- In-Country Power
- International Power
- Military Strength
- Special Skill: Guiding Genocide
- Official Title: President
- Government: Military Dictatorship/One-Party State
- Years Left in Office: Life
- Political Classification: Right
- Education: BA's from Egyptian and Sudanese Military Academies
- Age: 75 (born January 1, 1944)
Omar al-Bashir Facts and Information
Oh man oh man Omar! What a busy, busy African bee this dude is. Possibly an African killer bee at that! Is he a military dictator? Field Marshall of the armed forces? Or an elected President? A conductor of genocide? A war criminal? An economic miracle worker? A despicable despot? An Arab hero? A focus of animosity and rage to ‘the West’? A leader refocusing Africa to ‘the East’?
Hmmmm…..I think he may actually be all these things and more, depending upon who you ask! He’s got a little bit of the Good, the Bad, & the Ugly all wrapped up inside him. Let’s start with the basics:
Omar Hassan al-Bashir is first and foremost a military man: he joined the Sudanese army at the tender age of 16, studied at the Egyptian Military Academy in Cairo, and graduated from the military academy in Khartoum at 22. He became a seasoned paratrooper and started rising up the ranks while serving in the Egyptian army during the Yom Kippur War (the Fourth Arab-Israeli War, was fought from October 6 to 26, 1973, between Israel and a coalition of Arab states backing Egypt and Syria). Al-Bashir possessed qualities of great charisma and passion and he achieved the rank of colonel in the Sudanese Army….and this is when he becomes a world leader of note….
Because in 1989 Omar then led a bloodless coup against the extremely unstable Sudanese government of Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi…all while the country was in the midst of their Second Sudanese Civil War (yeah, the first one was so fun, they decided to keep the party going…more on that later.) Bashir replaced the government with the Revolutionary Command Council for National Salvation (RCC), a junta of a dozen military officers, assisted by a civilian cabinet. General al-Bashir then made himself president and chief of state, prime minister and chief of the armed forces….all rolled into one!
He has further cemented his claim to power in 1993 by holding democratic elections every 5 years, which he handily wins, although the outside world is not so convinced that those elections are free and fair, or even valid. He just won an overwhelming majority again in 2010 which will keep him in power for at least another handful of fun.
So is that why the US and ‘the West’ hate him so much…because he appears to be a anti-democratic military dictator? Oh no! That’s nothing! Mr. Bashir has been vilified in the West and blamed over the years for cozying up to Osama bin Laden, for supporting Saddam Hussein in the First Gulf War, for abusing human rights, and unleashing death squads in both southern Sudan in the Second Civil War and more recently in Darfur, the war-racked region of western Sudan—that’s the one you have been hearing about in the news for years.
Maybe a 2-paragraph primer on Sudan’s conflicts would help you out here: The First Sudanese Civil War (1955-1972) and the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983-2005), which is considered a mere continuation of the first, took place mostly in southern Sudan. Collectively, they are the longest running and bloodiest conflict in the world since World War II: Roughly 1.9 million civilians killed and another 4 million southerners have been forced to flee their homes at one time or another since the war began. The basis of the conflict is pretty straightforward: ever since Sudan’s independence in 1956, black African Christian/animist tribes in the south have rebelled against the Arab Muslim rulers in the north…and at various times various Arab rulers have tried to forcibly ‘Islam-icize’ the south by implementing Islamic Sharia law and crushing rebel dissent.
Could it get any more complicated? Sure it can! There has been a persistent and widening chasm of wealth disparity and political power between the north and south: with all of the government, economic, and political power concentrated in the north while the south has suffered with chronic poverty, drought, famine, and disease. Here is the kicker: Sudan has recently discovered huge oil reserves…all of which are in the south, but controlled by the government in the north. So for all these reasons and many more, several areas of southern Sudan have been in a semi-continuous uprising for decades in an effort to secede from the north. But let’s get back to Bashir….
Most consider the current Darfur conflict (which started in early 2003) as a continuation of these same north/south tensions which has simply shifted locations to western Sudan. However, this war has unfolded in its entirety during al-Bashir’s reign, and the government has been fighting the uprising not with the Sudanese military but with proxy fighters named the Janjaweed—which are essentially a group of local Arab rednecks run amok that have been raping, burning and pillaging their way through black African villages on a campaign of terror…that is now being labeled as “ethnic cleansing” a.k.a. genocide. That has what caught the world’s attention, and gotten President al-Bashir in international hot water….
According to international figures, the Darfur crisis has produced 200,000-400,000 casualties, displaced a half million, and caused an epic humanitarian crisis which has spilled over to neighboring countries. Bashir himself claims that the casualties are less than 10,000 and are being over-inflated by the West and that the Darfur situation is a local problem between tribes which has been accentuated by drought and starvation.
