Does it surprise one that most leaders change and become more autocratic, selfish and less sensitive to the suffering of their subjects once they are in power? From the proclamation of a state of emergency, suspension of elections and civil liberties, rule by decree, disrespect for the court and the authority of law procedures, repression of political opponents, autocrats can hardly hide their cult of personality. We see these characteristics in many African leaders, including former president Omar al-Bashir of Sudan.
How do dictatorship tendencies explain human psychology? Are humans born to be dictators once they taste the necessary conditions? Is that meanness a survival instinct? Are humans too weak not to succumb to the intoxicating influence of power? How valid is the argument that dictators are indeed psychopaths? Defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders under the somewhat antiseptic term, Psychopathy is “antisocial personality disorder,” characterised by “repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest,” deceitfulness, impulsivity and lack of remorse,” amongst other features. Can you see these traits in many leaders, including Donald Trump and many African leaders?
Lack of remorse and empathy indeed. When many innocent people are killed, and the unhappy population is disheartened with such a government, a heartless dictator might care less. Yet one wonders why these callous leaders have not learnt from history and take a leaf from the nemesis of other dictators before them. As provocative as the question might sound, other thoughts come to mind. Where are the likes of Adolf Hitler, Mussolini, Mao, Stalin? Did Idi Amin Dada, Sani Abacha, Mobutu Sese Seko, Jean-Bedel Bokassa, Muammar al-Gaddafi, Idriss Deby go to their graves with the billions they acquired while in power as dictators? Sadly, because autocrats like Omar al-Bashir have refused to learn from history, it is easier for one to understand the African proverb, which says that when a dog is about to die, it no longer perceives the smell of its poop.
Last week, Sudan indicated its readiness to surrender former Omar al-Bashir and other wanted officials to the International Criminal Court, its Foreign Minister Mariam al-Mahdi revealed.
The government of Sudan disclosed the decision to hand over Omar al-Bashir during a visit to Sudan by the new ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan.
The “cabinet decided to hand over wanted officials to the ICC,” Mahdi said.
The latest news to prosecute the long-time autocrat along with other officials wanted over the Darfur conflict is not only a step in the right direction; it is a serious message to other dictators that impunity comes with a price.
Omar al-Bashir, who faces charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Darfur conflict, ruled Sudan for three decades with an iron fist before being deposed in 2019 amid widespread unrest. According to the United Nations, the Darfur war, which started in the vast western region of Sudan in 2003, claimed more than 300,000 deaths and displaced over 2.5 million others. The war began after the revolt by non-Arab rebels against Bashir’s Arab-dominated government over the alleged marginalisation of non-Arabs in Sudan.
The 2019 unrest was not the first against dictator Bashir, but like any other dictator, the former president had successfully crushed his political opponents and oppositions through brutish coercion, murder, intimidation or financial enticement and inducement. But no condition is permanent. Everything has its time and season. Omar al-Bashir took the 2019 revolt, which started as a protest against the high cost of bread, the staple food in Sudan, as yet another rattling of the ants. Alas, the determined ants can resist the brutal attacks of the most feared dictator once the ants show much needed will, determination and solidarity. Those were the elements Omar al-Bashir wrongly underestimated in the angry Sudanese, who were tired of his blood-thirsty, corrupt and undemocratic rule. The rest is history. So seems former president Omar al-Bashir.
And history has been in the making in Sudan since August 2019, after the transitional civilian-military administration took over power in the country and vowed to prosecute atrocities committed under Bashir.
To bring peace in volatile Sudan, the new administration signed a peace agreement in October 2020 with prominent Darfuri rebel groups and offered some of their leader’s political appointments in the new government, a move hailed globally.
Faced with allegations of rape, murder and torture and a new transitional civilian-military administration, which has shown willingness to hold the culprits of those crimes accountable, it has become clear to many that the political equation and situation in Sudan are starting to change.
Last year, one of the ICC most wanted suspects, senior Janjaweed militia leader Ali Muhammad Ali Abd al-Rahman, alias Ali Kushayb surrendered to the court.
Soon Omar al-Bashir and other war criminals in Sudan and elsewhere will understand that impunity often comes back to hurt the perpetrator. That is the law of nature, which governors all humans, including the god-like leaders.