On February the 22nd in 2019, President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir pulled a fast one on the nation of Sudan and the world. Expectations were high. Sudan's Intelligence chief, Salah Abdallah Gosh, had even told reporters that his boss would resign as leader of the ruling party and would not run for the presidency in 2020. Al-Bashir did not step down as leader of the National Congress Party and neither did he say he would not be in the presidential race next year.
In fact, he said, "I announce imposing a state of emergency across the country for one year." It was not enough. He added, "I announce dissolving the government at the federal level and at the provincial levels." He was to later issue presidential decrees appointing security officials the leaders of the country's provinces. To Gosh's credit, he got this one right. Al Bashir has also put plans to amend the constitution to allow him to run in 2020 on hold.
What does a state of emergency mean for Sudan?
President Al-Bashir announced the declaration of a state of emergency in terms of Article 210 of Sudan's constitution which empowers him to do so with the consent of the Vice President of the country. A state of emergency can only be declared upon the occurrence of imminent danger, whether it is war, invasion, blockade, natural disaster or epidemics as may threaten the country. This, therefore, begs the question: what imminent danger are the protests against Al-Bashir posing? It seems Al-Bashir views any disgruntlement with his leadership a national danger yet he might be the greatest danger to this country of hopeful young people.
During a state of emergency, the Sudanese constitution gives the President power, by law or exceptional order, to suspend part of the Bill of Rights and therein lies the rub. While the Constitution does not allow any derogation from the right to life, freedom from slavery, torture, discrimination, and fairness in court proceedings, it is open season on every other right. There is a reason to panic. Omar Al-Bashir, a fugitive for crimes against humanity, now wields too much power. There are already reports that his government has killed north of 40 people since December 2018 while more than 1,000 people have been detained. It is even more ominous that Bashir has appointed military men as replacements for the dissolved government.
Closing the blinds
Omar Al-Bashir's government was already hostile to journalists with Al Jazeera and other Arabic media houses being the main targets. Their work permits were revoked. Five journalists were detained in January - Qureshi Awad and Kamal Karar of Al-Midan newspaper, Adil Ibrahim of El Jareeda and Ogeel Naaim of Almijhar al-Siyasi. There have been over 90 violations of freedom of press since protests broke out and Arnaud Froger, of Reporters Without Borders, says, “We unreservedly condemn these new arrests, the latest escalation in the government’s harassment of media outlets and journalists who try to cover the ongoing events in their country."
Social media sites were blocked and Al-Bashir announced his aversion for Facebook and Whatsapp, declaring, "Changing the government or presidents cannot be done through WhatsApp or Facebook. It can be done only through elections."
Sudan has thus tried to keep the outside world out while violence is meted out. The citizens have used Virtual Private Networks to bypass the block but they can only do so much. Not everything will find its way on the internet. Human Rights Watch has also reported killings and serious human rights abuses in the country. The state of emergency rightly ignites fears of escalating state-sponsored violence. Omar Hassan Ahmed Al-Bashir closed the blinds by keeping the media out and now he has turned off the lights on the Sudanese people with the State of Emergency. He has armed himself with cosmetically legitimate powers of violence and Africa should be watchful. Another unhinged anti-African dictator who free-rides on the Pan-African wave when it is beneficial to him is flirting with violence and mass-murder.
Header Image: Al Jazeera