September 23, 2020

After Dictatorship

KHARTOUM, Sudan—During the morning shift at Omdurman Teaching Hospital, sick people group under trees in the courtyard, awaiting admission. There are 645 beds and upwards of 1,500 patients each day. Inside, Mohammed Elhag Hamed brought a manila folder over to me. The documents inside formed a paper trail of corruption. They showed how the political appointees who had been running the hospital had put money that should have gone to patient services, into the pockets of those loyal to the National Congress Party, which had ruled the country for three decades under President Omar al-Bashir.

Hamed, an open-faced man in his early fifties, talked me through the documents. They were simultaneously banal and riveting. Banal because of their bureaucratic character: expense logs, personnel lists. Riveting because they were a concrete example of how corruption had been institutionalized across Sudan throughout Bashir’s rule. Hamed found the files on the office computer of his predecessor, the former general manager of the hospital, who evidently believed that Sudan’s kleptocratic dictatorship would never fall.

During his 30-year reign, Bashir seemed invincible. Once host to Osama bin Laden, Bashir weathered U.S. economic sanctions, the listing of Sudan as a “state sponsor of terrorism,” and an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court. Throughout, he used a deep and widespread patronage system to maintain power. Money that belonged to the public purse was siphoned off to keep potential enemies beholden to Bashir. But in December last year, Sudanese across the country took to the streets to call for regime change. Continue reading here.

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