On 25 October, within the space of a few hours, the Sudanese military put an end to the fragile stability that had been established after Omar al-Bashir fell in 2019. The prime minister was arrested, the government dissolved and the borders closed. The coup plotters, led by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, took back the share of power that they had – under pressure – ceded to civilians.
In reality, for nearly three years, the engine of Sudan’s fledgling democracy had been made up of parts that never fit together. On the one hand, there were civilians who wanted to bring an end to the army’s stranglehold on the country’s affairs. And on the other hand there was the military that wanted to retain its influence and financial privileges. In the midst of all this were an economy in ruins and a chaotic political scene.
With no sign of unity between the two parties, the end of the transition period – initially planned for 2022 – was postponed to 2023. Will the military, led by Burhan, finally agree to hand over power to civilians? The two forces’ divorce, finalised on 25 October and the result of months of tension, seems to suggest otherwise.
1. August 2019: A bad start
Mere hours after the transition agreement was signed in August 2019, questions arose, as if people already felt that the deal would eventually fall apart. Would the military, which had been in power alongside al-Bashir for 30 years, agree to make way? On the ground, the response was swift and bloody.
Mohammed Hamdan Dagolo, referred to as ‘Hemeti’, head of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – a paramilitary unit under the command of the dreaded National Intelligence Security Service (NISS) – distinguished himself by repressing civilians. On 3 June, his men killed 108 demonstrators who had come to peacefully demand more democracy.
The regular army, led by Burhan, remained passive while the massacre took place. The reaction of the civilian opposition, united within the Forces for Freedom and Change (FLC), was not long in coming. They cut short the discussions that they had begun with the Transitional Military Council and didn’t return to the negotiating table until a month later.
2. November 2019: An anti-corruption body that makes trouble
Under Bashir, the defence and security apparatus accounted for 70% of the state budget. The military personnel in charge of Sudan benefitted from largesse, such as tax exemptions for companies in which they were stakeholders.
According to Roland Marchal, a Sudan specialist, the establishment of a committee dedicated to putting an end to their privileges could have been one of the causes of the 25 October coup. This committee’s co-chairman, Mahamat al-Faki, who denounced the army’s influence in Sudanese politics, was one of the people arrested on the morning of the coup.
3. October 2020: Fragile peace agreements
In October 2020, the transitional civilian and military authorities initialed the Juba peace agreements, which were essential to ensuring stability in the country. These agreements notably stipulate that rebel leaders be integrated into the Sovereignty Council. Among them were two members of the FLC: Djibril Ibrahim became finance minister and Minni Minawi was appointed Darfur’s governor.
But a year later, these former rebels turned against their allies. On 13 October, they denounced the lack of power given to armed groups within the transitional government and contributed to making their allies weaker. Furthermore, these early opponents of the transitional government complained about the excessive number of ministerial positions that had been given to civilians.
4. 21 September 2021: A first coup d’état, point of no return
Only one month before the 25 October putsch, an attempted coup d’état failed in Khartoum. Even before blame could be accorded, the military had already pointed the finger at its opponents. The Sovereign Council’s number two, the powerful General Daglo, accused the civilian members of the transitional body of being behind the failed coup.
Burhan, equally vehement, declared: “There is no elected government and we are responsible for ensuring our homeland’s safety.” He put his words into action on 25 October, even though he is supposed to step down as leader of the Sovereign Council on 17 November.
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