Country FilesNorthSudan Country Profile 2015: Bashir won't back down


Sudan Country Profile 2015: Bashir won't back down

By The Africa Report

altPresident Omar al-Bashir shows no signs of walking away from his powerful position.

His reign began with a coup, and there has not been a day of peace in the quarter of a century that followed. The conflicts in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile hobble the country.

Sudan suffers from uneven development, but there is hardly any money to spend on health, education or building roads. Instead, available resources are directed to the military-security apparatus that makes up Bashir's power base. Those wars on the peripheries are unwinnable.

The war in Darfur proceeds in fits and starts. The year 2014 was one of the bloodiest for some time. More than 300,000 people were displaced, according to the UN. Quite apart from rebel activity, fighting between ethnic groups and banditry are other common problems.

The security situations in South Kordofan and Blue Nile are simpler. The major focus is the clash between rebels and the government. Nevertheless, none of the conflicts is likely to be resolved any time soon.

Opposition manoeuvres

In August 2014, a rebel coalition, the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), made up of the major Darfur-based groups and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North – which fights in South Kordofan and Blue Nile – signed an agreement with the National Umma Party (NUP).

The so-called 'Paris Declaration' was seen as a major threat by Bashir: a stepping-stone towards an alliance of all the armed and unarmed opposition that would underline that Bashir's movement is a minority in the country.

The NUP's deputy leader Mariam al-Mahdi, daughter of the party's leader, Sadiq al-Mahdi, was arrested when she returned to Khartoum and released a month later.

altIn 2015, the rebels will attempt to forge ties with the broad spectrum of unarmed opposition parties but may not succeed. Elections are scheduled for April 2015.

Despite having promised several times to step down, Bashir's National Congress Party announced in October that he will run again. The International Criminal Court indictment against him for genocide and other crimes in Darfur makes abandoning office a risky move. The elections will attract attention but are unlikely to change much.

As part of the Paris Declaration, the SRF and the NUP threatened to boycott any future elections unless they were "held under a transitional government" to end the wars and provide public freedoms "supported by a national consensus as a result of an inclusive dialogue involving all". Other opposition parties may sit out the elections too.

Divide and rule

Throughout 2014, Bashir and the NCP tried to get a national dialogue started, involving, in theory, all the major components of political and civic life.

The initiative got most support from the NCP's fellow Islamists now in opposition, like Hassan al-Turabi's Popular Congress Party and Ghazi Salahuddin's Reform Now and went some way to dividing the unarmed opposition.

The fractured nature of those opposed to Bashir, split between politicians and rebels, and along many ideological lines, is one of the reasons he has survived so long.

In early 2014, as South Sudan descended into civil war, Bashir traveled to Juba. He gave very public backing to his South Sudanese counterpart, Salva Kiir.

The improved relationship between the two Sudans has benefited both political elites. Yet, as the year progressed, Salva's inner circle became increasingly convinced that some in Khartoum were switching sides. There are regular accusations that Sudan is throwing its weight behind an old ally, rebel leader Riek Machar.

Sudan's economic woes continue, with the country set to record Africa's highest inflation rate in 2014. An International Monetary Fund mission in September said that inflation had hit a high of 46%, in part because of a reduction in fuel subsidies implemented in September 2013.

The government is still working to reduce its budget deficit and develop a turnaround plan for troubled state-owned Omdurman National Bank.

Gold production and agriculture are the two main sectors driving the country's economic growth. The international sanctions that the government faces and its unsustainable foreign debt remain key challenges going into 2015.

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