Sudanese protesters are urging world powers not to resume development aid to their government for fear of legitimising the October 25 coup and spoiling their country’s transition to democracy.
Talk of restoring aid picked up after Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok was released from house arrest and reinstated on November 22. But Sudan’s resistance committees – neighbourhood groups with a horizontal command structure that are spearheading the pro-democracy movement – interpreted Hamdok’s move as ratifying the power grab of military leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the frontman of the coup. Activists have since called on the global community to starve the military of aid.
“In the interest of the people and of the protesters, the global community must not support this government in any way,” Zuhair al-Dalee, a representative of one of the resistance committees in the capital of Khartoum, told Al Jazeera. “Any aid that comes to this government will just support the coup. It won’t benefit the people.”
Sudan’s Finance Minister Jibril Ibrahim recently said the government was in dire need of international support after it was unable to access $650m in international funding last month – aid that was suspended by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund following the coup. The freeze could make it difficult for the government to secure vital imports such as food and medicine in the coming weeks.
The coup also resulted in the suspension of $700m in US aid. Part of that assistance was intended to provide a financial cushion to help the poorest Sudanese survive austerity measures.
Cameron Hudson, a non-resident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council Africa Center, said there is now an active conversation in Washington about restoring assistance, but that American officials are in a Catch-22.
“Washington is really in this position where it feels like an appropriate response to the coup is withholding assistance, yet that could be the move that triggers the collapse of the economy and which the international community and Washington then gets blamed for,” said Hudson.
“We also don’t know what kind of pressure Hamdok is putting on the US admin,” added Hudson. “The US clearly wants to support Hamdok since he has been the centrepiece of US policy. If he wasn’t prime minister, the US wasn’t going to tolerate or recognise this government.”
Samahir Mubarak, a member of the Sudanese Professionals Association, which spearheaded protests against former leader Omar al-Bashir in 2019, told Al Jazeera that protesters are angry the United States is sidelining the pro-democracy movement to support Hamdok. Her criticism came as US President Joe Biden launched his virtual Democracy Summit, which brought together 100 representatives from governments and civil society groups from across the world.
“The US is reducing the entire transition to supporting a single person, and that’s giving a way out to the military,” Mubarak said.
Sudan’s generals desperately need aid to compensate their own constituents and coopt new factions, which analysts have said is key to obtaining legitimacy and consolidating power. The head of a powerful paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) recently threatened to flood Europe with refugees if the EU did not support the government.
“If Sudan opens the border, a big problem will happen worldwide,” Mohamad Hamdan Dagalo, who is better known as Hemeti, told Politico earlier this month.
During the last several years, EU member states have clandestinely cooperated with militias such as the RSF to deter migrants from reaching Europe. However, Hudson told Al Jazeera that European leaders seem reluctant to concede to Hemeti’s demands.
“In the conversations I had with [diplomats], the EU feels it can’t let itself be blackmailed,” he said.
‘Military pocketing it’
One solution could be to provide humanitarian aid and repurpose the majority of development assistance to civil society groups and the pro-democracy movement, according to Jonas Horner, an expert on Sudan for the International Crisis Group.
“Aid should be wielded in a way that doesn’t have the military pocketing it or taking credit for it,” he told Al Jazeera.
However, world powers may prefer to back the government if Hamdok somehow regains popular support. In a bid to convince protesters, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on the pro-democracy movement to throw their weight behind Hamdok during a news conference on December 1.
“I would like to appeal for common sense. We have a situation which is, yes, not perfect, but which could allow for a transition to democracy,” said Guterres. “I think that calling into question this particular solution even if I do understand why people are outraged … would be very dangerous for Sudan.”
Guterres’s remarks outraged activists, with many accusing the UN of backing a coup instead of supporting aspirations for democracy.
“The global community, and especially the UN, often talk about supporting democratic values, yet they’re the ones giving the military a way forward after the October 25 coup,” said Mubarak.
“Speaking of common sense, I think it’s time that more rational members of the international community take a stand for us.”