Sudan Faces Specter of Full Military Rule After Premier Quits


Sudan’s bid to escape decades of dictatorship was thrown deeper into turmoil after the prime minister resigned, leaving the army in near-sole charge of the impoverished nation that some hoped would become a beacon of democracy in the Horn of Africa.

Abdalla Hamdok’s decision to step down late Sunday followed weeks of deadly protests sparked by an Oct. 25 military coup. Declaring that attempts by civilians and the military to share power had failed, the former United Nations economist warned in a televised address of chaos if a new political consensus wasn’t reached.

His departure effectively places Sudan, a pariah in the West until strongman Omar al-Bashir’s 2019 overthrow, back under military control. It could also rule out any imminent restoration of foreign financial aid, much of which has been suspended since the army arrested Hamdok and his colleagues in October after weeks of civilian-military tensions. He later returned as premier in a deal activists rejected.

Hamdok’s move “will take us to a different stage with more political complications and problems,” said Abdalla Didan, an analyst at the Khartoum-based Sudan Democracy First Group. The political parties and armed movements that joined the transition are now “fragmented to many different groups” and rudderless, he said. “This will give the military officers further space to grab power.”

The fate of Sudan’s democratic experiment has resonance for a broader region bedeviled by one-man rule as well as civil war in Ethiopia, South Sudan and Somalia. The U.S. and other Western nations had been working to rebuild ties with Khartoum via both Hamdok and the generals, seeking a strategic triumph in Africa where they’re vying with one-time Bashir supporters Russia and China for influence.

The U.S. Bureau of African Affairs urged Sudan’s leaders to “set aside differences, find consensus, and ensure continued civilian rule.” The next premier and cabinet “should be appointed in line with the constitutional declaration to meet the people’s goals of freedom, peace, and justice,” it said on Twitter.

Bleak picture

The picture is also bleak for the economy, which had finally begun to see modest gains such as preliminary agreements on relief for billions of dollars of long-standing foreign debt earlier in 2021. After western donors suspended aid due to the coup, authorities have tried to secure help from Gulf Arab nations as they struggle to pay salaries. The government is now weighing cuts in wheat and electricity subsidies that may trigger yet more protests.

Local activist groups on Monday said they’d keep taking to the streets to demand the end of military rule. At least 57 people have been killed by security forces since October’s putsch, according to a doctor’s committee. Violence has also re-erupted in the western region of Darfur, where the World Food Programme has suspended operations following recent attacks on its warehouses. The decision may affect about 2 million people. 

“To our armed forces – the army, rapid support forces, police, and intelligence services – and all the regular security agencies, I say: The people are the final sovereign authority,” Hamdok said in his parting words.