Olusegun AkinfenwaOlusegun AkinfenwaThe current political tension in Sudan can be traced to the fall of the 30-year reign of the former leader Omar al-Bashir in 2019, which ushered in a civilian-military power-sharing administration. Before the coup, the country had been divided between the proponents of pro-civilian and pro-military leadership, as both factions blamed each other for lingering poor economic conditions.
The country was thrown into widespread tension in September following rumours of an attempted military coup. On 25 October, the military, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, finally took over the government. Not only does the coup threaten Sudan’s security and peace, but its wider implications could also affect neighbouring countries and beyond.
Events of the past weeks have once again revealed the Sudanese security officials’ excessive use of force against civilians. Many people partaking in pro-democracy demonstrations have been killed, injured, and detained. Successive governments in Sudan have performed poorly in human rights protection. An Amnesty International report shows that arbitrary detentions, unlawful killings, torture, and other ill-treatment are inherent in the Sudanese system. All these have been used by governments to suppress dissent.
The gross human rights violations also extend to communication rights. During the 2019 demonstrations, there was a shutdown of mobile internet, leaving the country offline for 36 days. While there hasn’t been a complete shutdown this time around, Sudanese have been experiencing significant disruption to internet service since 25 October.
A report by Amsterdam-based privacy protection company Surfshark shows that the national connectivity in Sudan on the day of the coup only reached 34% of ordinary levels. The country has blocked the internet four times in the past three years.
In an emergency session on 5 November, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution condemning the military takeover and delegating an envoy to monitor alleged violations in Sudan. UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, who spoke during the session, decried the ongoing clampdown on civilians and urged the military to end their violence against the masses.
“This disproportionate and deadly use of force by the Sudan Armed Forces, the Rapid Support Forces, and other security forces – including military police and intelligence elements – must end immediately,” said Bachelet. “Those responsible for these and other human rights violations must be held fully accountable for their actions.”
The coup could also deteriorate the already poor economic situation in the country. For decades, Sudan has endured a series of economic problems, including food shortages and high unemployment rates. It has also suffered a dearth of international monetary support and debt relief (until the recent transition), because of the political volatility in the country. The economic situation formed the main basis of recent demonstrations, including the ousting of al-Bashir’s regime.
Various international bodies supporting the country have expressed dissatisfaction with the coup and are thereby cutting aid. The United States has frozen $700 million in aid to Sudan. The World Bank, which had contributed about $3 billion to Sudan, also announced the suspension of its aid a few days after the coup. Similarly, the African Union suspended Sudan from the bloc over the “unconstitutional” power takeover.
Domestically, economic activities are disrupted across the country as more professional associations continually stage protests against the junta. The country is currently experiencing a severe cash shortage as banks, and most cash machines remain closed. A report shows that 90% of bankers were partaking in the civil disobedience campaign.
Apart from the human and economic costs associated with the coup, the identity of the country is also at stake. Within its six decades of independence, Sudan had witnessed various types of leaderships, including hard-line Islamist sects, informal and formal armed forces, armed militias, and political parties – claiming to represent the will of the people.
Though the military claimed the coup was necessary to prevent a civil war and promised to hand over to an elected civilian government in 2023, there are concerns that the coup could threaten the transition to democracy. Therefore, the longer the junta presides over the country, the more the questions regarding Sudan’s identity lingers.
In addition, the coup threatens the hard-won journey to democratic transition in Sudan. The military has dissolved the transitional government and declared a state of emergency. This could be an indication that Sudan is far from being free from the grip of dictatorship. Looking at the military’s use of force against protesters in recent demonstrations, it is hard to foresee a semblance of civility or respect of human rights in its leadership, considering the antecedents of its two highest-ranking members.
In 2019, Al-Burhan was accused of being the architect behind the genocide in Darfur. He was quoted to have called himself “the Lord of the people of Darfur and authorised to kill them when, as, and how he wants.”
Similarly, the Rapid Support Forces leader Mohamed Hamdan Hemedti, who alongside al-Burhan anchored the military faction, was a leading figure in the scorched earth campaign in Khartoum’s June 2019 massacre. With these two individuals at the helm, the question remains whether Sudan will experience democracy anytime soon.
Regionally, the coup’s wider impact could tell on other sub-Saharan African countries. Between August 2020 and October 2021, there had been four military takeovers in the region.
A study shows that between 1956 and 2001, there were 80 successful coups and 108 failed coup attempts in sub-Saharan Africa, representing an average of four in a year. However, the past two decades witnessed a significant reduction in coups as more countries embrace democracy.
Unfortunately, this milestone in democratic rules is now being threatened by the occurrences of military takeovers across the region. The recent string of coups occurred in Mali in August 2020 and May 2021, Chad in April 2021, Guinea in September 2021, and Sudan in October 2021.
If this pattern is sustained, more militaries from other African countries may want to continue experimenting with it as a viable means to rise to power. This could lead to devastating instability, given the already persistent armed conflicts across the region. The coup could also escalate the refugee crisis, particularly for the displaced persons fleeing Tigray’s crisis, as well as communities in the Sahel and on Europe’s borders, as the exodus from the country could increase.
Olusegun Akinfenwa is a political correspondent for Birmingham Immigration Lawyer, a law firm based in the United Kingdom and offering immigration services globally, including Irish Immigration and Citizenship application guidance.