[Opinion] Sudan's fragile road towards democracy
2021, South Sudanese citizens marching for democracy, chanting, “Power to the people.”
08 June 2022
From a British colony in 1899 until today, Sudan has experienced independence, two civil wars, a separation of state, and another civil war. Battling authoritarian governments, and resisting military coups, the aftermath of Sudan leaves poverty, famine, and unrest.
The resignation of former civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok put Sudan back into the control of its military, diminishing its people’s hopes for a democratic government. But taking a closer look, I see three overarching challenges Sudan faces in its quest for democracy.
Social and Economic Crisis
A country with a vast population of 43.85 million, Sudan remains one of the poorest and most politically unstable countries in the world. With a deteriorating economy with a soaring projected inflation rate of 41.81% in 2022, it suffices to say that Sudan is neither in the position nor has the ability to finance a functioning democracy.
This is especially true amidst within the current military-controlled country, where independent political bodies are either non-existent or illegitimate, and political structures with democratic values are yet to be built.
“It is very clear that the military and its alliance won’t hand over power peacefully, so they will try to crush the peaceful resistance,” says Dr. Sara Abdelgalil, a former president of the doctors union. “We are expecting the worst.”
75 percent of Sudanese people, 8.3 million citizens, currently face severe food insecurity by standards of the United Nation. This forces the Sudanese people - the most powerful catalyst for change - to take the fight away from democratic governance to putting food on the table.
High tensions between powers
Even in the Hamdok administration, sustained peace was not yet attained, While agreements with the military had been made before the Hamdok resigned in January 2022, major provisions had yet to be implemented, and concrete actions have yet to be taken.
While active protests still occur, the Sudan military, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, seems to be postponing dialogue while anti-military protestors are put in prisons. History has taught us again and again that suppression of political expression ends only in two ways: ineffective governance or bloodshed.
As such, fears of further escalation of the confrontation between protesters and security forces are wholly legitimate.
Additionally, the suppression of political expression goes against every democratic value there is and is catastrophic in any functioning democracy or democracy-to-be. As Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese businessman, philanthropist, and activist has written, “Intimidation, harassment, and violence have no place in a democracy.” On the road to democracy, blatant authoritarianism is a bad place to start.
Lack of a clear, shared vision
The people of Sudan for decades suffered through political turmoil without a leader the nation could completely put their faith in. As a result, coupled with residues of an authoritarian regime, the concentration of power at the top was met with a lack of a shared vision amongst its political elites. Until now, there is yet to be a permanent constitution in Sudan since its independence in 1956.
The inability for an aligned mission in the country’s top leaders has been translated to their people. While in some ways commendable, the people of Sudan seem to be furiously working towards a democratic government, it has neither a clear specific goal in mind nor a concrete plan to back it up.
So far, Sudan has yet to have a common political figure with which they can unify behind, and without clear political leadership, the message and mission of democracy are severely diluted and ill-defined. In other words, there has yet to be a tool to harness the power and potential of the Sudanese people.
But all is not lost.
On the global scale, Sudan can be seen as a symbol of the fight for democratization, and as we’ve seen in the Russia-Ukraine war, such symbols are a powerful source of incentivization for global aid. While humanitarian aid can and should be offered to the Sudanese, the fight for democracy in Sudan will go a long way in harnessing the powerful potential of its people.
History has shown time and time again Sudan’s ability to spark grassroots movements into social change in a unified response.
In his book Sudan: The Failure and Division of an African State, Abdalla Hamdok wrote about a fundamental flaw of Sudan’s political class since independence in 1956 - that "spirited political competition came at a price - the self-destruction of democracy". In other words: The tendency for people to fragment and break up proves to be the repeating weakness in Sudan politics for decades.
The chaos inflicted by politicians must be met with a resilient and unified response by the Sudanese people for any glimmer of hope toward their democracy.
An immensely daunting task, but not impossible.
Sudanese women protesting for democratic government.