Support for Bashir abounds in rural Sudan

2015-04-10 06:51
Sudanese President Omar Bashir. (AFP)

Sudanese President Omar Bashir. (AFP)

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Shendi - The name of President Omar al-Bashir is mainly known worldwide because of decades of deadly conflict in Sudan and also for his overseeing the country's split from the south.

But parts of Sudan have also reaped the benefits of a quarter-century of Bashir rule.

For Ahmed al-Muada, Bashir and his ruling National Congress Party (NCP), both seeking reelection on Monday, are the reason he is being treated in a hospital near his home in the town of Shendi on the banks of the Nile instead of in far-off Khartoum.

"In the time before them, Shendi could not even dream of hospitals like this," the 82-year-old said, lying on a stretcher as he waited to be seen for a heart condition.

Basic but spotless and well-ordered, the hospital was built as a teaching facility for the nearby university founded in 1994.

The NCP was founded in the mid-1990s by Bashir's ruling clique, and has used development projects countrywide as a tool to build a support base.

"This is in a country where services were terribly poor," said Magdi al-Gizouli, an analyst.

Bashir's indictment by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in Darfur and Sudan's international isolation have not dented the NCP's popularity with Shendi's market traders and farmers.

The last democratically elected government was disorganised, fighting a bloody civil war against southern rebels before Bashir ousted it.

Development fell by the wayside and the NCP filled the gap in places like Shendi.

"A single hospital, a single school is transformative," Gizouli said.

'Salvation' coup

Shendi is in Sudan's Arab heartland 190km from Khartoum along a tarmac road completed in 1995, and most residents there hail from Bashir's own tribe.

Farther down the road from the hospital is Shendi market, long a source of revenues for the town.

Since Bashir's coup, dubbed "Ingaz" - or salvation - its traders said the town's infrastructure had "greatly improved".

"Good streets, water and electricity came with the current government," Suliman Hussein shrugged, standing next to his stall selling onions grown in nearby Nile-irrigated fields.

The party has played the rural politics game well, reaching out to people from areas such as Shendi which would previously have been excluded by the Khartoum elites that have traditionally dominated Sudan.

"The NCP is a big party - its ranks are organised and it created establishments from the roots up," said Ahmed al-Hassan Nimr, NCP deputy head in Shendi.

Nimr said it is easy to see why support for the party is strong.

He points to the Merowe Dam, completed in 2009 at a cost of $2bn. It doubled Sudan's electrical capacity and Shendi now enjoys round-the-clock power.

"The Sudanese found that the Ingaz revolution took a greater interest in them than other parties," Nimr said.

But not everyone benefited: other parts of Sudan have fared less well under Bashir and the NCP.

'A divisive economy'

"It's a very divisive economy. It has generated some winners but it has generated a lot of losers," Gizouli said.

Construction of the Merowe Dam displaced thousands of people who were ordered to leave their homes to make way for the project.

And regions rich in the resources used to bankroll the NCP's development drive have been hit by deadly conflict.

Much development was paid for using revenues after Sudan started exporting oil from its southern regions, where the government battled rebels between 1983 and 2005.

But development did not come to the south and the wealth flowed north.

Oil revenues reached $11 billion in 2010 before South Sudan seceded - and Khartoum lost nearly three quarters of its oil resources.

Government forces are still battling insurgents in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan areas, as well as in Darfur where rebels complain of economic and political marginalisation.

These areas are still wracked by instability, with thousands of people displaced in fresh unrest since last year.

But such conflict is far removed from Shendi, where another development project has endowed it with a bridge spanning the Nile.

His white robes flapping in the wind as he tended his fields beside the bridge, Hasab al-Rasul Mohamed Ali was content with his lot.

"Yesterday I sold some tomatoes in Atbara," upriver from Shendi, he said, grinning.

"In the past it was difficult for me to do that. You needed days to transport produce," he said.

For him, the bridge looming over his lush green fields is proof that the NCP is his best choice.

"With the current government things became very easy," he said.

Read more on:    omar al-bashir  |  sudan  |  east africa

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