By Owei Lakemfa
ONE of the most memorable places I have ever visited is the Corinthia Hotel on Nile Street, Khartoum. My favourite past time each time I visited, was having an early morning breakfast in the high rise restaurant in the hotel. There, I sit facing the confluence where the White Nile which began its life-enriching journey from Burundi’s Ruvyironza waters and those of Rwanda’s Nyungwe, flowing into the Kagera River in Tanzania from where it embarks on a 3,700-kilometre journey, to meet the Blue Nile. The colours of the later which began its 1,450-kilometre journey from Lake Tania, in Ethiopia are clearly distinguishable from the White Nile.
Whenever I sit watching this mesmerising eternal marriage of the Nile which then flows to Egypt, I never fail to recall that it gave rise to modern civilization. The confluence last week continued its flow, but it also yielded the unsightly images of bloated bodies: those of pro-democracy activists and protesters who had on April 11, sent off the al-Bashir government and swept its contents, including President Omar al-Bashir into prison. The new dictators, while calling for continued ‘negotiations’, murdered least 101 protesters for insisting on civil administration.
The Sudanese military is behaving like the man Leo Tolstoy wrote about: “I sit on a man’s back choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am sorry for him and wish to lighten his load by all mean possible…except by getting off his back”.
The on-going peoples’ uprising began in December, 2018 with protests against the rising prices of bread and a poorly managed economy. The Sudanese generals had pretended they were one with the people and supported their move to democratise the country. They even exchanged shots with functionaries of the Bashir government to give the false impression that they wanted change. But all they have done is to sacrifice Bashir, and impose a deadlier regime.
The Sudanese people had clear identifiable leaders who spearheaded the revolution and all they want is for the civil populace to govern. The neo-colonial military, while claiming to agree, wore the people down in endless ‘negotiations” while re-building its forces that had been overwhelmed by the peoples movement. Even while it claimed it was engaged in negotiations on civil control and was yet to settle the question whether the transition government will be headed by civilians or the military, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan went on state visits as the head of state.
He was in Egypt where a similar betrayal of a peoples’ movement had taken place and a more murderous General, later ‘Field Marshall’ Abdul fatah el-Sisi had seized power on July 3, 2013. General Burhan, still pretending to be the Sudanese head of state visited Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates who gave him $500 million to consolidate his position in Sudan. They promised him a further $2.5 billion if he can quash the pro-democracy protests and bring Sudan under the tutelage of both countries and their masters in Washington.
It is the culture of the neo-colonial armies of Africa to arrest genuine change. The Sudanese army was established in 1898 by colonial Britain’s General Herbert Kitchener to serve colonial interests. The process of indigenizing the officer corps to give it Sudanese flavour, began in 1900.
When the country became independent in 1956, the military was fractured into ethno-religious and political alliances. The military was constantly planning coups, then Colonel Gaafar Mohamed el-Nimeiry, a 1966 graduate of the United States Army Command College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, succeeded in overthrowing the Ismail al-Azhari government in 1969. When a peoples’ uprising toppled Nimeiry in 1985, the military led by General Abdel al-Dahab, opportunistically took over. This is the history being replicated today.
The typical neo-colonial military officer in Africa comes from lowly background, is sucked into an institution in which he is trained with public funds and, in comparison with other public officers, is well paid with good welfare package. But in the absence of war, and apart from training, does no productive work. Despite this, he is quick to demand more benefits and is ready to subvert the peoples’ will, especially where there is move to change the system as is happening in Sudan.
A former Nigeria Police public relations officer, Alozie Ogbugbuaja, in the 1990s told a Tribunal of Inquiry that the military was not seriously engaged; so from noon, the officers could be found at their mess drinking pepper soup and beer; hence they had all the time to plan coups. He was victimized, transferred out of Lagos, detained and pushed out of the police. Even in retirement, the most popular policeman in Nigerian history, was not allowed to find his feet.
I grew under the cumulative 29-year military rule in Nigeria and was shocked when I encountered a different kind of military on the streets of Havana. This was a military whose primary duties included constructing mass housing, clearing drainage and generally being productive like the rest of the populace. Yet when it came to fighting one of the most ruthless armies in the world, the South African Defence Forces, the Cuban Army proved to be matchless.
I could not but reflect that while back home, the military was alienated from other Nigerians whom they call “bloody civilians”, in Cuba the military is an integral part of the people, and soldiers are expected to be better behaved than other citizens. Yet, it is not because Cuba is a communist country. In non-communist European countries, the soldier exhibits the highest decorum on the streets.
A decade and half ago, I spent about two weeks in Vienna, Austria; not once did I see a soldier in uniform. In fact, the only times I saw policemen in uniform was at the train station. Initially, I saw none, and had to ask a Nigerian resident if there were no policemen in the country. She told me I should try once or twice to cross the road with the pedestrian red light on, that is when I will discover that the passerby might be a policeman.
With very few exceptions like in Mouamar Ghadafi in Libya and Thomas Sankara in Burkina Faso, Africa’s military regimes have been a curse. After slavery and colonialism, the single most tragic occurrence in Africa which is also largely responsible for its underdevelopment, is military dictatorship. Spreading like Ebola, military dictatorship infected 15 of the 16 West African countries; only Senegal was spared. Today, most of Africa continue to suffer from the withdrawal symptoms of military dictatorship which include impunity, disregard for the legislature, disdain for the judiciary, corruption of the electoral process, a dictatorial mindset and general lack of respect for the citizenry.