The Burgeoning Sudanese Democracy – International Policy Digest
Sudan has been the focus of conflict for much of its six decades as an independent nation. While the civilian-military coalition has managed to subside the fragments of civil war, growing hostility in the peripheries has begun threatening the modest reforms made in the past two years. The recent coup attempt is a befitting example of the plans that are budding within the echelons of the Sudanese military to drag the country back into the closet. And while the attempt was thwarted, it is not a success to boast. But it is a warning that the transition will not be as smooth a ride as one might have hoped for.
The problems today are only a reflection of Sudan’s issues from the past: especially which led to the revolution. The civil unrest began in Sudan back in December 2018. Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s long-serving ruler, had turned Sudan into an international outcast during his 30-year rule of tyranny and economic isolation. Naturally, Sudan perished as an economic pariah: especially after the independence of South Sudan. With the loss of oil revenues and almost 95% of its exports, Sudan inched to the brink of collapse. In response, Bashir’s regime resorted to imposing draconian austerity measures instead of reforming the economy and inviting investment. The cuts in domestic subsidies over fuel and essentials led to steep price hikes: eventually sparking protests across the east and spreading like wildfire to the capital, Khartoum.
In April 2019, after months of persistent protests, the army ousted Bashir’s government; established a council of generals, also known as the Transitional Military Council. The power-sharing agreement between the civilian and military forces established an interim government for a period of 39 months. Subsequently, the pro-democracy movement nominated Abdalla Hamdok as the prime minister: responsible for orchestrating the general elections at the end of the transitional period. The agreement coalesced the civilian and military powers to expunge rebellious factions from society and establish a stable economy for the successive government. However, the aspirations overlooked ground realities.
Sudan currently stands in the third year of the transitional arrangement that was hailed as a victory. However, the regime is now most vulnerable when the defiance is stronger than ever. Despite achieving respite through peace agreements with the rebels in Sudan, the proliferation of weapons never abated. In reality, the armed attacks have spiraled over the past two years after a brief hiatus achieved by the peace accords. The conflict stems from the share of resources between different societal fractions around Darfur, Kordofan, and the Blue Nile. According to UN estimates, the surging violence has displaced more than 410,000 people across the region. The expulsion is six times the rate of displacement recorded last year. According to the retreating UN peacekeeping mission, the authorities have all but failed to calm the rampant banditry and violence: partially manifested by the coup attempt that managed to breach the government’s order.
The regional instability is only half the story. Since the displacement of Bashir’s regime, Sudan has rarely witnessed stability, let alone surplus dividends to celebrate. Despite thawing relations with Israel and joining the IMF program, Sudan has felt little relief in return. The sharp price hikes and gripping unemployment which triggered the coup back in 2019 never receded: galloped instead. Currently, inflation runs rampant above 400%, while the Sudanese pound has massively devalued under conditions dictated by the IMF. And despite bagging some success in negotiating international debt relief, the Hamdok regime has struggled to invite foreign investment and create jobs: majorly due to endemic conflicts that still run deep in the fabric of the Sudanese society.
While the coup attempt failed, it is still not a sigh of relief for the fragile government. The deep-rooted analysis of the coup attempt reveals a stark reality: the military factions – at least some – are no longer on equal-footed with a civilian regime. Moreover, the perpetrators tried to leverage the widening disquiet within the country by blocking roads and attempting to sabotage state-run media: hoping to gain public support. The population is indeed frustrated by the economic desperation; the failure of the coup attempt means that people have still not given up hope in a democratic government and free-and-fair elections. Nonetheless, it is not the first tranche of the army to rebel, and it certainly won’t be the last. The only way to salvage democracy is to stabilize Sudan’s economy and resolve inter-communal violence before leading the county towards elections. Otherwise, it is apparent that Bashir’s political apparatus is so deeply entrenched in Sudan’s ruling network that even if the transitional government survives multiple coups, an elected government would ultimately wither.
Syed Zain Abbas Rizvi is a current affairs writer primarily analyzing global events and their political, economic and social consequences. He also holds a Bachelor's degree from the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) Karachi, with majors in Finance and Capital Markets.
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