The Wider Implications of Sudan Coup on National and Regional Security

Sudan Flag Against City Blurred Background At Sunrise Backlight

By Olusegun Akinfenwa 

The recent coup in Sudan poses a threat to national and regional security and could tilt the country towards another regime of dictatorship after a brief period of democracy.

On 25 October, the military in Sudan led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan took over the government in a coup. It also declared a state of emergence, dissolved the transitional government, and detained some top government officials, including civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, for their refusal to support the coup. Since the coup, civilians have been staging civil resistance against the military junta and demanding for reinstatement of the transitional council. The current political tussle can be traced back to the 2019 ousting of the former dictator, Omar al-Bashir whose 30 years of authoritarian rule was brought to an end following a 12-month intense uprising, which ushered in a joint military-civilian council.

The two-year rule of the council was however characterised by rancour and counteraccusation, as the two factions blamed each other for the deteriorating economic situation in the country. The 25 October coup was a culmination of months of in-fighting and mutual suspicion between the military component led by al-Burhan and the civilian faction led by Hamdok. The wider implications of the coup cut across various aspects of Sudan’s national affairs and could also mean another setback for democratic progress in sub-Saharan Africa.

Human Rights Violations

The military’s excessive use of force against protesters since the coup has once again shown that the country is still within the grip of authoritarian leadership. Reports show that At least 14 protesters have been killed, while many have been detained and injured by security officials.

A surgeon at Care Royal hospital, where many victims of the military clampdown are being treated, Salma Elkhazin, said it is “heartbreaking” to see those young people killed for demanding their rights. Many individuals taking part in the anti-coup protests have also been teargassed and maltreated by soldiers.

Sudan has a history of low in the human right and rule of law index, due to arbitrary detentions, unlawful killings, tortures, and other ill-treatments that are inherent in the system and used by successive governments to suppress dissent.

The long-existing human rights violations also include people’s communication rights. Within the past three years, the internet has been blocked up to four times. This has become a pattern used by successive leaders to deny people free flow of information and freedom of expression. On the day of the coup, the national connectivity only reached 24 % of ordinary levels, according to an Amsterdam-based privacy protection firm, Surfskark.

During the 2019 uprising against al-Bashir, there was a mobile internet shutdown for 36 days. Though there hasn’t been a complete shutdown this time around, the disruption shows that al-Burhan could be trolling the same path as past leaders in violating people’s rights of communication.

Economic Impacts

The takeover is also taking a toll on the already shattered economy, as many international donors cut their financial support and many professional associations down tools to take part in the ongoing demonstrations. A few days after the coup, the World Bank which had recently donated billions of dollars in aid to cash-strapped Sudan announced its suspension of funding. The US also paused $700 million in aid to the country, and the European Union threatened to follow suit. Sudan was also suspended from African Union following the “unconstitutional” power takeover.

Decades of political tension in Sudan denied the country access to financial support and debt relief from various international bodies. However, following the formation of the transitional government in 2019, it unlocked funds from the World Bank and International Monetary Funds. Other regional and international bodies, including the African Union, also lifted the ban on the country. But the coup now threatens these hard-won economic gains and renewed international alliances.

“Beyond development aid cuts, the military coup (even if reversed) profoundly impacts Sudan’s economy; recent growing investor and trade interest in Africa’s third-largest country, just freed from sanctions, is now dashed and will have a short half-life until civilian-led rule restored,” says William Carter, Sudan country director at the Norwegian Refugee Council.”

The continued demonstrations across the country have also affected economic activities and put the country in severe cash shortage as most cash machines and banks are closed. Sudan has been grappling with food shortage and a high unemployment rate, which were also exacerbated by the recent COVID-19 lockdowns and severe floods. The coup could worsen the situation and increase food insecurity in the country.

Threat to Democratic Rule

Additionally, the coup’s wider implication threatens the journey to democratic transition in Sudan and could also affect young and fragile democracies in Africa. The dissolution of the transitional council and declaration of a state of emergency is an indication that Sudan is still under the grip of dictatorship. Given the antecedents of the two leading figures in the takeover (al-Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan), it is hard to see a semblance of trustworthiness and civility in their rule.

In 2019, Al-Burhan was accused of being the architect behind the genocide in Darfur. He was said to have called himself “the Lord of the people of Darfur and authorised to kill them when, as, and how he wants.” Similarly, the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces leader Mohamed Hamdan, who alongside al-Burhan anchored the military component of the recently dissolved government, was at the forefront of the scorched earth campaign in Khartoum’s 2019 massacre. Having these two characters at the helms begs the question: will Sudan experience a truly democratic rule anytime soon?

Two weeks after the takeover, al-Burhan re-appointed himself as head of the military-run interim governing body, and some other generals and civilians who also served in the dissolved council reappointed – a clear sign he is tightening his grip on the country.

At the regional level, the coup could mean another setback for the hard-won democratic progress made in sub-Saharan African since the 1990s. In the past one year, there has been a resurgence of power-seeking military officers truncating democratic rules across the region. Between August 2020 and October 2021, four military takeovers were recorded – Mali in August 2020 and May 2021, Chad in April 2021, Guinea in September 2021, and Sudan in October 2021.

If this pattern continues, more militaries from other African countries may want to continue experimenting with it as a viable option to grab power. This could throw the region back to days of political instability.

Between 1956 and 2001, there were 80 successful coups and 108 failed coups attempts in sub-Saharan Africa,   which amounts to an average of four in a  year. The region however recorded a significant reduction in military coups in the past two decades, as more countries embrace democratic governments. But with the incessant takeovers in the past one year, the milestone gained in civil rules is now being threatened.

The coup could also escalate the refugee problems in the region, especially the displaced people fleeing Tigray’s crisis, and communities in the Sahel and on Europe’s borders, as exodus from the country could increase.

Sudan’s Identity

Though the military claimed the takeover was necessary to prevent a civil war and promised to hand over power to an elected civilian government in 2023, concerns grow daily that the coup could threaten the transition to democracy. Within the past six decades since independence, Sudan has experienced various types of leadership, including hard-line Islamist sects, informal and formal armed forces, all claiming to be the will of the people.

But the 2019 uprising against the al-Bashir’s government and the witnessed demonstrations since the October 25 coup show that the true identity desired by the majority is a democratic rule. The 2019 protest leaders almost succeeded in achieving this goal until the sudden twist of fate that brought in the military-civilian transitional council. As the junta holds on to power, it remains to be seen if people’s wish for a democratic state will materialise soon.

About the Author

Olusegun AkinfenwaOlusegun Akinfenwa is a political correspondent for Immigration Advice Service – a law firm based in the UK and offering immigration guidance globally, including the US Citizenship and Immigration process.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The World Financial Review.