Sudan - A Messy Situation
Yet another coup
The uneasy relationship between the Sudanese army and its civilian partners finally culminated in another coup in Sudan on October 25, 2021. Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan the head of the armed forces and Chairman of the Sovereign Council announced that the military would hold power until elections can be held in July 2023. Declaring a state of emergency, He said a government of technocrats would be formed to administer until elections were held.
The spark that led to the coup was the reported attempted on September 21 by a group of soldiers, said to be aligned to Sudan’s former strongman al Bashir, to overthrow the government. Bashir had been ousted in April 2019 following mass demonstrations organized by the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), a pro-democracy movement, which was a mix of groups including professional unions, political parties and youth groups.
It had also eventually got the support of the armed forces in engineering Bashir’s ouster but could not push the military out of politics completely. The then Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok called the coup attempt an ‘alarm bell’ that should awaken people to the causes of the country’s political and economic challenges.
Immediately after the overthrow of al Bashir the military seized power for itself. But faced with continuing protests in the streets that the generals hand over power to a civilian the military first cracked down. In June 2019, armed forces stormed the main protest camp outside the military headquarters, killing more than 100 people and raping dozens of women. With no let up in the protests the military agreed to a compromise.
Under an August 2019 power-sharing deal between the military and the FFC, a Sovereign Council of military and civilian members was given the task of overseeing the transition until elections scheduled for 2023.
A Sovereign Council comprising military officers and civilians was set up headed by the army chief. The Council appointed Abdalla Hamdok as prime minister of a transitional government. His deputy chief Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, the chief of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, a group notorious for atrocities during the Darfur war in the 1990s and blamed for the 2019 Khartoum massacre. The 2019 agreement had set May 2021 as the date for General Abdul Fattah al-Burhan to hand over the leadership of the Sovereign Council to a civilian representative.
The transitional government in addition to undoing some of the strict Islamic rules introduced by al Bashir, had also reached a peace deal with many of the rebel groups around Sudan that have been waging insurgencies against the Khartoum government for years. That deal allowed the armed rebels to return to Khartoum, waiting to be absorbed into the military.
In the aftermath of the September 2021 reported coup attempt massive demonstrations had been held in Sudan including the capital Khartoum. Thousands demonstrated and waved the national flag with slogans saying that, “the army is Sudan’s army, not Burhan’s army”. Security forces fired tear gas to break up a demonstration in the capital attended by an estimated 20,000 people. Neighbourhood resistance committees said in a statement they were protesting against the entire power-sharing agreement and demanded sole civilian rule. The FCC supported the demonstrations.
Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, had said before the latest coup that was committed to addressing the issues faced by the nation’s democratic transition, and that democracy and inclusiveness were his highest priority. During a high-level virtual meeting with foreign leaders hosted by the United Nations, Hamdok said holding free elections at the end of the transitional period was of the utmost importance to allow the Sudanese people to choose a government of their choice.
A statement issued by the Sudanese Professionals Association, which had called for rallies, said the marches were to protect Sudan’s democratic transition and there was no way to achieve that objective without ending the partnership with the military council.
Just before Hamdok was ousted , pro military demonstrations had also been held. A coalition of rebel groups and political parties had aligned with the military, and accused the civilian parties of mismanagement and monopolising power. On September 25,2021 the media reported that military forces had arrested several members of Sudan's civilian leadership and that Hamdok had been placed under house arrest. Military forces were said to have arrested four cabinet ministers, one civilian member of the ruling Sovereign Council, and several state governors and heads of political parties. Subsequently the PM was released and Burhan said he had been detained at his,Burhan's, house but had now returned to his own home. He also said the detained officials would not be released yet as some of them had sought to conspire to execute a coup. Those who were cleared would be freed. The Army Chief had declared an emergency; dissolved the Transitional Cabinet and the Sovereign Council; and suspended specific Constitutional provisions. Protestors had descended on the streets in protest against the military's takeover. There w.ere clashes with the security forces and reports quoting doctors said four people had been killed.
Meanwhile the FCC, the main opposition, had lost its cohesiveness. There had been some unhappiness with Hamdok because of the tough economic reforms that had been introduced. Several political factions including ex-rebel groups had announced the formation of an alliance at a ceremony where political parties, the Sudan Liberation Movement led by Mini Minawi and the Justice and Equality Movement of Gibril Ibrahim were present.
The new alliance was called the Charter of National Accord. The members of the breakaway group had complained of marginalisation in the transitional period with the mostly centric and urban political parties that comprised the FFC-- the Sudanese Congress Party, the Umma Party, the Arab Socialist Baath Party – Region of Sudan and the Federal Gathering—monopolising power. The splinter faction and their supporters had demanded the dissolution of the government and the formation of a new one led by technocrats. There had also been disagreements with the FFC about the Committee to Dismantle the June 30, 1989 Regime and Retrieve Public Funds, a task force established to recover assets lost to al-Bashir and his associates.
The United States, European Union and United Nations had denounced the latest coup, but t remained to be seen how much they could influence the military. The U.S. administration had cut of $700 Million in Aid To Sudan .Traditional friends of the military Egypt and Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had only called for calm.
Sudan had been facing an economic crisis when the latest coup happened. It had had differences with Ethiopia relating to the filling of Ethiopia’s Blue Nile Dam and had sought international mediation to prevent Ethiopia from filling the dam unilaterally without considering the interests of Sudan which drew its waters from the Blue Nile.
Although the war in South Sudan had ended with a peace treaty brokered it had led to a destruction of the oil infrastructure and loss of oil revenue that accounted for more than half of Sudan’s government revenue and 95% of its exports. This had reduced economic growth, and resulted in double-digit consumer price inflation.
Sudan’s economy is projected to remain in recession in 2021, with a return to modest growth expected in 2022
It had been assessed that Sudan’s recent removal from the States Sponsor of Terrorism List (SSTL) by the United States would stimulate financial flows, benefiting growth. But the latest coup could bring more hardship and estimates that poverty would decrease by 0.5 percentage points in 2022 might prove optimistic. The coup and resulting financial restrictions from external lenders could also impact on attempts to reduce inflation from 129.7% in 2021 to 57.5% in 2022..
The International Monetary Fund and World Bank had said that Sudan was in debt distress with total public debt more than 200 percent of GDP. The bulk of external debt in 2019 was owed to bilateral creditors ($41.5 billion, or 76% of total external debt), about equally divided between Paris and non-Paris Club creditors, followed by commercial (14%) and multilateral (10%) lenders.
COVID-19 had led to increased prices of basic foods, rising unemployment, and falling exports. Restrictions on movement had led to soaring commodity prices. In addition the country was hosting an estimated 763 thousand South Sudanese refugees and thousands of refugees and asylum seekers from Eritrea, Syria, Yemen, and Chad.
A great deal would depend upon the attitude that the IMF and the US and Europe adopt. A tough approach against the coup could impact Sudan's ability to borrow from traditional lenders and it may have to take recourse, at least in the interim, to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. But if the military does actually hold democratic elections in 2023 and allow a civilian government to take power, there could be some relenting especially in the USA since it is the military that had been instrumental in getting Sudan to normalise relations with Israel in 2020 leading to the USA removing Sudan from the list of terrorism sponsors.