Since the deposition of Sudan’s long-serving ruler Omar al-Bashir in 2019, Sudan underwent significant political upheaval with lasting consequences. The popular uprising, which began in December of 2018, was sparked by cuts to bread and fuel subsidies, an emergency austerity measure to prevent economic collapse, which subsequently led to widespread protests centered in Khartoum. Following the escalation of nationwide protests, the Transitional Military Council (TMC), under the leadership of LtGen Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan, ousted President Bashir and assumed power.

Though the TMC showed interest in ensuring peace and security, the task proved daunting due to internal division, lack of popular recognition, and opposition from the Sudan Professional Association (SPA) – a collective of doctors, health workers, and lawyers. Following several violent protests, the military government transferred authority to a sovereign council composed of leading political figures for the joint administration of the country. On August 22nd, 2019, Abdalla Hamdok was appointed as head of the Sovereign Council under a power sharing agreement with the military.

However, protests against the blended administration, and a peace deal with the rebel group collective, Revolutionary Front (SRF), further exacerbated the strained political atmosphere. To settle continued cycles of unrest, the civilian branch introduced a new cabinet that included some rebel group representatives; meanwhile, the military arm defended against four attempted coups and cracked down on protestors; revealing a stark division within the country’s leadership. Subsequently, irreconcilable differences led to a military coup with the removal of Prime Minister Hamdok and the arrest of several members of the civilian leadership.

Having led the coup on October 25th, 2021, Lt-Gen Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan, dissolved the sovereign council and declared a state of emergency. Once more, protestors took to the streets demanding the release of political prisoners and a swift transition to a democratic civilian rule. To pacify the growing unrest, the military reinstated Prime Minister Hamdok on November 21st only for him to resign 6 weeks later with the failing of a deal that called for a technocratic cabinet under military oversight. Hamdok said his efforts at bridging the cleavages between political factions proved fruitless and that, “[…] despite all that was done to bring about the desired and necessary agreement to fulfill our promise to the citizen of security, peace, justice and an end to the bloodshed, this does not happen”. He alluded to Sudan’s tumultuous future stating, “[…] now our nation is going through a dangerous turning point that could threaten its survival unless it is urgently rectified.

Border Tensions with Ethiopia

In addition to its internal political turmoil, Sudan has also wedged itself in a border standoff with Ethiopia. The initial attempt to demarcate the border was through a treaty signed in 1902 between British-ruled Sudan and Ethiopia. Since then, several negotiations have been partially successful, except for the contested al-Fashaga territory, using existing regional mechanisms– namely the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD). Currently, Sudan’s military leadership has deployed soldiers at the al-Fashiga border, using the issue as a tool to increase its declining popular support. Ethiopia, noting the militarization as a significant break
from regional norms, called upon regional

Reiterating the government’s unwavering support for the Sudanese people, Ethiopian leaders assert that their measured response has staved off armed conflict between the two nations.

 and international entities to condemn Sudan’s actions and bring a peaceful resolution to the disagreement.

Moreover, because of the deviation from the historical fraternity, Sudan’s conduct registered as especially shrewd given it coincided with the conflict in Ethiopia’s northern region and was followed by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s mediation efforts between Sudan’s military and civilian leaders. In response to this unusual move, the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry issued the following statement;

Ethiopia strongly believes that all the recent actions and vitriolic propaganda campaigns of the Government of Sudan against Ethiopia do not reflect the wishes and aspirations of the peace-loving people of Sudan. Ethiopia has been consistently calling the Government of Sudan to reverse its aggression and resolve the boundary issue per the bilateral agreements and joint boundary mechanisms to finalize the re demarcation process

Despite Sudan’s impulsive actions that defy existing regional organs, the Ethiopian government places the blame squarely on the nation’s leadership. Absolving the citizens of all blame, the Ethiopian leadership insists on foul play instigated by foreign actors. Reiterating the government’s unwavering support for the Sudanese people, Ethiopian leaders assert that their measured response has staved off armed conflict between the two nations.

