The Downfall of Age-long Autocrats: Algeria’s Bouteflika and Sudan’s Omar Al-Bashir, Who’s Next?

Alao Abiodun
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At this current dispensation, there are two things synonymous with Africa: the aging status of the continent and the agelong-serving presidents. Distinctively, Africa has a huge leadership age gap disconnect between the leaders and the led.

Africa has faced several challenges among which is the peaceful transition as the continent has become home to several long-serving and sit-tight presidents who refuse to relinquish power. For example, Paul Biya, Cameroon’s president came to power in 1982 and has since then put in maximum efforts to consolidate power.

Similarly, Equatorial Guinea’s president Teodoro Obiang Mbasogo who has been in power for about four decades while Omar al-Bashir of Sudan has been in power since his 1989 coup that ousted Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi.

Despite the fact that African leaders have different reasons for refusing to leave office? one which is common among all is the fear of what happens to them after they quit office. A good number of them have suffered unfortunate fates such as going on exile for fear of what may befall them should they remain in the country or face charges from the international Court.

While recent events in those two countries — Algeria and Sudan — have been unique, it’s observable that the rapid downfalls of Bouteflika and Bashir are indeed strong signals and warnings to authoritarian leaders in the region that they ignore popular anger, especially over economic grievances, at their peril.

According to the report, The Sudanese Army, last week said that al-Bashir had been removed from power and detained after 30 years in power following four months of protests. Last week, mass protests led Algeria’s ailing Bouteflika to step down after 20 years.

Protesters against al-Bashir’s iron-fisted rule denounced the military “coup,” and thousands rallied outside army headquarters, demanding a civilian-led transition. In both situations, longtime rulers were pushed aside by existing security structures on the back of mass protests, in a sign for authoritarian leaders that an army can be a foe as well as a friend.

The Algerian and Sudanese contexts are very different indeed but at the same time, there is a lesson here for autocrats and dictators, that the craving for justice, democracy and equal opportunities is universal.

Back in 2011, during the popular Arab Spring uprising, anything seemed possible. Tunisia’s strongman fell, and Egypt’s soon followed. Protests erupted in Bahrain, as well as in Libya, Syria, and Yemen (and, in the latter three, war soon followed). Four countries saw new governments, but in the end, meaningful change survived in Tunisia alone. In Sudan and Algeria in 2011, some took to the streets to demand change, but in both cases, demonstrations were limited

This time around, protesters have learned lessons of the past, from their own experiences and those of others in neighboring and nearby countries. Though it is still early and much could yet change, their efforts have delivered results: Bouteflika has resigned, and Bashir has been unseated by Sudan’s military.

The generals forced Bouteflika to resign last week, and within days protests began heating up again in Sudan, leading to Mr Bashir’s apparent downfall. In both Algeria and Sudan, the military stage-managed the leaders’ departure, in a likely attempt to preserve their power, as was the case in Egypt in 2011.

But protesters are wiser now, much more mistrustful of the generals. Both in Algeria and Sudan there are calls by opposition and civil society groups for protesters not to vacate the public spaces under the control of the people, and to keep pushing for change.

Sustained protests demanding the resignation of Sudan’s hardline president Omar al-Bashir probably remind him of the recent Algerian demonstrations that forced president Abdelaziz Bouteflika to step down. Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide in Darfur, has governed Sudan since 1989. The months-long protests were triggered by economic hardship but demonstrators now want Bashir to resign. It’s 30 years since his predecessor was overthrown.

Abdelaziz Bouteflika steps down after 20 years in charge of Algeria

After two decades in power, the Algerian leader stepped down on April 2nd. Slumped in a wheelchair, dressed in a baggy djellaba robe instead of his usual three-piece suit, he looked like a doddering old man roused from bed in the middle of the night.

According to reports, He struggled even to hand his letter of resignation to the head of the constitutional committee (a stroke in 2013 left him an invalid). Mr Bouteflika styled himself a partisan and a politician who fought for Algeria’s independence and led the country out of civil war. There was no glimpse of Bouteflika in his final public appearance as president, only a frail shell.

After series of heated protests, Algerians flooded into the streets to celebrate a moment that was unthinkable two months earlier. Mr Bouteflika was tipped to win a fifth term as president, the only viable candidate in a stage-managed election. But in near-daily protests since February 16th, hundreds of thousands of Algerians demanded his resignation.

Years of corruption and mismanagement had left the oil- and gas-rich country with a big deficit and an unemployment rate of around 12%. Mr Bouteflika’s subjects were unwilling to endure five more years under a president barely able to speak.

Sudan’s longtime ruler, Omar Al-Bashir arrested and forced out of office

The three-decade rule of Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir has ended.

In a televised address, defense minister Ahmed Awad Ibn Awf said the 75-year-old leader has been arrested and put in a “safe place.”

The army general also announced the dissolution of the government, the suspension of the 2005 constitution, along with a three-month state of emergency. He also said Sudan’s airspace will be closed for 24 hours.

“The armed forces will take power with representation of the people to pave the way for Sudanese people to live in dignity,” Ibn Awf said.

Al-Bashir’s removal follows hours of uncertainty in which the army promised they would make an “important announcement.” Reports also surfaced that current and former officials were arrested

The statement ended Al-Bashir’s decadeslong rein over Sudan, a vast nation in northeast Africa that has been beset by armed conflict and multiple economic shocks.

Since coming to power in 1989, the strongman, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on genocide charges in connection with atrocities in the western Darfur region, has ruled Sudan longer than any other leader since the country gained independence in 1956.

Al-Bashir’s rule will be remembered for overseeing the deal that split Africa’s biggest nation and saw the birth of South Sudan in 2011. His downfall also marks Sudan’s completion of a hat-trick of unseating authoritarian regimes.

Who’s Next? 

Omar Al-Bashir is the second longtime African leader who has resigned in recent days: 82-year-old Abdelaziz Bouteflika stepped down in early April with parliament appointing Abdelkader Bensalah as interim leader of the North African state, disappointing those who wanted more radical change. Elections will be held July 4 .

It should be recalled that earlier this year, there was an attempt to remove Ali Bongo Ondimba, Gabon’s 59-year-old president who has been convalescing since November after suffering a stroke. The attempt to unseat him was short-lived: by midday, most of the coup-plotters had been rounded up and the government was back in control.

In Morocco, on Feb. 20, the officially banned Justice and Dignity movement, with participation from teachers and other trade unionists, commemorated the anniversary of the Arab Spring by marching on the royal palace, home to autocrat King Mohammed VI. The once suppressed population is now said to hold an average of 48 protests daily, according to Morocco’s human rights ministry.

Meaning the momentum against the half-century family dynasty in Togo has tactically reduced. “Opposition parties broke into factions, seeing 2020 elections ahead,” said activist Farida Nabourema. “There is a strong demobilization at the moment. Opposition needs to unite around a civil resistance agenda rather than an electoral one.”

Eritrea President, Isaias Afwerki is still enjoying the comfortability of his 26th year in power. Every Eritrean serves the state for an indeterminate period upon turning 18, with most being designated to military service.

Beyond the gaze of the international media, popular unrest has swept across many countries in Africa since 2018. The current political overview across African countries shows that there are still many more popular uprising which are expected to spring up positively in the struggle against dictatorship and autocratic regimes.


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