Sudan: Hamdok’s resignation triggers calls for sanctions, direct aid to revolutionaries

By Julian Pecquet
Posted on Tuesday, 4 January 2022 22:06, updated on Wednesday, 5 January 2022 15:06

Protesters march during a rally against military rule following last month's coup in Khartoum
Protesters march during a rally against military rule following last month's coup in Khartoum, Sudan December 30, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

The resignation of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok over the weekend has triggered calls for the US to rethink its support for Sudan’s transitional government and get tough on the country’s military leaders.

With thousands of protesters taking to the streets this week to demand the disbandment of the ruling Sovereign Council, the Joe Biden administration is under growing pressure to take a more forceful approach.

In a joint statement issued on Tuesday 4 January with fellow Troika members Norway and the United Kingdom as well as the European Union, the US said the killing of scores of protesters was “unacceptable” and reiterated calls for independent investigations. The group went on to urge free and fair elections to get the democratic transition back on track.

“In the absence of progress,” the group warned, “we would look to accelerate efforts to hold those actors impeding the democratic process accountable.”

Meanwhile, former US and Sudanese officials have taken to the pages of Washington platforms favoured by policymakers to call for direct aid to the resistance committees that formed the backbone of the protests that ousted longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir in 2019. And lawmakers are once again looking at sanctions legislation that got bottled up in Congress in the busy last days of 2021.

“Prime Minister Hamdok worked to try to realise the goals of the revolution and build a more free, peaceful, and prosperous country,” Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, the sponsor of Sudan sanctions legislation, said in an emailed statement to The Africa Report. “His resignation [on 2 January] cements the October 25 military coup and exposes the intentions of Sudan’s military leaders to cling to power and continue to sabotage the country’s transition toward democracy.”

Sen. James Risch of Idaho, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which has jurisdiction over the measure, offered similar remarks.

“Sudan’s military junta should hand over power to civilian leaders and the Biden Administration must treat what occurred on October 25 as it was – a military coup. Anything short of these actions is a failure for the people of Sudan,” Risch said in a statement Monday. “Congress will continue to lead by once again recalibrating the U.S.-Sudan bilateral relationship, including adjustments to commitments made before the coup. We will also support the Sudanese people by pursuing accountability for the coup leaders and those who continue to use state-sponsored violence and other means to suppress the voices of the Sudanese people.”

Sanctions push

Coons introduced his Sudan Democracy Act in the Senate on 29 November, a month after the military placed the prime minister under house arrest and upended Sudan’s fragile democratic transition. A similar bill cleared the House Foreign Affairs Committee on December 10 and now awaits a vote in the full House.

With no political agreement or civilian leader left to undermine, Washington and its allies should now pursue a more hardline approach toward the military that holds it accountable for the October coup and the deadly response to peaceful protests since then.

The bills notably call on the US president to impose financial sanctions and visa bans on anyone found responsible for undermining the transition to democracy, threatening Sudan’s peace and security or violating human rights. Coons says Sudan’s military leaders should immediately hand over leadership of the Sovereign Council to civilians and end their “brutal crackdown on protesters” or face US consequences.

“I have led efforts in Congress to remove crippling historical sanctions on Sudan and appropriate over $1bn in assistance to support the transition,” he tells The Africa Report. “My colleagues and I will continue to stand with the Sudanese people through this difficult period, and we will continue to invest in democratic progress in Sudan and punish those that threaten it.”

According to Cameron Hudson, a former chief of staff to the US Special Envoy for Sudan who is now a non-resident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council, key targets for sanctions include:

  • Director of military intelligence Yasser Mohammed Osman;
  • General Intelligence Service director Jamal Abdelmagid;
  • Abdarahim Daglo, the deputy commander of the Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces.

“With no political agreement or civilian leader left to undermine, Washington and its allies should now pursue a more hardline approach toward the military that holds it accountable for the October coup and the deadly response to peaceful protests since then,” Hudson wrote in an Atlantic Council blog piece.

“Sudan’s formal transition to democracy is over, even though its revolution lives on in the hearts of millions of peaceful pro-democracy protesters,” he wrote. “Washington and its international partners have now lost the final pretense of what allowed them — for too long — to frame their engagement in terms of supporting a ‘civilian-led transitional government’.”

Time to change partners?

Officially, the Biden administration remains hopeful that it can salvage a transitional government that the US has done much to help prop up since the fall of Bashir.

Former President Donald Trump began lifting decades-old sanctions in 2017 in a bid to encourage democratic reforms. The US removed Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism at the end of 2020 in exchange for a promise to compensate victims of the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and other terrorism victims and the normalisation of relations with Israel.

In December 2020 Congress set aside $700m in economic support for the country, but the Biden administration froze the aid after the October coup.

The Troika and the European Union will not support a Prime Minister or government appointed without the involvement of a broad range of civilian stakeholders.

Amid international outcry, Burhan partly reversed course at the end of November and reinstalled Hamdok at the head of an independent technocratic Cabinet, still under military oversight however. The US and other western powers tentatively welcomed his surprise reinstatement, but it quickly fell apart as the prime minister found his position untenable as pro-democracy protestors rejected his November 21 power-sharing deal with the military.

In their joint statement on Tuesday, the troika and the EU called on Khartoum to avoid any “unilateral action to appoint a new Prime Minister and Cabinet,” arguing that doing so “would undermine those institutions’ credibility and risks plunging the nation into conflict.”

“The Troika and the European Union will not support a Prime Minister or government appointed without the involvement of a broad range of civilian stakeholders,” they said.  “We look forward to working with a government and a transitional parliament, which enjoy credibility with the Sudanese people and can lead the country to free and fair elections as a priority.”

Hudson, for his part, declared Sudan’s democratic transition “over” and said it’s “time to support the revolution.”

In his Atlantic Council piece, he wrote that the US should “move beyond tired bromides claiming to ‘stand with the people of Sudan’” and instead “unabashedly throw its weight behind the country’s pro-democracy movement in tangible and meaningful ways that will begin to swing the balance of power more in the protesters’ favour.” That includes funnelling some of the currently frozen financial assistance to resistance committees and neighbourhood committees “to help them better organise, communicate, and develop their own political platform—to become a more formal part of the political process.”

Writing in Foreign Policy, Prime Minister Hamdok’s former assistant chief of staff Amgad Fareid Eltayeb echoed the sentiment.

“An internationally facilitated, inclusive political process is needed to end this crisis and begin a renewed political transition,”: he wrote. “It is essential to include new influential forces that had the loudest voices in resisting the coup, such as resistance committees.”

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