Sudan: Pressure on Bashir builds


Rebel fighters of the SPLA-North prepare for an attack on a garrison of the Sudan army in Talodi. The rebels say they have armed themselves with weapons they captured from the army in previous battles.


Trevor Snapp/Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting

NAIROBI, Kenya — Khartoum’s policy of hoarding Sudan's power and wealth at the center to the detriment of the marginalized peripheries lies at the heart of all the country's conflicts. Such inequality and disenfranchisement predates the 23-year rule of President Omar al-Bashir who added an extremist layer of religious and racial prejudice to the existing tensions.

Bashir's Sudan was drastically diminished by the South’s secession last year yet it remains a vast and diverse territory, in race, language, religion and landscape. For many years oil revenues have allowed Bashir to spurn international sanctions and disdain his pariah status.

Under Bashir Sudan has not known peace, nor does it seem likely to get it. In the 1990s Bashir hosted Osama bin Laden and his capital was targeted by US missiles in retaliation for the 1998 bombing of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Later Bashir was accused of genocide for ordering attacks on the people of Darfur, beginning in 2003. Bashir and a handful of his most senior lieutenants were indicted by the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes
including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The civil war in Darfur continues. Today the Sudan Liberation Army, a Darfuri rebel group that is part of the new Sudan Revolutionary Front alliance, claimed new gains. As peace came to the South last year fighting re-ignited in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile, and has more recently resumed along the shared north-south border where the South Sudan army continues to allege aerial bombardments.

Right now Bashir looks weaker than at any time since he took power in a coup in 1989. The loss of South Sudan robbed Khartoum of 70 percent of the
country’s oil which lies below fields south of the new border. Last month South Sudan's army occupied the north’s main oil field at Heglig and although it was pushed back the assault was a black eye for Khartoum and left the oil facility in ruins.

Sporadic student protests against Bashir's rule have erupted in Khartoum since the Arab Spring of last year and although security forces have nipped them in the bud their very existence reveals an undercurrent of discontent that might bubble up at any time. Rumors of internal divisions within the ruling National Congress Party and the Sudan Armed Forces suggest Bashir’s power is not as secure or monolithic as in years past.

Rebels in the Nuba Mountains told me they will march on Khartoum and while this looks like little more than bluster at the moment, momentum does seem to be building and Bashir's days may indeed be numbered.