No Democracy for Sudan

Text: Simone Sessolo, master student in peace and conflict studies 

In 2019, a coup in Sudan kickstarted the transition to democracy in the country. In 2021, another coup d’état carried out by the army disrupted the democratic transition and installed a military government. The people of Sudan are protesting. They want the democratization to continue. 

Picture 1: View of Karthoum, capital of Sudan. Christopher Michel via 

Plumes of black, thick smoke dotted the landscape of Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, on 25th October 2021. People were protesting in the streets. Internet was shut off, telephone networks were not working, and the airport was closed. The Commander in Chief of the Sudanese Armed Forces, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, had just carried out a coup d’état. He instructed the army to arrest Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, along with other ministers and key opposition and pro-democracy leaders, and appointed himself as the President of Sudan. 

In 1989, a coup d’état by the Sudanese military brought Omar al-Bashir to power. He ruled brutally for 30 years until he was deposed in 2019 by a coup led by the military and by pro-democracy civilian organizations. They set up a transitional government, the Sovereignty Council of Sudan, made up of 11 members including military officers and civilian politicians that collectively acted as head of state. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan served as chair of the Sovereignty Council prior to the coup he himself led.  

The Sovereignty Council appointed Abdalla Hamdok as Prime Minister in 2019. Hamdok served in several high-level international positions at Deloitte, the International Labour Organization, and the UN Economic Commission for Africa, among others. His government was tasked with guiding the country through the process of transitioning to democracy.  


The Republic of Sudan is a country in Northeast Africa. Being the third largest by area in the continent and the 15th in the world, it is home to more than 44 million inhabitants, making it the 33rd largest country by population in the world. It achieved independence from the British Empire in 1956. Aside from a brief period in the early 1960s, Sudan has rarely known democracy and peace: a military dictatorship was established in 1969 and a subsequent coup in 1989 brought Omar al-Bashir to power, transforming the country into a one-party state. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was designated as a state sponsor of terrorism by the United States after inviting Osama bin Laden to the stay there.  

Protesters erected barricades, lit fires, and clashed with security forces, while chanting “The people are stronger”, “Retreat is not an option!”, and “No to military rule”

In 2003 the war in Darfur, a province in the west of the country, escalated. It led to hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of people being displaced. In 2007, peacekeeping forces arrived in the country under the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), which securitized the Western part of the country and facilitated negotiations among the belligerents. The International Criminal Court indicted Omar al-Bashir for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. 

The Hope for Democracy Has Been Crushed 

After the 2019 coup, there was hope that Sudan would finally experience democracy. The delicate power-sharing transitional government had a clear timeline for democratization: in November of this year, the country was due to have full civilian rule. Instead, al-Burhan took power and announced he would hold free and fair elections in 2023. 

Protests and strikes erupted almost immediately after the coup in many cities around the country. Protesters erected barricades, lit fires, and clashed with security forces, while chanting “The people are stronger”, “Retreat is not an option!”, and “No to military rule”. Repression has been brutal: security forces have used tear gas, barbed wire, and live ammunition to disperse the protesters. 

The United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) called for immediate release of politicians and of activists and the continuation of peaceful democratic transition. These calls were echoed by, among others, the United Nations Secretary-General, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the European Union. The African Union suspended Sudan’s membership on the condition that the transitional government is restored. 

Plumes of black, thick smoke dotted the landscape of Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, on 25 October 2021. People were protesting in the streets. 


In conclusion, the Sudanese people made it clear in 2019 that they want democracy. In 2021, they are making it clear that they are not giving up – they are fighting for democracy. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan might have the support of the security forces, but he does not have the support of a large part of the people of his country. 

Hopefully, in retrospect, we will consider the 2021 coup as an obstacle that did not change the trajectory of democratization for the country. Sudan might finally have a democratic future. 

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