The ouster of Sudanese dictator Omar Hassan al-Bashir after 30 years in power has been a long time coming. His removal and arrest — by his former military colleagues — were the culmination of popular protests in several Sudanese cities, which have effectively been going on for the past four months, initially sparked by a spiraling cost of living and the deterioration of economic conditions. However, the manner of his departure has left a sour taste in the mouths of many protesters.
That Bashir has basically been removed by his second in command, Awad Ibn Auf, implies that little has actually changed. While Ibn Auf was only appointed vice president in February, after Bashir dismissed his entire cabinet in an attempt to appease the demonstrators, he is a longtime insider, having served as head of military intelligence, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, ambassador to Oman and, since 2015, defense minister. He is on a U.S. sanctions list in relation to the atrocities committed by the regime in the Darfur region, over which Bashir was indicted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.
Ibn Auf plans to head a two-year transitional military government and has suspended the constitution. Bashir, he announced, has been removed to a “safe place” but it is unlikely that he will be handed over to the ICC.
In fact, we probably shouldn’t worry too much about Bashir. If history proves to be a reliable guide, it is more likely that he will follow other deposed long-serving Arab dictators into comfortable retirement.
Hosni Mubarak, who also ruled Egypt for decades, was toppled following weeks of protests in 2011, at the height of the Arab Spring revolt. After spending the better part of six years in a comfortable military hospital in Cairo, as his trial on various charges made its way through the courts, he was eventually acquitted and allowed to retain the fabulous wealth he had accumulated at the expense of Egyptians. The 90-year-old and his family now enjoy life in a villa in the upscale Cairo district of Heliopolis and spend holidays in the seaside resort Sharm el-Sheikh.
Similarly, Tunisia’s ruler for more than 20 years, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the first to lose power to the Arab Spring, today lives comfortably in exile in the Saudi Arabian city of Jiddah. By some estimates, he and his family had stashed away up to $17 billion by the time he fled, and only about $450 million of that has so far been recovered by the Tunisian state. This month, protests also put an end to the 20-year rule of yet another octogenarian, Algeria’s Abdulaziz Bouteflika. His resignation also followed a nudge from the military, and like Bashir, he has been replaced by one of his trusted allies.
For now, the system that kept Bashir in power might be experiencing some strain — but it is still very much in control. The extension of the state of emergency by a further three months and the imposition of a month-long curfew seem designed to prevent further protests and to give the ruling junta time to reestablish itself. The hijacking of the revolution in both Algeria and Sudan demonstrates an important fact: Months of protests may topple dictatorships, but unless there is a plan for what happens after that, then there’s a real danger of the revolution going round in circles. Just look at Egypt, where a military strongman, very much in the mold of Mubarak, now controls the country.
Sudan should also look to its past. It has been oscillating between civilian and military governments since 1956. There were uprisings against military governments in 1964 and again in 1985. Yet the culmination of that history was yet another military government. It will be crucial to see whether any lessons have been learned this time around and whether the protesters can rescue their revolution.
However, should things go south for Bashir and he has to leave in a hurry, he could look to Kenya for a place to settle down for a while. He has much in common with President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto, both of whom were indicted by the ICC prior to taking power, and then used state power to frustrate and ultimately end the prosecutions.
They have kept in touch with Bashir and, despite the ICC warrant on Bashir’s head, invited him to both of Kenyatta’s inaugurations (he took a rain check both times). He also hosted Kenyatta, among other African leaders, in June 2015 for his own inauguration. In February of this year, Kenyatta declared that he was “happy to know that Sudan is handling matters well and that the situation in the country is under control.”
So as the Sudanese people now face days and months of uncertainty over the future of their revolution and whether it will be stolen from them, their former dictator’s options don’t look too bleak.
Patrick Gathara is a strategic communications consultant, writer and award-winning political cartoonist in Kenya.