Blankets n’ Wine: Youth have left Bashir behind

Monday April 22 2019

Omar al-Bashir, Sudan's ousted president, at the presidential palace in the capital Khartoum on December 31, 2018. PHOTO | FILE | AFP

Omar al-Bashir, Sudan's ousted president, at the presidential palace in the capital Khartoum on December 31, 2018. PHOTO | FILE | AFP 

CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO
By CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO
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Two years ago, Khartoum was not in the top 15 African cities in terms of size.

By 2100, it will be among the 10 biggest cities in the world. In fact, it will be the sixth largest, with nearly 60 million people.

The population of Sudan at that time is projected to be 127.4 million. In other words, nearly half of Sudan’s population will live in Khartoum.

Like Egypt, most of Sudan’s population lives along the River Nile, a strip that is reeling as more water is drawn away for irrigation, farming, and lost to the ravages of environment degradation and climate change.

It has put pressure on the price of food. And in the economic crisis Sudan was caught in, the Omar al-Bashir government last December increased the price of bread from about two to six US cents.

It sparked a series of protests that last week ended Bashir’s 30-year rule. Bashir was a dictator, and he probably would have survived – if he had left the people’s bread alone.

When a government raises the price of fuel, people protest. When it raises the cost of electricity, people protest. The difference is that when it touches the price of bread, milk, ugali, it attracts the ire of the one group that is otherwise peaceful, and very fearsome when it takes to the streets – women. Men are erratic. In the evening, they get distracted and go to fight it out over Premier League football, to bet on sports, and battle over politics.

SURPRISED

The women, especially the traditional mothers, go home and get even more angry when they have to serve the children half the portion of ugali they used to give them six months ago. That is one of the things that immediately cost Bashir his job.

However, in the long-term, it is the transformation of Khartoum from a city that wasn’t in the top 15 in Africa in 2017, to being the sixth largest in the world in another 80 years.

A year ago I was in Khartoum, in one of these save Africa enterprises. Bashir threw a banquet for our large conference at the presidential palace. The vans took us through this vast military barracks in Khartoum. Bashir lived plonk in the middle of the barracks, surrounded by soldiers like some kind of queen bee.

The Bashir who emerged all in white robe looked remarkably calm, albeit a little slow on his feet.

On the way back to our hotel after we had eaten his food, Khartoum’s streets were full of lively young men and women, looking more like kids in the wild side of Nairobi or Kampala, than in the capital of a supposedly conservative Muslim country. And a rowdy lot of them were shouting anti-government slogans – nearly at midnight! One evening at our posh hotel, we were at the lounge bar. We were struck during our stay by the skimpily-dressed Sudanese women. “I am surprised,” one of us said. “I came here expecting to see only burqas. But it feels like a Blankets & Wine event in Kenya”.

To be sure, we only saw a small middle side of Khartoum. But even from that, it was clear Bashir was governing a country most of which had long left him behind.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is a researcher and writer on politics and public affairs.

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