Fifteen people were fatally shot and dozens were wounded during a protest against military rule in Sudan. Protesters in the cities of Khartoum, Bahri, and Omdurman demanded that the military leaders of the coup on October 25th of this year be put on trial and for the government to cede power to civilian authorities. The coup in October overthrew the democratic government that had been established after Omar al-Bashir was ousted in 2019.
According to Reuters, during the protest, security forces fired live rounds and tear gas as well as cut mobile phone communications. Protestors were forced to barricade themselves for protection from the assault. Hospitals were raided and surrounded by government-backed forces. Reuters also reports that the demonstration started off peacefully with people chanting “the people are stronger, and retreat is impossible” while carrying pictures of people killed in previous protests. The BBC News reports that Western states have paused economic aid and publicly condemned army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan’s actions, likely one of the reasons for the civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok being released from house arrest to sign a power-sharing agreement. U.N. Specialist Rapporteur on Freedom of Association and Peaceful Assembly, Clement Voule, tweeted that the “military commanders will be held accountable for these abuses,” yet so far, the military commanders will still oversee the civilian officials given power from the agreement.
Molly Phee, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, met with Hamdok to discuss how to restore democracy in Sudan in early November, before the deadly protests erupted. Other Western powers rescinded financial aid or denounced Burhan’s actions, but the military government has not been completely open to negotiations. The BBC News reports that the power-sharing agreement did not fully follow the protestors’ wishes and that the pact with Hamdok “had been struck with a gun to his head.” Hamdok will be reinstated as prime minister and will lead a cabinet of technocrats until future elections, but the military will be overseeing everything the cabinet acts on. According to Al Jazeera, Hamdok will also be able to hold elections before July 2023 and release political prisoners.
Western powers have accepted this agreement, and many onlookers have said that this was a move towards restoring democracy in Sudan. However, as Mary Harper from the BBC World Service Africa questions, will the military uphold its promises? It seems as though the international community is taking the military’s promises at face value, even though they have killed civilians and have only constructed superficial promises in order to follow through without giving up much power. Military officials have done the bare minimum in order to conceal their actions from global attention, and while a new government will be created, it will most likely not be a democratic one. Violence will continue to break out as civilians attempt to take back power from the military government because their wishes are not being met. For example, Burhan has not discussed what he will do to meet the needs of the people once Sudan’s foreign aid comes back into play. Political power has been shifted to a group that the Sudanese people did not elect or support, and so it is possible that the violence at the protests will continue if the military government feels it has solved the issue.
Two of the most important things for a country are being economically independent and having a system that promotes social justice. Sudan is currently reliant on the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank for financial aid, and the military government’s response to the protests proves that the system is not set up for social justice. Red Pepper argues that dependency on the global market can result in a country’s financial ruin and that the focus should be on implementing policies to allow a country to support itself and its citizens without international aid. The Guardian reports that in recent history, Western powers such as the U.S., Britain, and France have aided coups to overthrow elected governments in “developing” countries in order to further their own interests. It is proven that these countries do not have other states’ best interests at heart.
The African Union and other organizations that are better equipped to understand and solve the economic problems Sudan is facing should be the ones implementing policies and negotiating with Sudanese officials, instead of the U.S. Additionally, organizations such as the African Union and specialists from the U.N. will be better suited to discuss the social issues in Sudan as well because they will be focused on assisting Sudan rather than their own gains.
The protests in Sudan were not an isolated event, especially because it seems like the root of the problem is not being addressed. The military government should cede full power to Sudanese citizens, allowing them to elect a government that is not a puppet of the military. Fair and safe elections are also a priority because, even though Burhan has promised that elections will be held before 2023, there is no guarantee that citizens’ votes will be counted. The Western world does not need to be the centre of the discussion on issues inside Sudan, even as news outlets look to Western officials for their reactions and ideas. Officials and specialists closer to the problem need to be the ones negotiating and implementing policies in order to avoid future bloodshed in the region.
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