Author:Versi, Anver
Position:Upsurge of public protests against Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Sudan's Omar al-Bashir - Cover story

While most African leaders today respect their constitutions and step down when their terms end, a handful of the old guard refuse to relinquish office until they are pushed out. They have failed to read the times and face extinction. Anver Versi analyses the ramifications of the current waves of public protests in Sudan and Algeria as Omar al-Bashir and Abdelaziz Bouteflika cling on against their people's wishes.

In the 12th century, a European monarch, King Canute tired of the flattery of his courtiers, placed his throne on the beach and sat on it while tne tide was coming in. He commanded the tide to stop. It just kept rolling in and when the waves, with no respect for his royalty or position, washed over his feet and legs he leapt backwards and declared: "Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings."

Canute's wisdom sadly has not filtered down to some of Africa's most entrenched political leaders who continue to try and hold back the tide with increasing desperation. But as Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, Tunisia's Ben Ali, Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and a host of other leaders--in Africa and elsewhere--have found out, you cannot hold back the human tide once it has turned against you. You can only postpone the day of reckoning.

As we go to press, Algeria's Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in power for two decades and Sudan's Omar al-Bashir, who has ruled his country with an iron fist since staging a coup in 1989, were both clinging on to office as angry storms of frustrated citizens swirled all around them.

Bouteflika, looking shrunken and vacant following a series of strokes, tried to appease the milling protesters by ruling himself out of the April elections (which would have been his fifth term of office) and replacing Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia with Noureddine Bedoui, previously his interior minister--but remained adamant that he would stay in office until the end of the year. He said his government would organise a national conference, accompanied by a national referendum to rewrite the constitution.

But the protesters would have none of it--they don't trust a word. They suspect he and his hardcore elite 'want to steal victory from the people', and to present himself as a saviour of the nation. They want him and in effect the entire Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN), the party that has been in power for more than 50 years, out. They are demanding change and have vowed not to rest until they get it.

Sudan in turmoil

The septuagenarian Omar al-Bashir is also attempting to hola back the tide of protests that began in December and are growing in scale and vehemence by the day. His approach is to repeat tactics he has used before--brutal force, tempered with minor concessions.

As a sop to the protests, which had become country-wide by February, Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, said on 1 March that he would hand over the leadership of the ruling National Congress Party to its deputy chairman, Anmed Harun, also wanted by the ICC, until the party's next general conference. The inference is that he will not run in the 2020 elections although he has not said as much.

The Sudanese people have been here before with Bashir. He had made a similar pledge when confronted by widespread protests in 2013 and promised not to run in the 2015 elections. He reneged on that pledge once things had calmed down.

But if Bashir was reaching down into his memory bank to replicate his earlier stratagem, his opponents had an even better grasp of history. They knew that two of the country's most entrenched autocrats, General Ibrahim Abboud and Jaafar Nimeiri had been deposed by similar widespread public protests by a similar coalition of professionals and lay...

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