“This will be my last mandate, insha’Allah.” Insha’Allah (God willing), indeed.
In an interview with the BBC on Wednesday, April 6, Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir said he will be stepping down as president when his term ends in 2020. It is a promise he has made and broken before, but the likelihood appears higher this time after the death of former rival Hassan Al-Turabi in March.
If we take him at his word, the question arises as to what measures he would have to put in place between now and 2020 to ensure his transfer of power goes smoothly.
At the moment, Sudan’s domestic politics are anything but stable. The regime has pushed for a ‘national dialogue’ between the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and the country’s opposition parties and various rebel groups, but this plan has failed to bring any kind of political resolution. While the military appears solidly in support of the regime, continued economic difficulties may in time test allegiances. The economy, then, may be the deciding factor in how things unfold over the next four years. An improvement would mean that the NCP would have the funds needed to offer rebel and opposition elites a deal, or to make sure soldiers are paid well enough to maintain the status quo.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Sudan’s GDP growth is expected to recover to 4% this year, thereafter gaining momentum over the medium term. The multilateral organisation expects GDP growth to accelerate to 4.5% in 2017 and rise to 5% in 2018.
We suspect these forecasts may be somewhat optimistic. As long as US sanctions, low trending commodity prices and poor weather conditions persist, Sudan’s economy will struggle to gain traction. However, the declining headline inflation figures may abet the recovery in economic growth.
Consumer price index (CPI) inflation is estimated to average 19.8% in 2015, compared to an average of 36.9% in 2014. Looking ahead, the IMF projects that the easing annual trend will be reinforced by continued tightening of monetary policy. The most recent estimate for headline inflation, according to Reuters, is recorded at 12.9% y-o-y in February 2016. For the year as a whole, the IMF expects CPI inflation to slow to 12.8% and average 6.6% p.a. during 2017-20.
As was seen in 2013, runaway inflation has the potential to lead to mass protests. In that year, inflation of nearly 50% caused widespread protest action against the government that was only brought to heel after over 200 demonstrators were killed by security forces.
Failing an economic turnaround, the regime may turn to its new sponsor, Saudi Arabia.
The Saudis have already invested heavily in the new relationship and have managed to get Khartoum to do a U-turn on its decades-long support for Tehran. Out of the deal, the Saudis get access to fertile lands to better ensure their future food security and military support in their battles against terrorists in the north-east of the kingdom and against Houthi rebels in Yemen. It would appear that the Saudis are taking the long view in Sudan and thus could be willing to prop up a fragile NCP regime.
Away from domestic and international factors, Mr Bashir is 72 years old and, while this is not old by African standards for presidents, he may feel that the time has come to step aside. While he has maintained an almost delusional sense of righteousness despite the many documented atrocities that have occurred under his rule, the stress of governing this tumultuous country would have taken a personal toll.
If offered a safe refuge – perhaps emulating the likes of Idi Amin and others in Saudi Arabia – it is likely that he would choose the relative peace that would entail.
If Mr Bashir is earnestly looking to retire in four years’ time, Sudan is in for an interesting couple of years as he and the NCP set about orchestrating a smooth transfer of power. At present, there is no clear successor in place. With no let-up in the conflicts in Darfur and the Two Areas (Blue Nile and South Kordofan) and the economy struggling, a clean handover seems like a monumental task.
We think that if there is no clear improvement on these fronts and no chance of a cushy retirement for his dotage, Mr Bashir will opt to remain in office.
Jared Jeffery, Political Analyst and Nadene Johnson, Economist at NKC African Economics