News / Africa

    Sudan's Bashir Plays to Hardliners to Stem Succession Debate

    President Omar Hassan al-Bashir addresses a crowd in North Khartoum, June 8, 2013.
    President Omar Hassan al-Bashir addresses a crowd in North Khartoum, June 8, 2013.
    Reuters
    When Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir returned a few weeks ago from a summit in Ethiopia with his South Sudanese counterpart and former civil war foe, many people here expected him to talk of peace.
     
    Instead, the 69-year-old ruler donned his officer's uniform, waved his trademark walking stick and - once again - threatened to cut off South Sudanese oil exports through Sudan, something the northern country's battered economy can ill afford.
     
    The International Criminal Court-indicted leader faces a succession debate at home and his rhetoric was aimed less at the South, an uneasy neighbor since it split from the north in 2011, and more at hardline Islamists and army officers in his own circles, analysts say.
     
    This weekend, thousands of Sudanese demanded that Bashir step down in the biggest opposition rally for years. But the biggest threat to his rule might come from dissent within the army and Islamists, the backbone of his power since he seized control in a 1989 coup.
     
    Nobody in the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) has declared himself a contender, but speculation over who could run the vast African country after Bashir has increased since he indicated he might quit before 2015 elections.
     
    Diplomats say Bashir's family has been asking him to make good on that suggestion following his throat surgery last year. Officials insist he is completely fit but he has cut down on speeches and public events.
     
    Any handover would be complicated by Bashir's indictment at the ICC for war crimes in Sudan's Darfur region, where the government and the Janjaweed militia have been battling rebel groups from the minority non-Arab population since 2003. Analysts say he would be anxious to ensure a successor would not turn him over to The Hague to improve relations with the West.
     
    “He would want a hardliner as successor to make sure there won't be any concession with the ICC,” said Magdi El Gizouli, a political analyst and author of the “Still Sudan” blog.
     
    Bashir is no stranger to challenges. In his 24 years in power, he has weathered protests, multiple armed revolts, U.S. trade sanctions, the loss of vital oil to South Sudan and, more recently, a coup attempt by disgruntled officers and Islamists.
     
    While Western powers shun contact with Bashir due to the ICC Darfur charges, they worry his exit might lead to instability in one of Africa's biggest countries at a time when Islamist militants are fighting French troops in Mali and roam across sub-Saharan borders.
     
    With its porous borders to Chad, Egypt, the Central African Republic and Libya, awash with arms from the 2001 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, an unstable Sudan could be a major security headache.
     
    Alarm bells rang when unconfirmed reports emerged that some Mali fighters fleeing French troops had arrived in lawless Darfur in February, despite Sudan's denial.
     
    “No doubt many horrible things happen in Sudan, but a Sudan without Bashir could be chaos,” said a European diplomat. “You could have a link between Islamists here and in Mali.”
     
    Army is power broker 

    NCP officials have played down Bashir's comments, with several calling on him to run again, fearing his exit might split the party, or indeed the country, which is dominated by three Arab tribes. Others want him to stay to safeguard their business interests.
     
    “We will accept nobody else but you,” Abu Majzoub, a senior NCP official told Bashir during a party meeting two weeks ago.
     
    The president himself kept his options open at the event, declaring in a speech - one of his longest since undergoing surgery - that only a special NCP conference, expected for next year, would decide on the next candidate.
     
    But newspaper columnist Mekki El Mograbi said it was too late to stop a succession debate. Middle-aged NCP cadres have been privately complaining that key positions in the government and state firms have been held for decades by the same old men.
     
    They point to senior figures like Oil Minister Awad al-Jaz, who is on his second term in that post and has been rotated though various top jobs since the 1989 coup.
     
    “Young people inside the NCP think it is time to take over power,” said Mekki, an NCP member. “They want young people present in all government positions.”
     
    Some technocrats close to the NCP also feel the ICC charges stand in the way of better ties with the West as Sudan hopes for investment to realize its mineral and agricultural potential.
     
    In a first public rift, senior NCP official Ghazi Salah ad-Din said in April the constitution banned Bashir from running again. The NCP promptly removed him as head of its parliamentary caucus.
     
    To keep critics at bay Bashir cannot lose the loyalty of the army, a power broker in a country famous for coups.
     
    By accusing South Sudan of backing Sudanese rebels he is playing to the feelings of hardliners in the army and also radical Islamists for whom the old civil war foe to the south is a natural enemy, analysts and diplomats in Khartoum say.
     
    Some officers were enraged by a rebel attack on central Sudan in April, and dismayed by the army's struggle to seize back territory.
     
    Bashir has since changed the army leadership under the banner of regular retirement, which offered him the chance to promote ambitious young officers and make a new start fighting rebels.
     
    Coup risk 

    Aly Verjee, senior researcher at the Rift Valley Institute, said Bashir had still the support of many in the army and NCP but the risk was that disgruntled officers might team up with Islamists who feel he has given up the religious values of his 1989 coup.
     
    That risk was exposed when authorities unveiled in November a coup plot involving a former spy chief and 12 officers. One of them was a senior Islamist army officer, who is revered as a hero fighting southern “infidels” during the long civil war.
     
    “The question is not whether anti-Bashir sentiment exists, but how deep it runs, how permanent it is, and how many of the leadership are sympathetic to such views,” said Verjee.
     
    The government has been at pains not to give any clues who might succeed Bashir one day.
     
    When Japan held an African summit in June it left Sudan to choose its representative as Tokyo could not host Bashir due to the ICC charges. First Vice President Ali Osman Taha would have been the top-ranking alternative, but Khartoum only sent a state finance minister.
     
    “It looked odd to have a junior minister sitting next to several African leaders, but I think they didn't want to send Taha since he's seen as a succession candidate,” said a diplomat.
     
    Taha would be the preferred candidate of many Western diplomats who hope his more moderate views might open a new page in relations. But as a former judge and lawyer it remains to be seen whether he would have the backing of the army.
     
    “Bashir might think Taha is too soft and could make concessions with the ICC,” said El Gizouli.
     
    Another possible contender is presidential assistant Nafie Ali Nafie, a hardliner with security ties. He has been visiting European countries such as Norway, Sweden or Russia in recent months, which some see as a hint of higher ambitions.

    You May Like

    S. African Farmer Goes From 'Voice in the Wilderness' to Sought-After Expert

    Margarest Roberts has authored more than 40 books on subjects like organic farming, urban agriculture, herbs and ‘superfoods'

    Millennial Men Prefer Bucks Over Beauty

    U.S. men aged 18 to 34 say the finances of a potential significant other are more important than her looks

    Multimedia Lebanese Clown Troupe Marks Valentine's Day Amid Stink

    Activists resort to unusual approaches to raise public awareness of country’s ongoing trash crisis

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clownsi
    X
    February 09, 2016 8:04 PM
    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay Prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Middle East Affairs and national security.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.