Sudan can be a stinker again


The international community has been taken by surprise by the coup d'état in Sudan led by General Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman al-Burhan. He himself headed the Sovereignty Council, the institution charged with completing the country's transition to democracy after the ouster in 2019 of dictator Omar al-Bashir. The Sovereignty Council shared power with a civilian caretaker government headed by Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok. 

Al-Burhan acted according to the classic pattern of a military coup leader, arresting Hamdok and most of the ministers, the leaders of several political parties and those suspected of allegedly plotting to start a civil war in the country. At the same time, the general did not hesitate to mobilise battalions to occupy enclaves and strategic buildings, arrest those who resisted and ruthlessly repress those who tried to demonstrate. The toll after the first thirty-six hours of the coup was already a dozen dead, two hundred wounded and half a thousand arrested. 

The scenario has caused enormous irritation in both the European Union and the United States, both of which have financed the transition process and thus promoted Sudan's return to the ranks of countries worthy of assistance in order to emerge from underdevelopment. Indeed, if the coup is consummated, Khartoum will return to the ranks of the stinking countries, unworthy of the political approval and economic funds needed to join an international community of democratic countries, even if each of its members has its own peculiarities.

The African Union itself has suspended Sudan from its institutions until it restores the democratic process and reinstalls Hamdok's interim government at its head. The head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, has made this clear in writing: 'We do not want Sudan to return to the darkest hours of its history', and has already informed the coup general that the EU would have to suspend the flow of economic aid with which it was facilitating the development of the transition process. The same is true of the United States, whose Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Khartoum to rethink "its assistance to the Sudanese people in their transition to civilian-led democracy", a sentence in which every word is carefully considered and can only be interpreted as a serious warning to General Al-Burhan. As if to demonstrate this, the United States, the World Bank's largest contributor, unequivocally supported the Bank's decision to suspend for the time being its undelivered aid of $700 million to Sudan. 

Between now and Saturday, events are likely to be precipitated and clarified in either a good or a bad way. The opposition to the coup has announced a gigantic "million-strong demonstration" to demonstrate the isolation of the coup military from civil society. If al-Burhan sticks to his guns and even proceeds to violently repress it, it will be difficult to restore the process towards a democratic regime.

This would further complicate the geopolitical landscape in Northeast Africa, where the dispute between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan itself over the water of the Nile could lead to a war with very serious implications for the entire Mediterranean and Near Eastern neighbourhood. Russia and China, for their part, would have a sufficiently complicated scenario of great geostrategic importance to throw their swords into the ring, and their spillovers into the Horn and southern Africa would provoke new and serious upheavals on the continent. 

Meanwhile, ex-dictator Omar al-Bashir would continue to dodge his presence before the International Criminal Court, to which Sudan should have already handed him over, but which was opposed by a substantial part of the Sudanese army as opposed to the now deposed civilian government.