sudanese society which persists to this day and undermines efforts at social and political organising.

Within the professional and social networks which are working to safeguard the revolution, there is persistent mistrust. People are not used to working together and many are suspicious that others are conspiring against them.

This culture has alienated so many people including myself from public work, as we have come to feel that we are spending too much energy into trying to solve disagreements and mediate disputes and neglecting real work to advance the slogans of the revolution: freedom, peace and justice.

Many refuse to see the toxic social legacy of al-Bashir’s regime and admit that our society needs serious work on mending social relations and building trust. As long there is no society-wide will to combat these maladies, they will remain a major challenge to realising social change in post-revolutionary Sudan.

As we go forward with the political transformation, we as a society need to reveal our insecurities and have the will to heal, and do so in a communal way.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.