Like the French Revolution, protests in Sudan started on December 19, 2018 in the city of Atbara over the rising prices of bread. The demonstration of a few hundred people quickly spread to other cities, including Khartoum, the capital of Sudan and became not just about bread, but about broader economic hardships.
By April 2019, the street protests had led to a military coup and the ouster of long-time ruler Omar al-Bashir. Since then, there has been an attempted transition to civil rule with the August 17, 2019 power sharing agreement between military and civilian leaders. And to gain a $56 billion debt relief, the Sudanese government cut popular fuel subsidies after a June 2021 understanding with the IMF. There has been an attempted coup, supposedly instigated by al-Bashir loyalists. There was the detention and removal of a prime minister by the military in breach of the August 2019 agreement, his reinstatement and, finally, the resignation of the same prime minister on January 2, 2022. More than three years after the protests in the city of Atbara, the streets throughout the country have not gone quiet.
The now former prime minister had no previous experience in politics. In a televised resignation speech Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said, “I decided to give back the responsibility and announce my resignation as prime minister, and give a chance to another man or woman of this noble country to … help it pass through what’s left of the transitional period to a civilian democratic country.”
He went on to say, “I tried as much as I possibly could to prevent our country from sliding into a disaster. Now, our nation is going through a dangerous turning point that could threaten its survival unless it is urgently rectified.”
Hamdok himself said the military reneged on every agreement reached as part of the transition. It was supposed to be a 39-month transition with elections to hold in July 2023. The military was supposed to be
in charge for 21 months of the transition, while civilians will take charge for the remaining 18 months. Yet, in October last year, just a month before civilians were due to take charge, the General Abdelfattah al Burhan-led military Sovereign Council sacked the cabinet, putting Hamdok under house arrest, only to reinstate him six
weeks later in hopes of peace and quiet on the streets. The only problem was Hamdok had even less room to make independent decisions and could not even form a cabinet.
With protesters already enraged that the prime minister would legitimise the October coup and had become more adamant on their demands for a full-fledged democracy, his only course of action was to leave the scene.
Since the October coup, 57 protesters have been killed in a military crackdown, according to the Sudan Central Doctors’ Committee.
Protesters have also been arrested and tortured during this period.
The military has effectively trampled on every major institution that could show any level of independence and help usher in a democratic era. The legislature was dissolved, the judiciary was effectively crippled, and with emergency laws being introduced, federal
institutions have not only collapsed, but disintegration of the country along ethnic and regional lines is a real and present danger.
What is clear, however, is that General Abdelfattah al Burhan and the Sovereign Council can no longer be trusted to see through any
agreement. The military obviously has no plans to hand power over to a democratic government. Yet, what Sudan needs right now is compromise.
The institution, or even a constitution, that could see the military hand over power temporarily to civilians until elections are held does not exist. All that exists is the power-sharing agreement. The resignation of Hamdok has put the transition in serious jeopardy. But it is not dead, and should not be allowed to die.
More than ever, the Transitional Military Council needs to go back to the negotiation table with the Forces of Freedom and Change alliance, with whom it signed the original August 2019 agreement, to pick a new prime minister. What would further aggravate present circumstances and further jeopardise the transition process would be for the military to further tighten its grip on power by announcing a new prime minister without consultation with pro-democracy groups. While the
international community has already called to an end to the violence against protesters, it is important for the African Union, the United Nations, the European Union and the United States to increase pressure on General al Burhan and his deputy, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, to respect the wishes of the Sudanese people and give them the freedom and peace they yearn.