How Sudan’s Coup Is Threatening Foreign Aid, Path to Democracy
(Bloomberg) -- Sudan’s military has long been the country’s pre-eminent power broker, propping up dictator Omar al-Bashir for three decades before ousting him in 2019 following months of protests against runaway inflation and brutality. Now the army has toppled an uneasy coalition of civilian and military figures that ran the North African nation after the popular uprising, detaining premier Abdalla Hamdok and four of his cabinet members. The coup sparked unrest and a deadly crackdown by security forces, put hundreds of millions of dollars of international aid at risk and dashed hopes of a speedy transition to democracy.
1. Why was Sudan’s government so shaky?
Under a power-sharing deal signed between military and opposition leaders in August 2019, a civilian-military administration was supposed to govern for three years until elections. It was led by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, a lieutenant-general who had headed a military council that took charge after al-Bashir’s overthrow. Hamdok, an economist who had worked for the United Nations and African Development Bank, was appointed prime minister and oversaw the cabinet. Divisions within the unwieldy governing structure grew increasingly apparent, with ex-rebel groups and a large community in eastern Sudan joining senior military officials in accusing the government of failing to deliver on its promises to improve people’s lives and increase regional representation. Signs of unrest had been growing, with the military saying in September it had stamped out a mutiny and arrested more than 20 officers.
2. How did the military justify the coup?
Al-Burhan dissolved the sovereign council and declared a nationwide state of emergency, claiming the nation’s security was being compromised because of the differences between the military and civilian components of the power-sharing administration. Soldiers surrounded Hamdok’s home and he was taken to another location after he refused to endorse the October takeover. While al-Burhan insisted the military is committed to the staging of free elections in 2023, the demonstrations that erupted in Khartoum, the capital, after the power grab indicated that the Sudanese people weren’t prepared to take him at his word. At least seven people died and more than 140 were hurt when soldiers opened fire on a crowd that gathered outside the army’s headquarters, according to doctors.
3. What’s at stake?
Hamdok’s administration sought to end Sudan’s international isolation, moving to normalize ties with Israel and repairing relations with the U.S., which rescinded its three-decade listing of the country as a sponsor of terrorism. Few nations mourned the fall of al-Bashir, who seized power in 1989 and spearheaded an Islamist revolution that for a time in the 1990s turned Sudan into a haven for terrorists such as Osama bin Laden. He was indicted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes and genocide in the western region of Darfur. Shortly after al-Bashir’s ouster, regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates promised a lifeline to the government by pledging $3 billion in aid. The International Monetary Fund also said it would provide support, while the Paris Club of creditors agreed to restructure $23.5 billion of its debt. The goodwill and financial assistance looks set to dissipate, with the U.S. putting a $700 million emergency aid package on hold just hours after the coup.
4. What are the regional implications?
The military takeover is the latest setback to democracy in Africa, following coups in Guinea and Chad, and could see Sudan being suspended from the African Union. It could also complicate talks aimed at resolving a standoff over the filling of a giant dam that Ethiopia is building on a tributary of the Nile River, and which threatens to interrupt the water supply downstream in Egypt and Sudan. A military government in Sudan could also take a more proactive stance in opposing Ethiopia’s claims to land in the al-Fashqa area, which straddles a mutual border, raising the potential for conflict.
5. What are Sudan’s economic challenges?
A 2005 peace deal that ended a two-decade civil war led, six years later, to the partitioning of the country into Sudan and a new South Sudan. The new nation took control over three-quarters of the oil fields, stripping the north of a large chunk of its revenue and foreign exchange. The government tried to diversify the economy by encouraging mining, but it remains a fledgling industry, and the bulk of the country’s 45 million people depend on subsistence agriculture. The IMF expected that gross domestic product would expand just 0.9% in 2021. A blockade of the country’s main port by members of the Beja community brought trade almost to a halt for more than a month, further blunting its economic prospects. Sudan is among the world’s poorest nations, ranking 170th out of 189 countries on the UN Development Program’s human development index.
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