The Bull and The Knives

Radio Erena: 18 February 2020

On February 8, in an interview with the Eritrean TV, President Isaias Afwerki said that, during the thirty-year reign of General Omar Al Bashir, Sudan had suffered immensely and so did Eritrea.

He cited the separation of South Sudan and the abject poverty as the paramount legacy of the thirty-year rule of the former “Lawless Band” in Khartoum. South Sudan, according to president Isaias, would have not separated from Sudan if its legitimate demands for equality, justice, and prosperity were met. The mistaken policies of Khartoum’s government led to the dismemberment of the country, he added. Regarding poverty, he said, Sudan, which is known for its abundant resources, faltered under poverty and misrule. Al Bashir’s policies, he went on, exported terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism to Eritrea.

Earlier in his lecture-like interview, he emphasized that political Islam did not exist in Sudan before 1983; hence, it was introduced by the coup d’état of President Al Bashir. The rule of general Bashir ruined the traditional Sudanese economic, political and social institutions, he stated. He further concluded that the situation in Khartoum is not yet stable as the forces of the ancient regime are still working very hard to restore the previous state of affairs.

Numerous individuals have considered this part of the interview on Sudan as insightful and prudent. The truth is it was neither candid nor discerning. First, one agrees that political Islam came to the forefront in Sudan with the coup d’état of 1989; but it was well-established and active many years before. For example, in 1968, the Islamic Charter Front scored its biggest victory with the suspension of the membership of the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP) representatives in the parliament. This same Front had been a staunch supporter of the Eritrean national struggle for independence, support which never wavered in comparison to other Sudanese political parties’ ad hoc policies.

Secondly, all the ‘data’ presented in the interview were not new or genuine. An illuminating contrast is Dr. Mohammed Suleiman Mohammed’s book Sudan the Wars of Resources and Identities. In this erudite book, Suleiman recounts Sudan’s Journey into misery. A task he carries out with sincerity and diligence. Of the memorable chapter titles, these stick to the memory: Sudan: a continent of conflicts. Darfur: The Oasis Versus the Desert, and finally, the Displaced: Out of Sight Out of Mind. Suleiman presents in this oeuvre his ecological and political expertise, tackling the thorny Sudanese politics and conflicts; a much wiser contribution than president Isaias’s tedious TV show.

President Isaias spoke out as if the audience did not have memories about the marriage of convenience which Asmara and Khartoum once had. Despite the superficial disputes Asmara had with Khartoum in the past twenty years, the regime in Khartoum was a close ally to president Isaias almost all the way. Qatar succeeded in restoring relations between Eritrea and Sudan in 1997 after a four-year break. The financial incentive of the venture was 600 million dollars for both parties with some hazy promises of gigantic development projects in both countries. In 2003, the Asmara sponsored East Sudan Agreement saved Al Bashir from the hook and temporarily quietened the conflict in this sidelined region. In 2005, in a notorious security deal, Eritrea released two high-ranking Sudanese security officers from prison, Khartoum, in turn, handed Asmara an extensive list of names of Eritrean activists, who are still languishing in prisons. Above all, and during the hard times of United Nations Sanctions on Eritrea (2009-2018), Khartoum was, with the consent of Al Bashir himself, safe passage of arms and spare parts from Ukraine and Bulgaria to the desperate Eritrean army and air force.

When the International Criminal Court issued its warrant against President Al Bashir in 2009, Asmara was the first capital to receive him in defiance of the court and in a show of solidarity with a ‘great African leader’.

The close ally Omar Al Bashir rewarded president Isisas with the first visit of a head of state to congratulate him in quelling the heroic Forto Operation, a matter which was received with deep gratitude by the president who survived the toughest threat to his regime ever.

The relations between the overthrown General Al Bashir and President Issais ran in deep veins of mutual personal benefits. President Isaias is an accomplice to General Al Bashir not only in destroying Sudan; but also in continuing wrecking Eritrea. The records are available for consideration as history seldom sleeps.

President Isaias attack of the falling general could best be expressed in the Sudanese proverb which says, “When a bull falls (butchers’) knives will surround it.”

Fathi Osman