VANCOUVER, Canada — On October 25, 2021, the Sudanese military, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, launched a coup against the Sudanese government. The military placed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok under house arrest along with several civilian politicians that had compromised the joint military-civilian government of Sudan. In its immediate aftermath, al-Bruhan declared a state of emergency and ordered the shutdown of internet and phone networks. Protestors took to the streets, which led to military forces wounding 140 people in an effort to contain the demonstrations.
The Sudanese coup came two years after overthrowing the 30-year rule of dictator Omar al-Bashir, which saw the establishment of the Sovereignty Council of Sudan in its aftermath, a joint military-civilian government that Hamdok led. The Sovereignty Council passed a new Sudanese Constitution in 2019 in which it pledged to oversee a 39-month democratic transitional period. However, the 2021 Sudanese coup has brought the plans to a halt, with the economic and humanitarian consequences looking to exacerbate the country’s problems. Sudan is among the poorest countries in the world, suffering from a 36% poverty rate and ranked 167th on the global Human Development Index (HDI).
International Reactions and Loss of Aid
The United States was the first internationally to respond to the Sudanese coup with the State Department suspending $700 million in 2021 emergency assistance to Sudan that Congress approved. The assistance was “intended to support the country’s democratic transition” only hours after the coup. The majority of the emergency assistance had been going into food security, agricultural support and other humanitarian shortcomings, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Announcing the decision to suspend aid to Sudan, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price stated that “The civilian-led transitional government should be immediately restored. It represents the will of the Sudanese people, as evidenced by the significant, peaceful demonstrations of support,” while announcing the aid suspension.
Soon after, the World Bank followed suit, cutting near $3 billion of financing to Sudan that went into agriculture, transport, health care, education and other underfunded public sectors. World Bank President David Malpass stated on October 27 that “I am greatly concerned by recent events in Sudan, and I fear the dramatic impact this [coup]can have on the country’s social and economic recovery and development.”
In the months that followed, the al-Burhan military government attempted to deescalate the situation to reinstate the much-needed aid it had lost overnight. In December 2021, after negotiations under house arrest, Hamdouk was reinstated as Prime Minister after striking a preliminary 14-point deal with al-Burhan which stipulated the military government’s commitment to the transition to democracy constitutionally enshrined in 2019.
Pro-Hamdouk factions had hoped that this deal would be able to reinstate the path to democracy, even if under the eye of a military dictatorship. While members of the al-Burhan government hoped this appeasement would allow Sudan to re-enter the international fold and regain access to the much-needed funds from the United States and the World Bank. Hamdok stated in December that “Signing this framework political agreement will open doors to address all the pending issues of the transitional period over the past two years and under this partnership we have managed to achieve a lot.” Hamdok added that “We have brought Sudan back into the international community, lifted its name from the terrorist blacklist and many other achievements. However, we still have many challenges laying ahead.”
The civil organizations that spearheaded the 2019 revolt and saw Hamdok placed as the head of the Sovereignty Council of Sudan, could not endorse Hamdok’s perceived capitulation to effective military rule. As a result, after failing to form a government under the 14-point agreement, Hamdouk resigned as Prime Minister on January 3.
Soon after Hamdok resigned, the U.S. embassy in Khartoum released a statement that reiterated the State Department’s stance in October that aid will not undergo reinstatement until a civilian government is firmly back in power and the democratic transition resumes. Since the Economic and Humanitarian consequences of the Sudanese coup have begun to develop throughout 2022.
Sudan’s economy is heavily reliant on agriculture, accounting for 43% of Sudan’s labor force and 30% of its GDP. With the large majority of the foreign aid lost going to the agricultural industry, projections have determined that the Sudanese coup will have dire impacts on food and financial insecurity in Sudan. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has projected that Sudan’s 2022 crop yields to be nearly half of yearly averages prior. As a result, food prices have been increasingly inflating throughout 2022, with Cereal foodstuffs in February 2022 rising 70%-80% in cost compared to February 2021.
The invasion of Ukraine has only compounded this food insecurity in recent months. Sudan imports $70 million of goods annually from Ukraine, 84% of which are grain, oils and sugar. About 35% of Sudan’s imported wheat came from Russian and Ukrainian markets now abruptly unavailable. As a result, the World Food Programme (WFP) has projected that 20 million people in Sudan will face acute food insecurity, which is double the number of the previous year.
Stop Gap Measures
Despite an inability to form a government that would appease democratic civil society and foreign nations that once provided aid, al-Burhan claims to be committed to transitioning Sudan from the current military dictatorship into a democracy in 2023 as enshrined in the 2019 constitution.
While the United States and the International Community should continue to financially strong-arm the al-Burhan government into a democratic transition, it should not come at the expense of Sudanese civil society which has long fought for a better future and yet shoulder the brunt of the coup’s consequences.
In December, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) established the 2022 Sudan Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) with the goal of meeting three aims in Sudan in reaction to the coup:
- “Provide timely multi-sectoral life-saving assistance to crisis affected people to reduce mortality and morbidity
- Improve vulnerable people’s access to livelihoods and life-sustaining basic services
- Mitigate protection risks and respond to protection needs through humanitarian action.”
The HRP in Sudan is consistently underfunded every year. In response to the particularly dire circumstance following the Sudanese coup, the OCHA has made an explicit call for increased donations to the HRP to meet the challenges Sudan will face in the upcoming year until the 2023 elections.
Non-governmental organizations such as the Sudan HRP, the United States and the World Bank can divert the funding of previous assistance to the Sudanese government rather than cutting the Sudanese population from much-needed services reliant on foreign financing. The increased funding of NGOs in Sudan as a stop-gap would allow for the pressure on the al-Burhan’s military dictatorship to hold elections in 2023 to continue while mitigating the worst of the humanitarian crisis that the Sudanese coup has created until the elections occur.
– Majeed Malhas