Emma Emeozor, [email protected]
The intervention of the Sudanese army in the popular street protests that led to the fall of President Omar al-Bashir brought a sigh of relief to the international community as it prevented the country from slipping into anarchy.
However, the joy the army’s action brought to the protesters was ephemeral as the military hierarchy sidelined the protesters and announced the formation of a Military Transition Council (TMC) to rule the country for two years before quitting for a civilian government.
Condemnation has continued to trail the decision of the army from within and outside Sudan. In this report, professor of international relations and dean, College of Humanities, MacPherson University, Seriki Sotayo, Ogun State, Olusola Ojo, says the army should obey the order of the African Union and allow a civilian transition government to be constituted without delay.
The professor spoke on the heels of reports that “Sudanese protest leaders were preparing to unveil a civilian council that they want to take power from military rulers, who have resisted calls to step down despite mass demonstrations.”
Ojo argued that the army has failed to learn from history, considering the fact that al-Bashir came to power through the power of the gun when he was a serving military officer. The protest leaders have vowed to continue the protests until the military quits and allows a civilian transition council to take office.
The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) reportedly said, “All Sudanese people are in favour of the council to be announced by the SPA.”
A senior member of SPA, Ahmed al-Rabia, was quoted as saying: “What we want from them is a timetable to hand over power, so things don’t drag on.”
Some analysts have said the action of the army made it a target for the protesters. But Ojo disagreed with this school of thought, saying the insistence of the protesters to remain in the streets until the army quits was a demonstration of the power of the people. He believes the protesters want to send a clear message to the army that power belongs to the people.
According to him, the resolve of the protesters not to give the army a chance to be in charge of the transition government points to the degree of their distrust of the military. He was quick to draw attention the brutal reign of al-Bashir.
He recalled the corruption in the government, abuse of the rights of the people and the genocide that took place in the Darfur region. Noting that it was the Darfur genocide that made the International Criminal Court (ICC) to issue an arrest warrant for al-Bashir, Ojo said, “it doesn’t appear al-Bashir had the interest of the people at heart and the protest was sparked by the increase in the price of food and fuel.”
The professor said though al-Bashir is being held responsible for the failure of the government, it must not be forgotten that the ousted president did not rule the country alone. He recalled that al-Bashir transformed from a military head of state to a civilian president and, throughout his ignominious rule, soldiers served along with him.
Asked to explain further, Ojo said the protesters and indeed the entire Sudanese population no longer trust the army. He said the people strongly feel the army has failed them and, therefore, they can no longer entrust it with the authority to rule the country.
“What the people are saying is that they did not embark on the street protest to bring the army back to power. They are saying all they want is a civilian transition. The people are trying to guard against a situation where the same corrupt leadership would continue, though without al-Bashir.”
But can the protest leaders successfully install a civilian transition government without the support of the army, considering the role it has played in forcing al-Bashir to quit? Ojo said whatever transition model they want to adopt to move the country forward had to be “negotiated.”
He was cautious when in his use of the term negotiation, as such negotiation would require the leadership of the army and that of the protest group to discuss and arrive at the composition and terms of reference of the transition government through mutual agreement: “Of course, the military should be involved because if it is not involved, the situation could turn to anarchy. Let there be a peaceful transition.”
Ojo, however, insists that a peaceful transition cannot be realised if there is no synergy between the army and the protest leaders. He condemned the army for constituting the TMC not only by fiat but also making it a military affair. The TMC is made up of army officers only.
“It is not just enough for the military to say, oh, we have done it, al-Bashir is out. The military is saying they don’t want power but they have said they will be there for two years. Do you need two years to transit?”
Ojo wants the international community, particularly the African Union (AU), the United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU) to come to the aid of Sudan at this crucial time of its political history: “These organisations should help Sudan to have an orderly transition process leading to a stable government.”
The AU has given the army 15 days to quit the scene and return to the barracks. While some analysts say the AU has acted well by rejecting the TMC with strong words, Ojo said issuing statements was not enough to restore normalcy to Sudan.
He wants the AU to match words with action by moving in without delay: “Instead of the African Union issuing a threat that it cannot enforce, it should move in to talk to the people and make its presence felt. It should be fully involved in the transition process by guiding the people. The people in the streets cannot just take over power. There must be an orderly process and this is why the AU must be on the ground to assist.”
Ojo had expected officials of the AU to be in Sudan to hold talks with all the parties involved in the process of finding a new political path for the country after it issued its statement. He expressed optimism over the future of Sudan, just as he commended the courage of the protesters in turning the tables against a dictatorial system.
He noted that there was no alternative to the protest: “When the people are frustrated, dejected, how you tackle the military, because they are the only ones who have the monopoly of force. They can come in and overthrow the government. But in this case, they cannot do that.”
The protests that led to the ousting of al-Bashir came barely a month after similar protests led to the ousting of Algeria’s veteran leader, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who ruled for 20 years. The Algerian army also intervened when Bouteflika refused to quit. It was the army that eventually forced him to tender his resignation letter to the president of the country’s Constitutional Council.
And in Zimbabwe, another veteran leader, Robert Mugabe, was forced to resign following the intervention of the army that boosted the popular protesters who took to the streets. The protesters had one demand: Mugabe must go.
It was also series of protests in multiple towns in Tunisia that led to the fall of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011. The Arab Spring was the consequence of the Tunisian protests. It was a “series of anti-government uprisings affecting Arab countries of North Africa and the Middle East.”
The events in Tunisia, Zimbabwe, Algeria and Sudan show that Africans are fast embracing popular protest as a means of kicking out sit-tight leaders. It is, however, not clear how many more African countries will witness popular protests that will send their autocratic and self-styled life president(s) packing soon.
In the past, Africa was an arena for military coup-plotters. Democratically-elected governments were sacked by the military. It became the trend for army officers to overthrow fellow army officers in the corridors of power. Today, the military seems to have taken a new role, that of assisting protesters to remove from power leaders who are unwilling to quit even when they have overstayed in office and their services are no longer required.
Asked if it has become the trend to sack head-strong African leaders through popular protests, Ojo warned that people should be cautious over the use of popular protest to dethrone leaders: “I hope we will not come to a stage where we will think popular protest is the only option to remove sit-tight leaders. I hope we won’t get to that stage.
“There are so many options. But let me put emphasis on the democratic option, though people are just paying lip service to democracy. In Africa, we use our own version of democracy as a camouflage. In other words, democracy is not working in Africa as it should. The people have become frustrated and they may think they should have any other option. I believe there are other options but it doesn’t have to be violent.”
Ojo drew attention to the situation in Syria and Libya, where popular protests ended in civil war.
“The uprising in Syria and Libya resulted in anarchy because the leaders could not control the protests,” he said.