The ousting of Bashir: Coup or popular uprising?

This article is an analysis of the eruption of civil disorder motivated by different actors against Sudan's government which successfully led to the ousting of President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir on 11 April.

Beny Gideon

CIVIL disorder broke out in the eastern town of Atbara on 19 December 2018 and increasingly spread to major towns including the capital Khartoum. The disorder was initially caused by the rise in bread and fuel prices. In just two weeks, the targeted end game of the persistent protest became obvious: the removal of the long-serving Bashir.

In fact, the civil disorder had been planned and coordinated for some time and it was executed by Sudanese professional associations. As confirmation of such plans, it took only two weeks for civil society organisations and the political opposition to adopt what they called the 'Freedom and Change Declaration' calling on Bashir and his government to step down and form a transitional government that could meet the aspirations of the Sudanese people for peace, freedom and democratic transformation.

Until the last hours of the protest, there were three competing forces attempting to remove the National Congress Party-led government: internal political movements led by the Islamist groups; workers federation union represented by Sudanese professional associations; and the army.

The eventual arrest of Bashir and other key political leaders and the subsequent announcement that First Vice President and Defence Minister General Ahmed Awad Ibn Ouf would head a military council to lead the transition for two years sparked a cloud of doubts. As a result, Awad had to step down a day later, and more or less neutral army officer General Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan took over.

The protesters not only were against Awad's leadership of the transitional military council but rejected the entire transitional military rule even under Abdel Fattah. The rejection is grounded on the legitimate question of whether the ousting of Bashir is a coup or popular upspring. The answer to this question will enable the Sudanese, regional and international communities to provide correct diagnoses of the situation and appropriate political solutions, particularly on who should form the government and run the state during the transitional period.

Causes of protest

According to an open letter on Sudan by a group of African civil society organisations, the public outcry 'grows out of deeper crises looming over the country for the past fifteen years in terms of regional conflicts, human rights violations and financial mismanagement'. Allegations of corrupt practice furthermore appear to be confirmed by Transparency International, which ranked Sudan 175th out of 180 countries and reported that Bashir and his cronies have likely embezzled up to $9 billion from the oil sector. This massive alleged corruption is coupled with the government policy of introducing economic restrictions, which has weakened the state's capacity to manage the economic crisis.

At the political level, the opposition alliance has decried a lack of equal representation in the government at all levels and imbalanced services delivery and infrastructural development. After Bashir and the Islamist movement came to power in 1989, Sudan shifted from a multi-party democracy to a typical mirage state where kleptocrats entrenched themselves in power by use of the patronage system and maintaining the political marketplace by auctioning individual loyalties. It is because of these lucrative political-business tactics that the war is not ending in Sudan, as various political or military actors individually negotiated their prices in and out of the government. It depends on who can put in the highest bid for one's loyalties.

Thirty years on, in April 2019, the power of the people finally prevailed over the people in power. Yet there remains a lot to be desired in Sudan's current transition. It is clear that Sudan is still at a crossroads as the professional associations are still strongly holding their ground in rejecting the newly formed transitional military council, and this has seemingly been supported by the regional and international communities.

On 10 April, the troika countries of the United States, the United Kingdom and Norway issued a statement declaring that 'the time has come for the Sudanese authorities to respond to these popular demands in a serious and credible way'. They concluded that 'the Sudanese people are demanding a transition to a political system that is inclusive and has greater legitimacy'. Similarly, on 11 April, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki said in a statement that 'the military takeover is not the appropriate response to the challenges facing Sudan and the aspirations of its people'. All these statements are streaming in because what was kickstarted by a civilian-led uprising ended up in the hands of military officials who for one reason or another set a two-year transitional period to conduct general elections.

It is evidently clear that the ousting of Bashir was indeed brought about by a popular uprising and not a coup or military takeover. The Lom‚ Declaration of 2000 and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance strongly condemn any unconstitutional change of government and commit member states to respecting the rule of law, democratic principles and human rights. Therefore, the replacement procedures for the office of the President and other top constitutional positions must be in accordance with provisions of the constitution and the electoral laws.

In view of the ongoing developments, one may conclude that Sudan shall never be the same again. The way the Sudanese people protested amid fears of violence was an indication of their determination to change the style of governance in Khartoum. It is therefore highly advisable that the military council accept an inclusive political process that brings in internal Sudanese political forces and armed opposition movements of the SPLM-North, Justice and Equality Movement, Sudan Liberation Movement and the Beja Congress amongst others. Equally important to be included in the political process are the professional associations and civil society organisations, so that an inclusive transitional government is formed that can chart a clear course for a democratic transition.        

Beny Gideon is South Sudan's Human Rights Commissioner. This article, which is reproduced from the Sudan Tribune website (, does not represent the position of any institution or government but solely the author.

*Third World Resurgence No. 337/338, January/February 2019, pp 34-35