On October 25, the Sudanese military carried out a coup, arresting Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and announcing the dismissal of the power-sharing Sovereignty Council and the transitional Government.
General al-Burhan, the military head, justified the coup by citing the existence of strife and deadlock within the transitional Government. This unexpected coup teared up the democratic aspirations of the people who led the popular uprising in 2019 and ousted the 30-year ruling autocrat Omar Hassan al-Bashir. The transitional government, which included the Sovereign council headed by General al-Burhan and the joint committee civilian cabinet headed by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, was not compatible to begin with.
The tensions between the Transitional military council and Forces of freedom and change(FFC) existed right from the onset of the formation of the transitional Government in 2019 and only escalated further. The military was unhappy sharing power with civilians, and mutual mistrust always existed between the FFC and military.
One of the reasons for the coup can be attributed to the fact that General al-Burhan was due to hand over the chairmanship of the Sovereignty Council to civilians by early November, and he was not so keen to relinquish power.
The military was insecure because the civilian Government constantly threatened it with investigative probes and prosecution for past atrocities, including the Cartoon massacre in June 2019, and frequently asked it to crack down on their political opponents. FFC was also scared about the rise of the loyalists of the former autocratic regime, so their prioritized uprooting and removing former regime sympathizers over going ahead with transitional arrangements.
Military heads heading the council made several foreign policy-making decisions without consulting the civilian cabinet. For example, the military agreed to establish diplomatic relations with Israel without consulting the civilian cabinet. Mutual mistrust and tensions were always brewing between the two sections. With fragmentation existing within FFC and influential Communists quitting the alliance in 2020, the FFC became more reliant on the military to carry about their goals.
The mutual trust between civilian Government and military was further undermined when the civilian cabinet’s demand to break up the protest of Beja tribesmen that blockaded the port was not paid heed to. The radicals within the FFC prioritizing intense political polarization and division over consensus-building also only intensified the probability of conflict.
A democracy cannot function effectively if the foundation of mutual trust is shaky. Rampant mistrust manifesting in the form of insecurities and lack of consensus has always been one of the prominent reasons for the constant political conflicts and crises ravaging Sudan for decades. The present coup happened in the backdrop of a severe economic crisis and rising tribal hostility. Even though the military won’t be staying in power for so long, considering the near-unanimous international condemnation and lack of support at home, it should be duly noted that coups like these indicate the harm that lack of mutual trust and surging insecurities can cause to the democratic aspirations of the common citizen.
The military takeover was expected to happen owing to fragmentation, lack of objective and goal alignment, lack of consensus, and mainly due to the current resurgent insecurity between military and civilian cabinet standing as a gargantuan mountain preventing Sudan from being a truly democratic country. The death toll caused by military takeover has already risen to more than ten, and the last thing that a conflict and crisis history plagued Sudan needs is more Bloodshed. Therefore, the international community should work together to negotiate an exit policy for the military.
Sudan Prime Minister Hamdok should get out of his indecisive bubble and take a firm bold stand against the atrocities committed by the military. Policies to acceleration the preparation for elections should be undertaken as soon as possible. A cohesive civilian pro-democracy coalition should be put together while also taming the military by offering them military leadership assurances about their fate in a democratic future.
The civilian cabinet should take cautious, carefully crafted steps with international support to make the transition more democracy-oriented, devoid of mistrust, Bloodshed, chaos, conflict, and toxic rhetoric. The military generals may be easily convinced to back down if international support coupled with popular discontent against the military in Sudan becomes more prominent.
Everything won’t be rainbows and heavenly even after the military steps down; Sudan has a lot to work on various fronts, including politics, economics, the welfare of citizens, etc. But as of now, what Sudan direly needs is a peaceful democratic transition, and the only way to achieve it is through mutual trust and consensus between civilian Government and the military.