Since the end of colonial rule in the Arab world few countries have been more ravaged by poverty, war and hunger than Sudan. The country today is usually associated with the massacres and grotesque government-led attacks on civilian populations in Darfur, crimes for which the Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir remains under indictment at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Nonetheless a general election was held last week which received little coverage in the Western media.
The ruling coalition led by Al-Bashir, the National Congress Party (NCP), has naturally swept the legislative elections and though the presidential election results are yet to be announced they are likely to similarly return Al-Bashir. The political process in Sudan is largely rigged, with the country scoring the lowest possible rating in terms of rule of law, democracy and freedom according to the leading monitoring groups. Thus Sudan is likely to continue under one party rule where dissidents are imprisoned or worse and dissent more generally is prohibited.
Very little is written about Sudan anymore. Not only is journalism enormously restricted, Western visitors are often treated with hostility and accused of espionage. With young men and women from Europe and North America making their way to fight for Islamic State, a Shia-Sunni war being waged in Yemen and nuclear negotiations with Iran the focus has long ago passed on from the forgotten millions who are left to fend for themselves under the brutal Al-Bashir regime. The President himself is shielded by the cowardly decision of the Arab League and the African Union to refuse his extradition to the ICC during his various trips abroad. The complete lack of political will in those countries that might be able to force Al-Bashir’s surrender (United States, China, European Union) means that the rigged 2015 Sudanese elections will be nothing more than a passing episode in the brutalisation of the Sudanese people.
With a population of over 37 million and covering more than 720,000 square miles (16th biggest country in the world), Sudan is a potentially important country strategically. Every year it is used to smuggle weapons, drugs and (most tragically) people to Europe and the Middle East, and both the wars that have taken place within its borders and those that take place involving its neighbours has led millions to seek refuge in the West, often with tragic consequences in terms of journeys that end at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea.
Listening to the few reports that have come from Western news agencies that are on the ground in Sudan it becomes clear that those people who do express support for the President overwhelmingly claim it is for the sake of stability. With civil wars and intra-communal violence rife across North Africa and the Middle East people are naturally nervous about a similar situation developing in Sudan, made more likely by the fact that the entrenched power structures which surround the NCP would be hard to break after decades of one-party rule. The reality is such attitudes demonstrate the lack of hope in Sudan. The forgotten people of that country have come to accept that the West is not interested in helping them, and that their fellow Arabs and Africans are similarly unconcerned with their brutal suppression. In the face of such isolation, they see little point in challenging a system where standing up to the regime results in untold suffering and little more than a press release from the Africa desk of Amnesty International in terms of recognition.
Sudan is an example of what happens when the world moves on. While in 2005 it was ‘cool’ to care about Darfur and to use the suffering of the Sudanese people as a stick with which to beat the Bush administration, today the short attention span of Western popular opinion has moved on. The Sudanese people are paying the price.