It’s a scene all too familiar in the saga of politics. In lieu of the usual television broadcaster, a man clad in decorated khaki intrudes the family living room. His voice, monotonous and authoritative, carries a message that will change course of history. The autocratic strongman has fallen. The military has taken over. Change is imminent.
The most recent display of this charade was in Sudan as defence minister, Lt. Gen. Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Auf, announced the end of Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year reign. Months of protests culminated in the ouster of the long-serving president, who had ruled a country plagued by famine and war for three decades. As I followed the updates on the events unfolding in Sudan, I relived the emotions I experienced when former Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe, was forced into resignation in November 2017. The images of the protests and the euphoria at the news that the autocratic leader had been unseated reminded me of the time that I, along with millions of Zimbabweans, felt a renewed sense of hope that at long last, political change would become a reality. Hope that the second republic would be truly be a people’s republic.
It’s been 17 months since Mugabe left office and all hope for change has dissipated. Under the facade of a a civilian government, the military remains in control of an ailing economy and a frustrated population. As news of the Sudanese coup spread, some Zimbabweans, myself included, received the information with apprehension as articulated by this tweet by Bustop TV, a youth-run Zimbabwean media house widely known for satirical skits that highlight current political and social issues.
While the humour behind that tweet made for a good laugh, I couldn’t scroll past the loaded message it held. A glance at the visual documentation of the coup in Sudan and the one that took place in Zimbabwe in November 2017 reveals a tale of two countries’ struggle for political change and the realities of power. A common theme weaves through both narratives – the deep rooted involvement of the military in civilian politics as it took the armed forces to displace both Mugabe and Bashir.
Evan Mawarire, a Zimbabwean pastor and democratic activist. He came to prominence during the 2016–17 Zimbabwe protests that challenged the rule of Robert Mugabe’s government. This image was captured after Mawarire was released after being charged with inciting public violence following a widely-followed national strike.
Alaa Salah, a Sudanese student and anti-government protestor. She gained attention from a picture of her taken by Lana Haroun that went viral in April 2019. The image of Salah has been dubbed as “Woman in White” or “Lady Liberty” of Sudan.
Zimbabweans took to the streets in solidarity with the military calling for the resignation of Robert Mugabe Photo Credit: Jekesai Njikizana, Agence France-Presse, Getty Images, November 2017
A Sudanese demonstrator gestures while riding atop a military truck. REUTERS/Stringer,
Who will forget the day the Zimbabwean military became a symbol of hope in November 2017
The military joining the civilian protests and consequently dethroning Bashir, April 2019
So, do we tell the Sudanese or leave them to find out that military interventions seldom bring democratic change? Do you think the protesters will feel encouraged to continue with their sit-in if we tell them that if they keep pushing for real regime change they may save themselves from settling for a pseudo-civilian government in the near future? I wonder if anyone will tell them that right now, the military will say and do anything to hold on to power, because once you’ve tasted it, you never want to let it go. Will someone please advise the Sudanese that removing Bashir was the easy part – now the real struggle will be undoing the system that kept him in control. How do we let them know that their first priority should be reforming the security sector?
Maybe it’s too soon to assume that the Sudanese will need to know what we have unfortunately come to understand through experience. The aftermath of the coup continues to unfold and there is still hope that the winds of change that have knocked down the old guard will usher in a new breeze of real political change in Sudan.
Until then – NOT YET UHURU.