After al-Bashir will another Strongman soon fall in Africa?

Okot Nyormoi

*Okot Nyormoi is the Associate Editor of Nile Journal and author of recently published novel Burden of Failure

al-BashirBrazenly taking advantage of a sustained popular mass uprising against the government, the Sudanese Army struck and removed the long serving General al-Bashir from power. Al-Bashir was placed first under house arrest and then moved to prison. The coup followed four incredible months of relentless mass demonstration all over Sudan. Nothing quite like this had been seen in Africa before. Al-Bashir’s minister of defense, General Awark ibn Ouf, ascended power at the head of a military transitional council that he said would rule the country for 2 years before election could be held and power transferred to a civilian government.

The people were happy to see the back of General al-Bashir. But they objected vehemently to the rule of yet another General. They had seen similar scripts before, played out in Egypt, in Zimbabwe, and in Algeria, where despotic rulers were replaced by the same people that had ruled side by side with them and were guilty of the same crimes the fallen ruler had committed.

Within 24 hours, General Ouf himself was forced to resign and was replaced by General Abdel al-Burhan. But the people remained on the streets and refused to leave, and demanded immediate transfer to civilian rule. At this point in the still volatile and uncertain situation, apparently there developed a rapprochement between the military and the people. The overnight curfew originally imposed by the military and strenuously ignored by the demonstrators, was removed. And so far, the military has refrained from any use of force against the demonstrators. Meanwhile a deal is supposedly being worked out between the military and civilians. Time will tell whether the military will bow to the will of the people. Or whether it will go the way of Egypt and by force of arms crush the people's revolution.

Each time a dictator regime falls in Africa, those who still live under authoritarian rule rejoice and wonder if their own dictator will be next. The divide between long lasting rule and dictatorship is thin indeed. The following are the five longest lasting regimes in Africa today: Teodoro Obiang in Equatorial Guinea (39 years), Paul Biya in Cameroun (36 years), Yoweri Museveni in Uganda (33 years), Idriss Deby in Chad (28 years), and Isaias Atwerki in Eritrea (25 years).

While oppressed people have a legitimate right to strive for the removal of their dictators, their detractors are busy spinning narratives of why they should not waste time dreaming of change. The people’s detractors allege that the Sudanese case is so unique that it can never be replicated.

In Uganda they argue that the President is the only one with a vision and accordingly he must rule. Though still a small minority a growing number of African leaders are leaving power freely at the end of their mandated terms. We cannot say that such leaders are without vision.  What forced the demise of Apartheid in South Africa, the fall of Mugabe in Zimbabwe and now that of al-Bashir, was not the lack of vision. These regimes fell because of the atrocities their regimes had committed, and their people could stand it no longer

Dictators are strong because they control the national treasury and they wield a monopoly over the instruments of violence. Regardless, the fall of al-Bashir in Sudan once again demonstrates the simple truth that no dictator no matter how cunning is invincible.  

The propaganda narratives touting the invincibility of authoritative regimes are in the end of no value. They cannot deter people from pursuing their rights to live under a just and democratic rule. 

While the status of each dictator is peculiar to each country, long-term tyrants share important fundamental characteristics. All violate human rights with impunity, all preside over countries with high youth unemployment, all violate the rule of law and practice unequal distribution of services among their people and across their country. No amount of military strength or big power support, can sustain these tyrants in power indefinitely.

Whether what happened to al-Bashir in Sudan will happen to other long-term dictators in Africa, is in the end dependent on the people’s determination to rid themselves from their oppressors. Although it may remain latent and inactive for long periods, this determination is always there. When the moment finally arrives, nothing will stop it.