Fall of al-Bashir and Bouteflika signal another Arab Spring
Publish date: 15 April 2019
Issue Number: 819
Diary: IBA Legalbrief Africa
The people of Algeria and Sudan have toppled long-term leaders Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Omar al-Bashir and served notice that Africa’s remaining dicators need to be very worried. Legalbrief reports that a week of extraordinary defiance has seen two of the continent’s seemingly invincible leaders battered and beaten. Since 19 December, Sudan has been rocked by persistent protests sparked by the government's attempt to raise the price of bread, and an economic crisis that has led to fuel and cash shortages. The situation remains volatile and fluid with the new military chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan promising protesters that a civilian government will be formed. In addition, he vowed that the armed forces would consult opposition groups about civilian leadership and lift a curfew imposed by his predecessor. BBC News reports that he said the army would maintain ‘peace, order and security’ across Sudan during the transition period that would last until elections could be held within two year. He also promised to try those who killed demonstrators and pledged to tackle corruption. The Independent reports that al-Burhan has also freed all prisoners jailed by al-Bashir under the state of emergency which was declared in February.
The coalition of opposition groups leading the demonstrations have agreed to meet with the armed forces to discuss a future civilian government. A SowetanLIVE report notes that al-Burhan became the second officer to be sworn in after President Omar al-Bashir was ousted. The veteran soldier became chief of the military council that deposed al-Bashir after his immediate successor, General Awad Ibn Ouf, stepped down following just 24 hours in power. Protesters, determined to see a civilian government after the end of Bashir's iron-fisted three decades in power, saw Ibn Ouf as a regime insider and a close al-Bashir aide. A TimesLIVE report notes that al-Bashir has also been indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague over allegations of genocide in Sudan's Darfur region during an insurgency that began in 2003.
Burhan's record appears to be cleaner than the rest of al-Bashir's generals, and he is not known to be implicated in war crimes or wanted by international courts. A report on the News24 site notes that he was also one of the generals who reached out to protesters at the week-long encampment near the military headquarters, meeting with them face to face, and listening to their views. Another top general, Omar Zein Abedeen said al-Bashir would not be extradited to the International Criminal Court, saying doing so would be ‘an ugly mark on Sudan’. He said Sudanese courts would hold al-Bashir ‘accountable’, but did not specify what charges he could be prosecuted on. The development underscores the limits on the reach of the ICC. On Friday, court judges rejected a request by its prosecutor to open an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan and alleged crimes by US forces there, in part because the US, Afghan Government and Taliban are not expected to cooperate. Along with al-Bashir, the ICC has indicted two other senior figures in his regime – Abdel-Rahim Muhammad Hussein, who was Defence Minister during much of the Darfur conflict, and Ahmed Haroun, a senior security chief at the time.
In Algeria, Bouteflika who resigned last week was replaced by Abdelkader Bensalah, who has pledged to hold free elections on 4 July but many see him as too close to the former leader. Hundreds of thousands of people marched through Algiers on Friday, many chanting ‘No to Bensalah’ and using the slogan, ‘They will all leave’, on social media. BBC News reports that army chief, lieutenant-general Gaid Salah has cautioned protesters about demands that could undermine the country's Constitution. He also said the judiciary should investigate ‘the whole gang’ in reference to Bouteflika’s inner circle. The former leader was considered by many as being a front for a group of businessmen, politicians and military officials who were said to really control the country. Al Jazeera reports that Bensalah's appointment is in accordance with Algeria's Constitution but the protesters who drove Bouteflika out after 20 years in office are dissatisfied with the move because he is a key ally of the former President and a seasoned establishment insider. Naming a new interim President allows the country to organise elections. Bensalah, who cannot run in the polls, does not have the support of the opposition parties. If Bensalah and the rest of the old guard remain in place there can be no chance of free and fair elections, according to Mehdi Feloussi, a young entrepreneur who is a regular at the protests. They committed fraud in the past, he says, and would do so again. ‘It's like someone who was stealing for the past 20 years and cheating for the past 20 years telling you, “Please trust me and I will organise a transparent vote”. Everybody knows they will cheat again.’
For autocratic leaders seeking lessons from the toppling of al-Bashir and Bouteflika, avoiding a currency crisis may be the key to survival. In an analysis on the Fin24 site, Paul Wallace notes that al-Bashir faced months of protests against the government’s economic mismanagement, repression and corruption. ‘One of the root causes of the 75-year-old’s downfall was his inability to manage a shortage of foreign exchange that sent inflation soaring and hammered living standards. Sudan’s woes can be traced back to the secession of South Sudan in 2011, which saw it lose almost all its oil fields and 60% of fiscal revenue, according to the Institute of International Finance. But the government’s decision to ramp up spending while pegging its currency only exacerbated the situation.’ Wallace points out that Robert Mugabe was pushed out by Zimbabwe’s army in 2017 while the ruling party in Angola pressured President Jose Eduardo dos Santos to resign earlier than he wanted in the same year. One of the first things his successor, Joao Lourenco, did was devalue the kwanza to try to end a dire scarcity of hard currency. ‘And Bouteflika faced his own currency problems. ‘The 2014 crash in oil and gas prices crimped the Arab nation’s dollar earnings. While it avoided the kind of economic pain seen in Sudan, it spent more than $100bn of reserves to prop up the dinar and avoid tough measures such as a major devaluation or turning to the International Monetary Fund for a bailout.’
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