The West does not buy this at all, and believes the Sudanese government and Bashir have organized the whole affair: in 2009 Omar al-Bashir was charged by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on seven counts of war crimes and five counts of crimes against humanity. He is the first President of a country in history to be indicted of international crimes while still in office. If Bashir travels to a country that complies with ICC regulations, they will arrest him. Ouch. That makes vacation plans more complicated….
So how could anybody possibly like this guy? From a western perspective, he looks, smells, and feels like a slimeball….but let me be the first to tell you that lots of others have a much different perspective of al-Bashir, and he is forging a new path for African states that is radically important for you to know if you want to truly understand the global leadership shift that is underway…
What shift am I referring to? The rise of Asia, specifically China, and the decreasing reliance on ‘the West’ as the sole source of economic ties, political leadership, and international alliances. Say what? Yep. Al-Bashir and Sudan in general have been shielded from any international involvement on the Darfur issue by China—who is a veto-wielding member of the UN Permanent Security Council, and therefore can stop any UN plan to intercede on the possible genocide occurring there. Why would China do that? Oh! Because Sudan now produces a shit-ton of oil…and China buys it all! In fact most of the oil infrastructure was built with Chinese investment. Starting to make sense now?
It is this strategic alliance with China, combined with the newly found oil wealth, which has made Omar al-Bashir a popular President (at least in the north part of his country) and a model for other African and Arab leaders to follow. Many love him! Why? Because they are getting rich! At an average 8% rate of economic growth in the last twenty years, the IMF describes the Sudanese economy one of the fastest-growing economies in the world….despite all its problems. And Omar has been on a building binge too: pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into roads, bridges, power plants, hospitals and schools, along with modernizing his military in a big way…which of course boosts the government’s popularity and power.
And, like him or hate him, al-Bashir is responsible for the current stability and growth of Sudan. When he came to power, Sudan was horribly corrupt, had triple-digit inflation, the government was useless, and they were mired in civil war. Since he seized power, Omar did clean up the government considerably and made it at least functional again….and he is directly responsible for ending the decades-long civil war in the south. He did this by pushing through a Comprehensive Peace Agreement based mostly on the idea that he would allow the peoples of southern Sudan to vote in a referendum in 2011 for their independence if they were still unhappy…and hey, that vote is coming up soon, so we shall see if Omar will be true to his word and allow the south to secede peacefully.
Not many are optimistic that it will unfold that way, but al-Bashir insists that he is genuine about letting the referendum go forward. Hmmmm…..all while he builds up and modernizes his military….the clock is ticking on this one, all while the Darfur conflict is still active out in the west. Oh, and most of Sudan’s oil is in the south, so how is that going to work if they secede? Good luck with that Omar.
But maybe he doesn’t really need luck anymore. Appealing to national pride and fomenting deep-seated fears that the nation could tumble into Somalia-like chaos if he were removed (which is entirely possible) Omar has a solid lock on power. With all that hot economic growth and reinvestment into infrastructure, al-Bashir has an extremely solid support base in the north…and increasingly from Asian and Arab countries too. How so?
Well, the US, ‘the West’, George Clooney, Angelie Jolie, and the ICC think the dude is a bastard who has committed war crimes and have attempted to isolate him by putting economic sanctions on Sudan…but firms from China, Malaysia, India, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have been racing in to take advantage of the economic and resource boom. Foreign investment has gone through the roof in the last decade. In addition, when the arrest warrant was issued by the ICC for al-Bashir, almost every single Arab country (and many Asian ones) openly stated that they would not honor it, meaning they would not arrest Omar if/when he traveled to their states.
On top of that, President al-Bashir continues to refuse the UN to have a serious presence in the Darfur crisis, has denounced the ICC ruling as racist bullshit, and shows open disdain for ‘the West’ as he sees them as demonizing, patriarchal, and exploitive of Africa as a whole….which has won him a lot of Africa and Arab fans. He stands up to the West, and he has the power and economic leverage to pull it off right now! Mostly because of that Asian re-focus which I have alluded to earlier. Let’s hear it from the man himself:
“From the first day, our policy was clear: To look eastward, toward China, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, and even Korea and Japan, even if the Western influence upon some [of these] countries is strong. We believe that the Chinese expansion was natural because it filled the space left by Western governments, the United States, and international funding agencies. The success of the Sudanese experiment in dealing with China without political conditions or pressures encouraged other African countries to look toward China.”
Big words from the big man of a big land. Sudan is a huge country (Africa’s largest) and enormous swaths of territory are still neglected, and growing class differences could sow the seeds of further unrest. With ‘the West’ breathing down his neck, the ICC with a warrant for his arrest, a referendum for southern Sudanese independence coming up in 2011, a booming economy, and massive interaction and investment from Asia, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is certainly one to watch on the world stage. And an important figure too: both as a litmus test to see how far the reach of international justice can stretch, but also as a man who has forged a new ‘Eastward-leaning’ path that other African nations may follow.
Oh man oh man oh man, Omar: a man to keep an eye on!