The recent military coup in Sudan threatens to unleash a huge humanitarian catastrophe of hunger and disease with dire consequences not only for the people of Sudan but also for people coming from neighboring countries. This only adds to the violent crackdown by the military on peaceful civilian protesters throughout the country.
General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan led the coup, which took place on October 25, 2021. The organizers detained the country’s civilian leadership, dissolved the government, and declared a state of emergency. al-Burhan contends that the military takeover was necessary to avoid civil war and promised to rule until elections in July, 2023.
There are widespread concerns of continuing and increased violence against civilians. “Fears of a fully-fledged, bloody crackdown are mounting,” stated a group of African and international humanitarian and human rights groups in a letter to the UN Human Rights Council.
In addition, the coup in Sudan will impact negatively on an already weak health system, which cannot take good care of the majority of the population. “The health system here is fragile –we have insufficient physicians, nurses, and midwives to meet people’s needs, particularly in rural areas. This, coupled with lack of essential medicines and supplies and poor infrastructure, makes access to quality health-care services extremely challenging,” declared to The Lancet Arif Noor, Sudan country director for Mercy Corps. Noor also expressed concerns about the consequences of a fourth wave of COVID-19, for which the country is unprepared to respond adequately.
There are considerable international concerns about the two main leaders of the military takeover: General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagolo, leader of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). al-Burhan has been described as the main person responsible for the genocide in Darfur, while Hemedti Dagolo is also responsible for the scorched earth campaign in that region and for leading illegal gold-mining operations in Jebel Amer, Darfur.
As also happens in many other countries, the Sudanese military has numerous holdings in illegal gold mining operations, as well as in oil, aviation, and arms-building companies, whose profits bypass government coffers and go into the military officers’ private accounts overseas. This is despicable behavior for a country in dire need of foreign financial assistance to attend the basic needs of the population.
Immediately following the coup, the military shot down the transitional government’s Dismantling Committee, whose activities were met with considerable uneasiness by the top-brass military. This was a group created to seize economic assets allegedly stolen by leading military officers. Wajdi Saleh, one of that committee’s senior officials, was arrested after the coup and remains in detention. Before the coup, the committee was investigating several cases of gold smuggling and other illegal activities, suggesting high levels of corruption among high-ranking military officers.
In the meantime, increasing protests in Sudan, despite brutal repression, indicate that the Sudanese military may have misread people’s determination to defend the civilian government. People still strongly support Abdalla Hamdok, the transitional prime minister, who was detained during the coup but was later liberated and sent home.
“But people are more determined now. And more politically aware. After 30 years of military dictatorship, we will not submit. The youth represent more than 50 percent of this country and it’s clear we don’t want this government. They cannot kill us all. They cannot kill this dream,” stated to BBC News Suleima Elkhalifa, head of the transitional government unit in charge of protecting women and children.
In a continent rife with military coups, Sudan is the country with most military takeovers and attempted coups, amounting to 17, five of them successful, without including the current one.
The new coup in Sudan highlights a major weakness in worldwide efforts to promote democratic goverments. It underscores the urgent need to establish binding international legal principles to ban the recognition of military governments that arise from military coups. The institutionalization of such principles, together with the creation of the legal mechanisms for applying them, would help foster democracy throughout the world.