Sudan honours anniversary of revolution but has little to celebrate

A year ago, tens of thousands of Sudanese citizens held a week-long mass protest in front of the army headquarters in the capital, Khartoum.

A young female student, Alaa Salah, stood on a car roof shouting political slogans – she would later become the symbol of the protest movement in the sternly patriarchal society.

Everyone took to the streets, including professors, teachers and doctors. Artists painted messages and images of freedom on walls across Khartoum.

For months, the country was seething until finally the unthinkable happened: autocrat Omar al-Bashir was overthrown on April 11, 2019, after almost three decades in power.

It was a revolution described by many as an Arab Spring 2.0. Citizens were elated.

But a year later, on the first anniversary of this momentous day, the mood in Khartoum has dampened.

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, schools and universities are closed. Anniversary celebrations – the waving of flags and the singing of the national anthem or revolutionary songs – have to take place at home or on social media.

But there is another reason for the muted atmospher: After twelve months of political freedom, Sudan has not made the big strides it was hoping for.

The country is politically stable but volatile. Its economy has bottomed out, and the Covid-19 pandemic threatens to destroy the small successes the country has made in the past twelve months to revive trade and commerce.

Sudan is an important player in the region. It is the continent’s third largest country, with its 42 million people seen as a bridge between Africa and the Arab world. Sudan is also one of the most important transit countries for migrants in Africa.  

If political and economic conditions improved, Sudan could present opportunities for foreign investors, for instance in the oil industry and agricultural sector.

But at the moment, Sudan is slipping, with potentially devastating consequences for the region, says Philipp Jahn, head of the Germany-based think tank Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Sudan.

Despite some positive political changes, Sudan never managed to recover from its severe economic crisis that triggered the protests that eventually led to al-Bashir’s ouster.

During al-Bashir’s rule, which was marked by human rights violations and torture, many sanctions were imposed on Sudan, with the United States including Sudan on a list of nations that support terrorism, limiting foreign investment and access to global funds.

Moreover, Sudan’s 2011 split from South Sudan meant that Sudan lost access to many oil fields.

“The economic situation in Sudan is deteriorating day by day,” Chalid al-Tijani, editor-in-chief of local news website Elaph, told dpa.

Sudan’s transitional government and joint sovereign council – made up of military and civil representatives – have implemented various reforms, dissolved the political party of al-Bashir, legally pursued members of the old regime and convicted al-Bashir of corruption.

But overall, progress has been slow, and forces loyal to al-Bashir are still operational. In March, Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok only narrowly escaped an attack on his life.

The Covid-19 pandemic is now adding oil to the fire. So far, Sudan has only confirmed 14 cases, but there is much concern that the disease will spread quickly across the poverty-stricken nation.

Its health systems are weak and there is no money to bolster them. “Sudan’s health sector cannot actually afford an outbreak,” said al-Tijani.

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Ultimately, the pandemic is likely to threaten the fragile political situation, experts believe.

Because the longer political problems remain unaddressed, the more citizens will become impatient with the transitional government, said Jahn.

“There is a great risk that the Covid-19 crisis might destroy the government’s legitimacy,” he warned. (dpa)

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