Bashir ouster reveals harsh political and economic reality

Saturday April 13 2019

sudan economy

A Sudanese vendor waits for customers outside a grocery store in Khartoum. The new reality is that the new rulers need South Sudan now more than ever to shore up the economy. Khartoum relies heavily on payments receipts from Juba’s use of the oil pipeline to Port Said. PHOTO | ASHRAF SHAZLY | AFP 

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Omar Hassan al-Bashir has left power after 30 years of ruling Sudan with an iron fist, but his exit has security, economic and the geopolitical implications for both his country and the region.

Jervasio Okot, a former South Sudan diplomat conversant with Sudan issues told The EastAfrican that a prolonged standoff between the military and protesters over a quick handover to civilian leadership might lead to regions such as Darfur, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, which have been fighting to remove al-Bashir, to use the uncertainty to pursue secession.

Biel Boutrous Biel, the executive director of the South Sudan Human Rights Society for Advocacy, warned that if the post-Bashir era becomes oppressive, Sudan may disintegrate further.

The economic situation that sparked the protests in December 2018, is likely to get worse, with a report by the Institute of International Finance on April 10, showing that Sudan continues to struggle with balance of payments.

“It has run consistently large current account deficits following the secession of South Sudan and the ensuing loss of about 75 per cent of the combined oil production; exports in Sudan itself now are dominated by gold,” says the report.

Currency depreciation


It adds that the debt-to-GDP ratio rose to over 140 per cent in 2018, largely due to the sharp depreciation of the Sudanese pound in October 2018, as 90 per cent of the public debt is denominated in dollars.

While the United States lifted the 20-year economic sanctions against Khartoum in September 2017, international investors and banks have been hesitant to deal with Sudan under al-Bashir.

The UK had pledged to help Sudan write- off $53.35 billion foreign debt, provided that Khartoum promoted dialogue and institute democratic reforms that ensuring political and religious freedoms.

Regionally, the exit of al-Bashir may affect security in South Sudan and Chad.

Juba’s peace deal

Being the second guarantor of Juba’s September 2018 Revitalised Peace Agreement and the one who allowed the South to secede in 2011 despite strong opposition from the Islamists, al-Bashir has been central to peace in South Sudan.

Jon Pen, a member of the South Sudan civil society said that if the new military rulers in Khartoum happen to be the same Islamists, they may sponsor war against Juba to derail the independence.

However, the new reality is that the new rulers need South Sudan now more than ever to shore up the economy. Khartoum relies heavily on payments receipts from Juba’s use of the oil pipeline to Port Said.

Both countries desperately needed the cash generated by oil from South Sudan.

Mr Biel said that there is a huge implication of al-Bashir's departure on Juba’s peace deal because he was acting as a neutralising force to Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni's influence in South Sudan.

But more challenging will be the position of the rebel leader, Dr Riek Machar, who initially received financial and military support from al-Bashir when the war broke out in 2013, and who has been hosted by the latter in Khartoum during the eight months pre-transition period.

Both sides in South Sudan have expressed alarm over the deposing of al-Bashir.

“Sudan laboured so hard to restore peace and stability and because of that we have the current prevailing peace agreement in South Sudan and it is a guarantor,” Martin Elia Lomoro, South Sudan’s Cabinet Affairs minister, said in a meeting with international ceasefire monitors.

His sentiments were concurred by former rebel representative Stephen Pal Kuol.

Balance of power

Al-Bashir’s exit also means that Dr Machar is now friendless and penniless, giving President Kiir the upper hand in peace negotiations.

According to the International Crisis Group, President Kiir holds the cards. It depends on if he wants to concede enough to end the war.

There is no longer much external pressure to keep this peace process moving forward ... it could all fall apart or it could put fire under their feet to move forward on their own.
In Chad, al-Bashir has been co-operating with President Idriss Déby to eliminate the Union of Resistance Forces based in the northeast but whose members comprise the Zaghawa both in Chad and Sudan’s Darfur region in the west.

The rebels, who operate from southern Libya, in February attempted to march to Djamena, but the French intervened through aerial bombing.

Al-Bashir’s exit also puts the co-operation with Sudan and the United States over the war against terrorism in jeopardy.

Gen Salah Abdallah Gosh, head of Sudanese intelligence service, has been instrumental in providing the Central Intelligence Agency with crucial information on terrorist groups that have been using Sudan as a base.

While the US lifted economic sanctions in October 2017, Washington is yet to remove Sudan from the list of countries sponsoring terrorism that was imposed in August 1993 for hosting Osama Bin Laden.

Balancing act

Sudan has been in discussion with the US on the pending issues such as the removal from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, the external debts problem amounting to $45 billion, and Sudan's accession to the World Trade Organisation.

In the region, the exit of al-Bashir could stall the negotiations over the Nile waters with Egypt over Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam.

Across the straits, a scramble for political and economic influence on Sudan by rival forces in the Middle East pitting Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates on the one hand and Turkey and Qatar on the other, could escalate.

Al-Bashir had maintained a delicate balance by supporting the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, while at the same time maintaining strong ties with Turkey, even giving them an army base in the island port in Suakin, in the northeast part of the country.

Turkey had set aside a $10 billion economic package for Sudan.