In his interview with this newspaper, and in some of his latest statements, it seemed as if Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was relinquishing his responsibilities but not his position. For example, when he was asked about the suffering of the Sudanese citizens as a result of the high cost of living – something that the majority of people in Sudan have complained about, and which resulted in some people staging anti-government protests – al-Bashir did not offer any solutions to reassure the people. On the contrary, he deemed the rise in prices as being justified as a “result of the price hikes in petroleum products, which is basic for the production whether it is industrial, agricultural, or services production.” He then proceeded to talk about the campaign which many Sudanese had taken part in – whether voluntarily or involuntarily – to boycott meat products due to the soaring price of meat. Al-Bashir said the best way to fight the rise in the prices of commodities is to boycott them, although he said that the “ideal” way of handling a problem such as this is to reduce consumption.
When the state proposes boycotting – or reducing the consumption of – a food staple that has become unattainable to many people due to skyrocketing prices, this means that the state is incapable of offering solutions other than selling illusions and empty slogans. It is the responsibility of the ruler or government to provide the people with food, medicine and security, not to propose deprivation and suffering instead of prosperity and welfare, especially if people see the regime’s cronies getting richer and richer whilst hearing about corruption which has spread throughout the entire state structure.
The problem is not just the price of meat, for all food staples have been hit by the rise in prices and the economic crisis that has affected all walks of life, and which is expected to get worse during the coming period. The regime tried to deceive the people by getting on board and endorsing the wave of protest and adopting the meat boycott and calling for a reduction in the consumption of meat. Al-Bashir was not the only senior state official to offer his support for the meat boycott; in fact he was joined by other senior officials including Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha who rushed to welcome the committee advocating the boycott campaign, announcing his support for its cause.
The response to the government’s move could be seen in a series of jokes circulated online. One joke goes “a man brought a fish home to his wife and asked her to fry it. She said: there is no oil. So the man asked her to grill it and she answered: there is no flour. The man finally asked his wife to boil the fish, but she answered: the water has been cut off for the past seven days. So the man finally took the fish and threw it back into the sea, the fish cheered: Go, go al-Bashir! You have my vote!”
Ridicule was not the only reaction to the crisis which has affected people’s necessities. Demonstrations were also organized to protest this, but these were met by suppression on the part of the authorities that tried to portray them as possessing ideological dimensions. Sudanese presidential aide Nafie Ali Nafie – who is famous for his controversial statements – said that a wealthy communist who is paying people to take to the streets is behind these protests. Such talk is not just insulting to all those who took to the street to protest against the harsh economic conditions in the country, it also includes a clear shirking of responsibility on the part of the government, an attempt not to deal with the reality of the crisis facing the people of Sudan.
However it seems that escaping from reality and evading responsibility has become an official policy, especially with regards to the succession of crises that have struck the country, since the greatest failure of the regime, namely the secession of South Sudan and its inability to achieve peace. When President al-Bashir – in his interview with Asharq Al-Awsat –was asked about the conflicts that have broken out in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile, he tried to shirk all responsibility, saying that he had previously warned of this scenario, that a referendum in the south would lead to secession and then civil war. However if he foresaw all of this, why did he continue on this path? Is the ruler’s responsibility to warn against something, but then blindly go ahead with this, particularly as the regime moved ahead with the secession, and did not even bother to hold a referendum for the people of the north regarding the future of their country?
Al-Bashir supervised all the negotiations via his vice president, senior aides and advisors, and personally signed the peace treaty which led to the secession and even participated and danced in the celebrations marking the birth of the state of South Sudan. Before that, the regime wasted six years in wrangling and delay, and did not take advantage of the decisive years between the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005 and the self-determination referendum in the South in 2011 to put forward the appropriate conditions to make unification an appealing prospect. Indeed some of the regime’s loyalists contributed to enthusing people regarding the prospect of southern secession, saying that this would be “all for the best” for the north. So where is this “best” that they promised the people? Peace has not been achieved and relations between Khartoum and Juba are still very tense, and there is even the threat that we could see a return to war. Instead of bringing a measure of stability to the north or resulting in any promised “goodness”, conflicts have broken out along its new southern border extending from Darfur to the Blue Nile, including South Kordofan. The country is also facing a suffocating economic crisis after losing more than 75 percent of its oil resources which went to the South, particularly as traditional state resources like agriculture has been affected by negligence, haphazard policies and irrational taxes.
Following in the footsteps of the other “Zenga-Zenga” Arab regimes [in reference to Gaddafi’s infamous speech], al-Bashir tried to say that all the failures and problems his regime is facing have been caused by a “foreign” conspiracy, and that he knows who is behind this. To spice up his theory further, al-Bashir said that someone was trying to abort the Egyptian revolution and besiege it from Sudan and Libya. Al-Bashir did not forget to refer to Israel in view of the fact that political developments in the region are going against its interests. Of course al-Bashir is not the only one attempting to ride the wave of Arab revolutions by saluting revolutionaries and protesters in other countries while quelling demonstrations at home. Moreover, he is not the only one holding onto the reins of power and hanging all his problems and failures on foreign “plots and conspiracies”. This is the mentality of “I rule but I am not responsible for anything.”