Sudan: How to Abort a Coup?

Soldiers protect civilian protestors during Khartoum sit-in on 8 April 2019.

A member of the transitional Military Council announces the latest aborted coup

It may be the fifth coup attempt that official announcement said it has been aborted since former President Omar Al-Bashir was removed from power in April. Though it is a serious issue, but people seem to have lost interest in following up on numerous aborted coups attempts, if not outright skeptical about the whole thing.

Questions came flowing. Why coups attempts coincide with critical moments during talks to transfer power to a civilian-led government from the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and is it feasible for any officers to think of staging a successful military coup at the time when the army on alert? And assuming such coup is successful how is it going to survive despite complete popular rejection for any future role for the military in running the country, in addition to the regional and international red flag against any military intervention?

Whether it is real or mere hoax, two issues are underpinning the repeated talks of coup attempts. The first and most important is the issue of powers of the yet to be formed the sovereign council, or to be exact the military side of that council, who at least want to have monopoly on security-related issues during the interim period. Second is the power vacuum that has been running for three months so far and is in itself provides an open invitation for would be risk takers.

Yet the biggest sticking issue remains that of powers that the TMC is currently exercising fully and have to relinquish to the proposed sovereign council, where they have only half of the seats. It became clear that the July 5 agreement between the TMC and Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) and was hailed as a breakthrough, is yet to be fine-tuned to reconcile the conflicting interests/interpretations of the word "endorse" and whether it means mere endorsing whatever decisions brought to the council by the executive branch of the government or the sovereign council will have veto powers. This is more than simple drafting issue, otherwise it should not have taken more than a week to sort out.

In addition to the issue of power sharing, this dragging of feet from the TMC reflects on the other hand one of the unspoken about, sensitive issues that relates to some guarantees for the military from whatever responsibility or potential indictment regarding old or new act of violence like the bloody breaking of the June 3rd sit-in before the army headquarters.

However, the absence of a government running affairs of the country creates a conducive environment that encourages such moves like coup attempts though they look doomed from the start.

So to block any real or perceived coup attempt the first step to take is to form a government that will be looking after security as well as other issues. It is not clear why the negotiating parties with the stand-by mediators can't get into marathon talks to iron out sticking points.

Yet in real world such approach needs a more imaginative political initiative that can cleverly combine forming an independent investigating committee in the June 3rd massacre and some sort of reconciliation down the road. Such reconciliation should be part of a wider exercise that covers old massacres resulting out of violence spanning over long time and places across the country. It is a necessary step to enable people look into the future and not to be captives of the bitter past only.

A good starting point is Darfur. It is the longest running conflict currently in Sudan with international dimensions and implications. More important major players are currently active on the national scene. The reference is to the leader of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who is the number two at TMC and has a remarkable military presence in the troubled region and has been recently designated to be the contact person with rebel groups. In a trip to Chad last month, he managed to secure a joint declaration with two of Darfur rebel groups on ceasefire.

Though it was a small step that needs to be followed with more formal ceasefire arrangements, but its significance is that for the first time both the government and some rebel are signing one document on ceasefire though guns have been silent for close to three years.

The challenge now is to build on this step, reach a complete peace and close the door before real and perceived coups.

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