Sudanese authorities said they had foiled an attempted coup on Tuesday, accusing loyalists of ousted President Omar al-Bashir of trying but failing to undermine the revolution that removed him from power in 2019 and ushered in a transition to democracy. The attempted coup was planned by people inside and outside the military establishment, leading to the first arrests of those in the midst of such a plot, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said in a televised statement. It had been preceded by attempts to sow insecurity, especially in the east of Sudan, he said.
“What happened is an orchestrated coup by factions inside and outside the armed forces and this is an extension of the attempts by remnants since the fall of the former regime to abort the civilian democratic transition,” Hamdok said. “This attempt was preceded by extensive preparations represented by lawlessness in the cities and the exploitation of the situation in the east of the country, closing national roads and ports and blocking oil production.”
The coup attempt points to the difficult path facing a government that has reoriented Sudan since 2019, winning Western debt relief and taking steps to normalise ties with Israel, while battling a severe economic crisis and facing down challenges from those still loyal to Bashir. A ruling body known as the Sovereign Council has run Sudan under a fragile power-sharing deal between the military and civilians since the overthrow of Bashir, an Islamist shunned by the West who presided over Sudan for nearly three decades.
Elections are expected in 2024. It was not the first challenge to the transitional authorities. They say they have foiled or detected previous coup attempts linked to factions loyal to Bashir, who was deposed by the army after months of protests against his rule.
In a previous analysis, we stated that there would likely to be more coup d’états on the continent following successes in Mali and Guinea. The foiled coup attempt in Sudan is a testament to both our prediction and the predilection of restive elites in multiple African countries to go rogue in the furtherance of their political ambitions. Africa remains fertile territory for violent political takeovers, having seen 82 coup attempts – 41 of which have been successful – since 1990; a 50% success rate. Of this, seven have been carried out since 2010, a small but unpleasant fate for the continent’s often halting but steady democratic march.
Mercifully, the 21 September coup in Sudan was unsuccessful, but it highlights the perils of a country navigating through a joint military-democratic transition phase while besieged by a barrage of security and economic issues. With the deposition of Omar al-Bashir (unsurprisingly) in a 2019 coup, one preceded by unrest and protests following his government’s imposition of emergency austerity measures to stave off economic collapse, Sudan’s transitional government now enjoys support from the International Monetary Fund, which monitors its economic reform programme.
The failed coup attempt means that Sudan’s transitional government can still continue its path to diplomatic rapprochement with the West, one which was nonexistent under Bashir. Corroborating the Western support for the transitional government, the Paris Club of official creditors agreed in July 2021 to cancel $14 billion of Sudan’s debt, a major win at a time the Sudanese are confronted with rising inflation and shortages. The claim that the coup plotters were loyalists to former president Bashir does make sense, given mounting international pressure on the transitional government to have him handed over to the International Criminal Court (ICC) over alleged atrocities in Darfur in the early 2000s.
A successful coup by Bashir’s men would have meant that there would be no chance that he would ever face prosecution by the ICC, More importantly, it would truncate the transition plan and enable the country to tow a path more reminiscent of the 2000s and 2010s. Khartoum’s success in squelching this attempt should not be construed as indicative of a lack of appetite to bring the government down.
Some chatter indicates that this failed coup attempt was done to check the street reception of a future coup, hence, as officials claim to have arrested all actors involved, it is imperative that the coup plotters face prosecution and due process is followed to serve as a deterrent to copycats and wannabes. That will be an important indicator of the current government’s commitment to the transition process and democratic ideals.