Sudan's Omar Al-Bashir and President Jacob Zuma share one of many happy moments. Picture: GCIS
Sudan's Omar Al-Bashir and President Jacob Zuma share one of many happy moments. Picture: GCIS

If one had to go through the period of Jacob Zuma’s rule and name the things that shamed SA, the list would be a long one. From the Nkandla scandal to all the corruption and mayhem being exposed in the state capture commission, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s reference to “nine wasted years” does not do it justice.

Considering that, as head of state, Zuma was found to have violated the constitution, it is not a big shock that one of his most egregious failures of judgment included giving the finger to the judiciary and the rule of law, in order to protect a dictator and international rogue who would not have risked travelling to any country that took its democratic and moral responsibilities seriously.

That would be the decision in 2015 to shield Sudan’s former president Omar al-Bashir from an international warrant of arrest for crimes against humanity, allegedly committed in the western region of Darfur. The New York Times reported in 2017 that the UN estimated that the violence killed about 300,000 people and drove more than 2-million from their homes. 

Despite a warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC), Bashir thought nothing of travelling to SA for an AU summit. This is despite the country having, as far back as 2009, through then director-general of international relations and co-operation Ayanda Ntsaluba, stated that it would have no choice but to arrest Bashir if he ever set foot in SA.

To our collective shame, this is not what happened in 2015. Zuma’s government defied a court order and allowed the dictator to slip out of the country. Instead, it decided to pick a fight with the ICC and even tried to pull out of the Rome Statute.  

In what may be another significant step for democracy on the continent, Bashir is no longer in charge of Sudan, and it will not be thanks to SA. So much for our leadership role in Africa.

The dictator, during whose brutal 30-year reign Sudan never knew peace, was eventually toppled by the army after months of demonstrations against his misrule and economic mismanagement that has led to record inflation, fuel, and cash shortages. This will not have made easy viewing for President Emmerson Mnangagwa in Zimbabwe.

Whether the fall of Bashir is the beginning of a brighter and more democratic future for Sudan is still to be seen. It is definitely not what the army is offering. The ruling military council said last week that it expects a transition period that could last two years, or less if chaos can be avoided, before the introduction of a civilian government.

That partly explains why the removal of Bashir did not mean the end of protests, forcing the resignation of interim leader and defence minister Awad Ibn Auf, who was head of military intelligence when atrocities were committed in Darfur. The head of national intelligence also quit and the army made more concessions, including the release of political detainees.

Victory for the Sudanese people is still far from secure. Just like in Algeria, where protests finally ended the 20-year rule of Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the danger is  that the military and other forces who have been running things from the shadows will seek to thwart the desire for genuine change. The so-called Arab spring that kicked off in Tunisia in 2010 offers a cautionary tale.

When it comes to human rights and the promotion of good governance across the continent, SA is unfortunately no longer the moral voice it was during Nelson Mandela’s time, epitomised by the then president’s campaign to isolate Nigerian military ruler Sani Abacha, in the mid-1990s after the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and other activists.

From Zimbabwe to Venezuela, this current crop of SA politicians has failed almost every moral test and it might, therefore, be pointless to expect them to play a constructive role in Sudan or Algeria. We can only hope that time proves us wrong.