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By Steve Tametong, Ph.D and Guy Beaudry JENGU JENGU (Download pdf version)

Emerging from Military Coups in Africa: The Political Situation in Sudan


Introduction

The resurgence of military coups on the African continent and the new engineering of the ‘coup d’état to the transition,’ the ‘double coup d’état’ or the ‘coup d’état within a coup d’état’ reveals the meanderings of the democratic process in Africa (Babacar Gueye, 2009). Indeed, the overthrow of former president Omar El Bechir of Sudan in 2019 has paved the way for a civil-military transition with the aim of handing over power to civilians in 2023 after a free and transparent election. This process came to a sudden halt when Sudanese General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan announced on October 25, 2021, the dissolution of the Sovereign Transitional Council and declared a state of emergency throughout the country. Following this, the Sudanese army arrested several civilian leaders of the transition, including Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok (1). It is to be believed with Nordlinger that ‘the most common outcome of a military government is a military government’ (Nordlinger, 1977: 18). The events that followed seem to confirm this: although he was reinstated on November 21, 2021 (2), Abdallah Hamdok resigned on January 2, 2022 (3), leaving the country in the hands of the military, which once again wields all the power.

Beyond this new transitional context, there is a question in the background: how to get out of the coups d’état in Sudan and successfully implement a democracy that ‘re-sectorises the political and the military in a context of patrimonialism? (Thiriot, 2008: 15). It is likely that the institutionalization of democratic normality requires the liquidation of the old regime (I) and the establishment of the structural foundations of a genuine democracy (II).

The “Liquidation” of the old Regime

By “liquidation” of the old regime, we mean the dismantling of all the structuring schemes and pillars that enabled the regime of Omar El Bechir to establish itself and take root for several decades. These include institutional and military normative schemes. The suspension of the Constitution following the military takeover is part of this normative rupture. The same applies to the dissolution of the parliament. This undertaking to liquidate the old regime is certainly not an easy task given the pre-eminence of the military in the transition system and the tumultuous relations they have with civilians.

Indeed, the military members of the Sovereign Council, including its chairman, are officers who served the former head of State for a long time. Moreover, the military retains control over the economy and foreign policy (4). As a matter of fact, the military is in charge of many companies ranging from agribusiness to construction and public works. They represent the Sudanese state in negotiations with the rebels and have even signed an agreement to normalize relations with Israel (5). This persistent presence in the power of executives from the old regime is one of the elements that will slow down the transition process.

On closer inspection, relations between the military and civilians in the transitional authority have gradually deteriorated (6). Dissension also arose between the leading figures of the popular movement, which led to the departure of President Omar el-Bashir (7). In addition, there has been an upsurge in inter-communal violence within the country, particularly in the Darfur region (8). Neither the rehabilitation (9) nor the resignation of Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdock has curbed the mobilization against the authorities in power. Some now believe that the only way to resolve the crisis is ‘the complete overthrow of the putschist military council’ (10).

Thinking the way Back to Democracy

Although there are some good examples of a military government, like the one of former President Jerry Rawlings in Ghana, the contemporary political history of Africa has shown the limitations of military government. Indeed, “whenever the military has taken full control of the state, the results have generally been catastrophic…”. Although lauded for their discipline and quick decision-making, the military has little experience in job creation, macroeconomic policy, public health and the many other complex challenges of governance’ (Houngnikpo, 2012:2).

Admittedly, Ghana is an example that is the opposite of this. Under Jerry Rawlings, Ghana succeeded in re-sectorising politics and the army by removing the military from the political sphere. Based on the successful experiences of the transfer of power from the military to civilians on the continent (Rawlings’ Ghana and Obasanjo’s Nigeria), it is possible to identify elements that militate in favor of a return to democracy and the advent of a civilian government in Sudan.

– The establishment of an inclusive democratization process: all components of Sudanese society must participate actively in the democratization process, including the army, which must be closely associated with this process, as was the case in Ghana in 1992 under the presidency of Jerry Rawlings, with the adoption of a constitution marking the country’s democratic turn.

– The proposal of a credible civilian alternative: contenders for the democratic exercise of power must present a political offer that arouses the support of the masses. This was the case with the New Patriotic Party of liberal opponent John Agyekum Kufuor, which won the 2000 Ghanaian presidential elections by defeating John Atta-Mills, the candidate supported by the incumbent president.

Prior measures must be taken to ensure that order and serenity prevail for the smooth running of the democratic game: It is, therefore, essential to:

– Solve the socio-economic problems that usually provide the argument for the coup: there is a need to find common ground with the various armed rebellions and to revitalize the economy by looking after the purchasing power of the citizens. As a reminder, it was the rise in the price of bread that was the immediate cause of the popular uprising that led to the overthrow of Omar al-Bashir (10).

– Give guarantees to the military: the military must be protected from judicial or budgetary reprisals. This implies the introduction of an amnesty law by the transitional bodies. It is also necessary to ensure that the military is not subjected to budgetary cuts or reductions in salaries, allowances, and material benefits resulting from the performance of their duties.

Protect civilian actors: the political game must take place free from the threat of a military coup. To do this, political actors must be protected from influence peddling and threats that may come from the military. The transitional bodies must therefore take care to depoliticize the army, that is to say, to deprive it of the possibilities of direct intervention in political affairs.

Conclusion

The succession of the former regime is made difficult in Sudan by the persistent presence at the top of the State of officers who had long served the previous president. The return to constitutional normality is conditional on the army returning to the barracks and civilians returning to power. It is a question of stimulating a dynamic that will, in the long term, ensure the subordination of the military power to the civil power.

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Steve TAMETONG is a Fellow in Democracy and Good Governance at the Nkafu Policy Institute. He holds a Ph.D. in Public Law from Dschang University. He also holds a Ph.D. in Governance and Regional Integration from the Institute of Governance, Humanities and Social Sciences of the Pan-African University (African Union).