Sudan is in turmoil again. The country’s military, led by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, has seized control after toppling the existing government and arresting Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok along with other leading political figures. Thousands of protestors took to the streets to contest the military takeover of the country and it seems like all the hopes for a peaceful transition to democracy have been stifled for the country.
But this isn’t the first time that the country has been struck by chaos; Sudan’s history is muddled with political unrest and military coups, with various political groups and the military competing for power.
The seeds for the coup were already sown in 2019, when Omar al Bashir, a military autocrat who had ruled the country for 30 years, was ousted in a coup. The successive government was a mix of both, civilian leadership and military rule and was meant to usher the country into an era of prosperity in what is known as a peaceful transition to democracy. This transition, as it was decided among the leadership, was to be supervised by a transitional body consisting of civilian politicians and military generals.
But Sudan’s political setting was still a mix of disparate but papered over interests of various political parties, military, rebel groups, and pro-Islam factions, all vying for control. The fissured alliance of the military and civilian government soon came to the surface when the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) led by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, exhibited discontent over the perceived tempering of the military, during the transition period. While on the side of the civilian leaders there was a perceived threat from the armed forces as they blamed the failed coup of September 2021, on the military and as Prime Minister Hamdok also expressed the “need to reform the security and military apparatus.”
The friction between the military and the political parties peaked over the past months as there were widespread protests and clashes between the supporters of both sides. On Saturday, October 16, demonstrators gathered in Khartoum, in front of the presidential palace and demanded the military to seize power to save the country from spiralling into complete disorder. Consequently, the country’s civilian government was overthrown on Monday, October 25, 2021 in a coup that led to the arrest of Prime Minister Hamdok and other civilian leaders.
While the coup only added to Sudan’s tumultuous political history, it also evoked an adverse reaction from the UN and the West, as the US suspended $700 million aid to Sudan that was intended to aid the transition process whereas the UN has expressed deep concerns over the volatile situation in Sudan and called on the military to restore the prior transitional government. The European Union has come out against the takeover and threatened to withdraw financial and diplomatic support in case of further degeneration of the situation. Moreover, the African Union has suspended all forms of support for the country, openly denouncing the new military rule. China and Russia however maintained a neutral reaction to the situation.
Interestingly, Sudan’s recent coup isn’t the first one; in fact over the span of a little more than a year, Africa has undergone numerous successful coups including one in Guinea, two in Mali, a failed coup attempt in Niger, and a military transfer of power in Chad after the assassination of the president. These coups hint at Africa’s pending revival to coups and anarchy and the shifting away from the democratisation that the West had intended for the continent. Even in countries like Egypt and Zimbabwe, which have completed democratic transitions to established civilian governments, the military remains an instrumental institution in devising the governmental framework and maintaining a lead over the democratic government. In fact, Egypt is still considered a military state.
In almost all of the aforementioned countries, the military seems to have a prominent role in the decision-making process and while the chances for Africa permanently slipping into a military dominion like that in the ‘60s and ‘80s are weak, the continent might instead be bogged down in a democratic and military hybrid model of government. The military might bring in democratic regimes for gaining global legitimacy, but the threat here is that over time the democratic governments may give in to the military and covertly be driven by the military in state affairs. In such cases, chances for the military to overthrow a political opposition that doesn’t abide by its rules are very high, the immediate example of which is Sudan. Hence the true spirit of democracy that pertains to political autonomy is crushed under such a form of a hybrid model of governance.
But the importance of the military lies in the moth-eaten and degenerating Econo-political condition of Africa. While the military might be a short-term solution to sustain law and order and security in a country, there is no denying the fact that it is conventionally not constitutional and lacks legitimacy in the eyes of the international community. But in Africa, there is a rising trend of people losing trust in a free and fair democracy due to the failure in executing the system of democracy correctly. There are increasing sentiments of neglecting elections as a fair means of choosing leaders. Meanwhile, the military too has similar sentiments and considers it a duty to free the people from corrupt political regimes as the post-coup interim president of Guinea Col Doumbouya, while quoting late Jerry Rawlings said, “If the people are crushed by their elites, it is up to the army to give the people their freedom.”
Sudan is just the tip of the iceberg; many African countries are undergoing drastic changes in their governmental structure, shifting from political setups to authoritarian ones. It is presently uncertain if the military interventions are aimed at bolstering and protecting democracy in the continent or simply at strengthening their power in the region and only time will reveal if the military can prove to be a viable source of achieving the dream of democracy or not.