Two-and-a-half years after the ouster of long-time dictator General Omar al-Bashir in a popular revolution in April 2019, Sudan has yet again undergone another military coup. On October 25 military authorities put cabinet ministers and members of the transitional civilian government under arrest, placed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok under house arrest, fired governors, shut down the internet, took control of state media, and declared a state of emergency. The military dissolved the transitional government of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok as well as the Sovereign Council, a power-sharing body of military officers and civilians that had been ruling Sudan since late 2019. General Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan, the coup leader, announced that the military would hold power until elections can be held in July 2023. The putsch came barely hours after Jeffrey Feltman, U.S. President Joe Biden’s special envoy for the Horn of Africa, left Khartoum following a visit there intended to bolster the country’s unstable transitional government and stave off its collapse due to internal feuding. As the widespread international backlash against the seizure of power by the military deepens, there is no sign that the military will cave in to the pressure any time soon. Since Sudan’s independence from the British in 1956, its citizens have witnessed three revolutions and five military-led power-grabs including two in the last three years.
The military coup brought over two years of a rocky power-sharing arrangement to a screeching halt and threatens to wreck Sudan’s fragile transition to democracy. It came after months of mounting tensions between the military and civilian members of the Sovereign Council, an eleven-member body made up of both military officers and civilians that was created in August 2019 to rule the country for a 39-month transitional period until elections could be held. Under the Draft Constitutional Declaration which established the Council, it was to be headed first by military figures for a 21-month period before civilians were to lead it for 18 months beginning November 2021. Monday’s military takeover could well have been precipitated by the prospect of losing control over the Sovereign Council as the deadline for transfer to civilian rule was just weeks away.
General al-Burhan has attempted to justify the coup and reiterated his commitment to “the constitutional path” and the 2020 Juba Peace Agreement signed with various rebel groups. He insisted that the military’s actions did not constitute a coup, arguing it was forced to take action to avert a civil war. He described the military’s action as a “correction” to the transitional process, emphasizing that the revolution was in danger and pledging to appoint a technocratic government that he said would steer the country to democratic elections in July 2023. But a year and half is a long time, and it is not clear whether the powerful military is willing to release the grip it has had on power for decades. Protesters, who continue to take to the streets in defiance of the deadly force the military has used to quell them, are concerned that it is intent on retaining control and are vowing to keep up their pressure, raising the likelihood of new confrontations.
The October 25 coup has many asking if military takeovers are making a comeback in Africa. In just over a year, the continent has experienced four successful coups (two in Mali, one in Guinea, and one in Sudan), two unsuccessful coup attempts in Niger and Sudan, and an arbitrary military transfer of power in Chad following the assassination of its president. The overall number of coup attempts in Africa averaged around four a year in the four decades between 1960 and 2000. This figure declined by half in the period from then till 2019 as most African nations began to embrace democracy, only for it to be back in vogue. The reasons cited by Africa’s coup leaders for overthrowing governments during the early postcolonial decades when coups were rampant have practically always been identical: corruption, mismanagement and poverty. The recent crop of such leaders has advanced similar arguments. Even though they may be hackneyed, these justifications still strike a chord with many Africans today given they continue to persist to this day in their countries. These conditions create fertile conditions for coups. These power grabs could spell a reversal of the democratic gains Africa has made in the past two decades. Furthermore, they are liable to make Africa in general less predictable and stable, scaring off potential investors and thereby exacerbate its grim economic situation.
The latest putsch in Sudan could have sweeping implications for Ethiopia. Presently, the two countries are locked in bitter disputes over the pace and operation of the filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) invasion as well as the invasion of the fertile al-Fashaga borderland by Sudanese troops in December 2020 at a time it was distracted by the Tigray conflict. If the military were to entrench itself indefinitely in power, any hope of a lasting amicable solution to the GERD dispute between Ethiopia and Egypt and Sudan is apt to be far off due to the fact that it will be induced by Egypt and its Middle Eastern allies to continue with its intransigent position over the dam even as Ethiopia is likely to back a civilian transition in the belief that the potential for improved relations will help negotiations move forward. The same is true for the simmering border conflict between the two nations. The coup in Sudan could also affect Ethiopia’s ongoing crisis in the Tigray region, which has escalated and spread to the adjoining Amhara and Afar regions. Ethiopia should have cause to worry for the military could provide more support to the Tigray People’s Revolutionary Front (TPLF) in its fight against the federal government. Therefore, as Ethiopia stands yet again with the people of Sudan in seeking a political settlement to the predicament they find themselves in, it’s incumbent on its government to take the necessary precautionary measures to protect the security of the country from the threats posed by a military rule in Sudan. Failure is bound to have dire consequences.