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What’s Next For Sudan?

Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has resigned.
Abdalla Hamdok at World Hydropower Congress 2017

Six weeks after being reinstated as Sudan’s prime minister in the wake of a military coup, Abdalla Hamdok resigned his post in the midst of large-scale social unrest after he was unable to navigate tenuous negotiations between the military and anti-coup forces.

In a televised address delivered Jan. 2, Hamdok said he was unsuccessful in his efforts to reconcile the various political parties and groups, divided starkly on matters of popular and military rule. When he returned to government, Hamdok tried to position himself as a unifier, and international institutions such as the United Nations attempted to bolster his efforts. But, rather than becoming the unifier he hoped to be, Hamdok ended his term isolated from both sides—although disliked more by pro-military forces—unable to muster the popular support to justify retaining his position. In his farewell address, Hamdok shed the pragmatism that he had hoped would help strike a deal for Sudan’s future governance and proclaimed, “To our armed forces and all the military apparatus: the people are the ultimate authority.”

It’s hard to blame Hamdok for throwing one last punch at the Sudanese military, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, given Hamdok and his wife were detained for resisting the October coup for a few days at Burhan’s house before being allowed to return home. Hamdok then found himself out of power, before the military coalition decided to bring him back as part of a government that would lead the country until the 2023 elections. To some, the decision to bring Hamdok back into the fold signified a possible move away from the military’s harsh crackdown in the first few weeks of taking full control of the government. However, the government Hamdok returned to was much different than the one he left, gutted of politicos outside of the military, which installed its own bureaucrats and advisors.

As part of the deal that brought him back to government in an effort to stabilize the country, however, Hamdok issued a hiring freeze in Sudan’s government, and announced he would be reviewing all of the appointments made by Burhan and the military-controlled government in his absence. “In addition, all the appointments and dismissals that have taken place in the previous period will be placed under study, evaluation and review,” a November statement from the cabinet secretariat read. Hamdok also said that the government would release civilian officials the military detained or placed under house arrest.

Hamdok also launched an investigation into alleged human rights violations committed by Sudan’s military forces over the course of large protests that broke out after Burhan and the military seized power. Local medics who helped injured protestors told Reuters that more than 15 people were shot and killed by military forces during the protests, and many more were injured or exposed to tear gas. In response to these reports, Hamdok appeared alongside the opposition group Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) to announce the investigation, demanded the release of the political prisoners taken during the demonstrations, and for the military to respect the people’s right to protest.

While Hamdok took plenty of initiative to avoid further political and ethnic conflict, his attempts at unity fell short. Working from within the military-led governmental structure prompted pro-democracy activists groups to conclude Hamdok was a squish and unwilling to chart Sudan’s path to full civilian rule, whereas the military saw Hamdok’s early and aggressive actions in favor of more civilian participation in government as encouragement to the mass demonstrations that threatened the military’s grasp on power.

As protests persisted, and the military government that reinstated him attempted to defang or thwart the reforms he believed could lessen tensions, rumors began flying that Hamdok would resign from his post in failure. Less than two weeks since Hamdok was reinstated to his position, a source close to Hamdok told Reuters on Dec. 1 that Hamdok would resign if he was unable to quickly make a deal between military and civilian factions that would put an end to the mass unrest seen in Khartoum and elsewhere. Three weeks later, on Dec. 22, Reuters reported that two sources close to Hamdok said the prime minister was planning to resign within hours, as civil unrest continued and both civilian and military factions increasingly viewed the bargain struck between Hamdok and the military government unfavorably. While Hamdok’s resignation did not come in mere hours, as the sources suggested, it did indeed come, adding yet more uncertainty about what the future holds for Sudan in the post-Omar al-Bashir chapter of Sudanese politics.

Prior to his initial ousting, Hamdok had served as Sudan’s prime minister for more than two years, after Bashir was toppled in a coup in 2019. Then, as now, General Burhan played a major part in the coup. Once Bashir was removed from power, Burhan became the head of the Sovereign Council, effectively serving as Sudan’s head of state as the country attempted to crawl towards more democratic control. While Burhan and the military enjoyed broad control in the early post-Bashir days, further deals with democratic leaders to facilitate the transition to democracy, as laid out in the August 2019 Draft Constitutional Declaration inevitably loosened Burhan’s grip on power. Burhan was expected to hand the reins of power to a civilian-led coalition for 18 months in early November. Of course, Burhan’s coup railroaded the scheduled transition.

The only certainty in Sudanese politics, it seems, is uncertainty. As I’ve noted before, there have been 35 plotted or attempted coups in Sudan since 1958. And while Bashir was able to hold power for three decades prior to his ousting in 2019, his rule was characterized by instability, whether it was economic turbulence, corrupt bargains, or even civil war. Despite its attempts to keep moving towards liberal democracy, the civilizational problems that underpin Sudan’s instability, regardless of who is in power (or who is trying to take it) persist. Only when a coalition proves itself competent in tackling fundamental issues—poverty, crime, inflation, etc.—will Sudan be able to usher in the new era its people have been promised.



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