Omar al-Bashir: the new Mugabe

As I wrote yesterday, there were a couple paths that Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir could have chosen after being indicted by the International Criminal Court for his role in atrocities in Darfur. Let’s just say he chose the more confrontational of the two: Immediately after the decision, the president expelled 13 NGOs from the country, ...

By , International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.
588016_090305_bashirmugabe2.jpg
588016_090305_bashirmugabe2.jpg

As I wrote yesterday, there were a couple paths that Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir could have chosen after being indicted by the International Criminal Court for his role in atrocities in Darfur. Let's just say he chose the more confrontational of the two: Immediately after the decision, the president expelled 13 NGOs from the country, condemned the ruling as neocolonialism, and looked set to ratchet up his reign. Rebel groups in Darfur announced that they would back out of peace talks, claiming that Bashir is no longer a legitimate negotiator. Fear about what comes next is palpable. 

But what is most disturbing of all is how similar the Sudan situation has just become to that of another African conundrum -- Zimbabwe. Bashir is taking a page straight from Robert Mugabe's book, framing himself as a hero of sovereignty, victim of persecution by the West.

As I wrote yesterday, there were a couple paths that Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir could have chosen after being indicted by the International Criminal Court for his role in atrocities in Darfur. Let’s just say he chose the more confrontational of the two: Immediately after the decision, the president expelled 13 NGOs from the country, condemned the ruling as neocolonialism, and looked set to ratchet up his reign. Rebel groups in Darfur announced that they would back out of peace talks, claiming that Bashir is no longer a legitimate negotiator. Fear about what comes next is palpable. 

But what is most disturbing of all is how similar the Sudan situation has just become to that of another African conundrum — Zimbabwe. Bashir is taking a page straight from Robert Mugabe’s book, framing himself as a hero of sovereignty, victim of persecution by the West.

The Sudanese president immediately denounced the court as a new tool of neocolonialists meant to keep Sudan from ever achieving peace. He has organized street protests to demonstrate popular support. Like Mugabe has so often done, Bashir uses the real threat against his regime to justify removing aid groups and flushing out political opponents. 

Unfortunately, Sudan is becoming another Zimbabwe for the African continent as well. A delegation from the African Union is set to ask the United Nations’ Security Council to suspend the indictment. They support Khartoum because they fear the precedent of presidential prosecution, they fear for the stability or the region, or simply because they agree that Bashir is coming under undue pressure from abroad. Solidarity with “anticolonial” leaders — however repressive — is becoming far too fashionable. 

But unlike Zimbabwe, there are no Morgan Tsvangirais in Sudan, no credible opponent figures, and no real hope that whatever government comes after Bashir’s will be much better. The vice president from another party in the south of the country, Salva Kir, tread lightly on the indictment, probably aware that he is on unsteady ground. Indeed, today much of Sudan is shaking. 

MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images

Elizabeth Dickinson is International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.

Tag: Africa

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