Hope and Scepticism

Sudan: Will Hamdok be able to keep the country moving forward?

By Jaysim Hanspal

Posted on November 24, 2021 15:12

Sudan’s top general Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, center, and Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok hold documents during a ceremony to reinstate Hamdok, who was deposed in a coup last month, in Khartoum, Sudan, Sunday Nov. 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Marwan Ali)

Sudan’s Abdalla Hamdok was reinstated as the country’s prime minister on Sunday, after signing an agreement with General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. But how much room for power will he have going forward?

A month after a military coup on 25 October that ignited mass protests across the country, Hamdok signed a 14-point deal that was announced on state TV. The deal was agreed on at the presidential palace in Khartoum and required the release of all political prisoners taken during the coup.

He said: “Signing this framework political agreement will open doors to address all the pending issues of the transitional period over the past two years and under this partnership we have managed to achieve a lot. We have brought Sudan back into the international community, lifted its name from the terrorist blacklist and many other achievements. However, we still have many challenges […] ahead.”

As part of the changes, Hamdok pledged to introduce a “technocratic government” made of qualified professionals to aid the country’s transition to democracy after the military coup.

Despite his promises, protests against the military coup have not subsided as a result of Hamdok’s reinstatement. Public anger against the lack of change saw more people take to the streets, leading to the death of one protester.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Hamdok said the new cabinet will focus on establishing a constitutional conference and intends to hold elections by 2023. “You all know that [holding] the elections will require one full year at least, and it may drag on for one and a half years.”

Hamdok originally rejected the junta’s demands for his conditional restoration of power, after his arrest alongside several government ministers. The council was in charge of Sudan’s transition towards civilian rule after the overthrow of autocratic President Omar al-Bashir in 2019.

Keeping the peace

As the international community seems satisfied with Hamdok’s return to government, the conversation has turned to the role of the US in maintaining peace in the region. Sudan’s former foreign minister, Miriam al-Mahdi (who resigned on Monday), accused the US and other foreign powers of previously getting too involved in Sudanese politics. “We cannot be ruled out as partners, we must be the makers of the democratic body,” she said during a virtual Atlantic Council meeting on Monday 22 November.

“We need the US to continue with us. With their perseverance and knowledge, they have helped us in the past and currently. We need them to continue this partnership,” she said.

The US position on Sudan has remained ambiguous, with US Secretary Antony Blinken saying he is “encouraged by reports that talks in Khartoum will lead to the release of all political prisoners, reinstatement of Prime Minister Hamdok, lifting of the state of emergency, and resumption of coordination.” Nevertheless, Washington has continued to withhold aid from the country, suggesting it may be waiting for further changes, including restoration of access to the internet, and recomposition of the council of ministers and transitional parliament.

Mahdi resigned on Monday after refusing to collaborate with last month’s coup leaders. “They cannot mess with political parties. It will pose a serious threat to the democratic process in Sudan,” she said.

As to the future of Sudan’s attempt at securing democracy, Mahdi, like most commentators, remains doubtful. “It could be very positive or very negative,” she said. “What happened yesterday, was an attempt to disarray the stance against the coup. It is not an event, it is a process. We must transform it into something viable.”

Steps to democracy

The 14-point plan has been welcomed by the Troika (Norway, the UK, and the US), the EU, Switzerland and Canada. In a joint statement, the countries said: “We are encouraged by the renewed commitment to the 2019 Constitutional Declaration as the basis of the transition towards democracy.”

“It is essential that the next steps meet the aspirations of the people, including through a genuinely inclusive and consultative approach to establishing the remaining transitional institutions,” they said.

Kholood Khair, a managing partner at Insight Strategy Partners, a think tank in Khartoum, also remains sceptical of the transition. “The agreement itself is not that significant. How can he bring a cabinet of technocrats to an institution which looks rather weak and lacks public support?”

Khair criticises the agreement for doing “very little” to address core grievances of the public and protestors with the junta, including the violent extremism witnessed in the past month.

Mohanad Hashim, who before the coup was the director of content for Sudan’s national radio and TV broadcaster, points to the bigger issue of corruption in the country. The focus now should be on “the gold that is being exploited in Sudan and the companies that are exploiting [the country]”, he says.

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