Sudan has again got a civilian prime minister, but the military coup plotters have not loosened the grip. The road to democracy is full of obstacles.
Barely a month after the military seized power and ousted Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, he has been reinstated. It came after strong pressure on Army Chief of Staff Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the rest of the military leadership.
The pressure came both from outside – from the United States and the West, the Middle East and other African countries – but also from below.
The demonstrations after the October 25 coup were the largest in the country after the protests that forced military dictator Omar al-Bashir from power in 2019. They have also been bloody, over 40 protesters have been killed in the last month.
Hamdok himself says that he has the authority to form his own independent government, according to the agreement with the coup plotters.
– This was a key point in the political agreement we signed. That the prime minister should have the power and authority to form an independent technocratic government, in total freedom and without any kind of pressure, he said on Tuesday.
But the government must be technocratic, ie consist of experts, and is at the mercy of the support of the military.
The Sudanese main organization SPA, which led the protests against Bashir in 2018 and 2019, believes the agreement Hamdok has entered into is only an attempt to legitimize the coup. The Democratic Movement announces that they will continue the demonstrations.
The generals want Sunday’s reinstatement of a civilian prime minister to be seen as a step towards stabilizing the country ahead of the election, which is scheduled to be held in 2023. But analysts are skeptical.
– I do not think it is possible for Hamdok’s government to function at all, because it is not recognized in the streets, says Jihad Mashamoun, a Sudanese researcher affiliated with Exeter University in the UK.
The pressure on Sudan’s powerful military is both political and economic. The United States froze $ 700 million in aid after Hamdok was ousted in October, and US authorities have made it clear they are not yet ready to release them.
Penalties and financial loss
But the military has many considerations to take. They fear that a future democratically elected government will prosecute them for abuses committed in Darfur under al-Bashir’s rule as well as against pro-democracy activists. President al-Bashir has been charged with crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The military also has major economic interests in, among other things, mining and agriculture, something Prime Minister Hamdok said previously said is unacceptable.
– Hamdok risks becoming the man who stands at the checkout in the store and sells soap, matches and snacks, while the drug dealers do wholesale in the back room, says Alex de Waal, Sudan expert at Tufts University and human rights activist.
– The coup was carried out to protect kleptocrats from a clean-up, and the army has a clear intention to continue the money laundering operation behind a more respectable appearance, he believes.
Kleptocracy is an authoritarian government that enriches itself on the common good of society and the treasury.
Although the generals’ coup was condemned internationally, they have powerful military friends. Both the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have maintained contact with the army chief Burhan after al-Bashir’s departure. Analysts believe the Gulf states see themselves benefiting from the military having a hand on the wheel in Sudan, and can stem the influence of rivals such as Turkey and Qatar.
Egypt and Sudan have recently signed an agreement on military cooperation. The two countries have, among other things, common interests in a dispute with Ethiopia over a dam at the Blue Nile.
The military leadership has made it clear that they do not want to return to the agreement from 2019, where power was divided between the military and civilians. The Transitional Council was to last until the election, which is scheduled to be held in July 2023. The Transitional Council has until now been chaired by Army Chief Burhan, but according to the original plan, a civilian was to take over the leadership in a few weeks.
The big question now is whether the country still has a course towards real democracy.
Sudan expert de Waal believes there is a danger that the country will crumble.
– A compromise is needed, he says. He believes it is possible to build on the agreement that was entered into on Sunday, even though it is not very good in the first place.
Human rights lawyer Nafisa Hajar, who is also deputy chair of the Darfur Bar Association, points to two outcomes of the current situation: Either they keep their military word and the country can have a democratically elected government. Or the country is heading for more unrest.