Ethiopia and Sudan have long enjoyed historical and people-to-people relations since the kingdom of Axum and the Merowe civilizations. The age-old ties between these two countries evolved on a similar trajectory as they were faced with similar challenges and opportunities for transformation. As it relates to people-people relations, Sudan and Ethiopia not only share a border but also similar fates in the region. In addition to the large numbers of each country’s nationals living in the other, and given the Horn integration agenda that has emerged as a project among the region’s leaders, Sudan and Ethiopia must exhaust all peaceful avenues to their mounting differences.

Sudan’s indeterminate stance on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, in its attempts to align with Egypt in the course of the tripartite negotiations, has strained its relations with another regional ally. Though Sudan has shown teetering support for the project, the current military government has adopted a stance in stark contrast to the Declaration of Principles signed in 2015. The military rulers continue to disregard scientific evidence that affirms the project’s safety and its manifold benefits to the Sudanese people. Accordingly, the Irrigation and Water Resources Minister, Yasser Abbas, maintains that Sudan is directly, and adversely, affected by GERD; adding its intentions to involve the UN, EU, and the US in an attempt to pressure Ethiopia into halting the filling process. Similarly, the Sudanese Foreign Minister, Mariam Al-Sadig Al-Mahdi, lobbied against the Ethiopian government’s scheduled second filling in her state tour of various African and Asian countries. Despite Prime Minister Abiy’s assurance that Ethiopia, “Has no intention of causing harm [and that the project will] undoubtedly prevent severe flooding in neighboring Sudan,” Sudanese officials levy accusations of dam safety, as they seem to play the trojan-horse advancing a singularly Egyptian agenda.

Possible Recommendations

Sudan finds itself at a critical juncture. The recent escalation of political and economic crises, if left unaddressed, could lead the nation to re entrenchment into deeper conflict. Although Prime Minister Hamdok resigned after months of political deadlock, the military, pressured by the people, still has the capacity to take steps towards democracy.

Sudan finds itself at a critical juncture. The recent escalation of political and economic crises, if left unaddressed, could lead the nation to re-entrenchment into deeper conflict.

A full system collapse is preventable only through political leadership that is consistent with the will of the people. This can be achieved primarily through an inclusive national dialogue among all political parties, citizens, and the military. A forum for national consensus building can eliminate distrust and suspicion amongst different stakeholders. In this regard, IGAD received confirmation from both political forces and the military council, of their desire for mediation. This is a decisive step in accelerating the national dialogue efforts and shows promise for lasting peace.

Secondly, the military council must redefine its mission and become a genuine facilitator for the necessary transition, rather than operate as a permanent regime. This requires the military government to comply with the agreement, resulting from the provisional constitution, that demands a transition to civilian government. Following suit, the security apparatus should be reformed to bring an end to violence against demonstrators, and intimidation of opposition parties. A judicial mechanism must also be established to address human rights matters and corruption.

…the Ethiopian and Sudanese leaderships must put people at the center of policymaking to ensure sustained peace and cooperative avenues that outlive political leadership.

Sudan’s transition to civilian rule, derailed by political deadlock and military coups, has been marred with complications. The power vacuum resulting from the removal of Omar al-Basher and the resignation of Abdalla Hamdok has allowed the military to be the sole arbiter of power despite continual protest from citizens.
As it relates to its regional relations, Sudan is at odds with its eastern neighbor Ethiopia, over the contested border of al-Fashaga and the GERD project, exasperating its mounting political crises. As the internal situation stands, persistent protests have cost numerous Sudanese lives, and an escalation of the border tension holds consequences for the people of both nations. To
decelerate the internal socio-political freefall, paths towards a civilian lead administration have been suggested. Additionally, the Ethiopian and Sudanese leaderships must put people at the center of policymaking to ensure sustained peace and cooperative avenues that outlive political leadership. As it relates to Ethiopia’s GERD project, it is vital that Ethiopia, Sudan, as well as Egypt, employ a scientific approach to arrive at a mutually-beneficial solution.