Writing on the wall: Why Hamdok exit was only a ‘matter of time’

Experts say Sudan’s prime minister found himself lacking in public and political support after signing unpopular deal with military.

Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in Berlin, Germany
Abdalla Hamdok’s decision to step down came six weeks after he returned to his post in a deal with the coup leaders [File: Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters]

On November 21, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok appeared alongside General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the army chief who in October had deposed him and put him under house arrest, during a televised ceremony at Sudan’s presidential palace in Khartoum to mark the signing of a new power-sharing agreement.

Shortly afterwards, Hamdok said he had signed the 14-point political deal that restored him to power to “avoid further bloodshed” after dozens of civilians were killed by security forces during protests against the October 25 coup.

But the bloodshed did not end.

Tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters continued taking to the streets, denouncing the military’s power grab and its subsequent deal with Hamdok, whom they accused of “betrayal” for signing an agreement that ensured the military’s dominance in Sudanese politics.

And late on Sunday, just hours after medics said security forces had killed another three protesters, bringing the overall death toll since the coup to 57, Hamdok appeared on television again – this time to announce his resignation.

In his address to the nation, the prime minister said he had tried his “best to stop the country from sliding towards disaster”.

“Despite everything that has been done to reach a consensus … it has not happened”, he added, citing “the fragmentation of the political forces and conflicts between the [military and civilian] components of the transition”.

Sudan “is crossing a dangerous turning point that threatens its whole survival”, he warned.

‘Writing on the wall’

Hamdok’s exit did not come as a surprise. For weeks, there were reports he was about to step down amid disagreements over the naming of a new government, with unnamed sources saying last month that he had informed a group of national political and intellectual figures of his imminent intention to do so.

According to Kholood Khair, the managing partner of the Khartoum-based Insight Strategy Partners, a think-tank that focuses on transitional policy, “the writing had been on the wall for Hamdok – arguably since before the coup”.

Although his popularity among the public rose in the immediate aftermath of the military’s power grab, his stock had been waning due to a series of painful economic reforms, said Khair. “Given Hamdok’s propensity for compromise, it was a surprise that he lasted all those days in detention after the coup, without acquiescing,” she added.

The deal that Hamdok “unilaterally” signed with al-Burhan was “very unpopular”, Khair continued, and “that saw his political stock diminish”.

Independent Sudanese analyst Muhammad Osman said his resignation came later than expected.

“The November 21 deal lacked public support, apparent in the continuation of the protests against him and his inability to appoint any ministers. It meant that no one wanted to share this pact with him.

“In their [protesters’] view, all he did was legitimise the coup,” he added.

“Hamdok was like a fig leaf.”

Ongoing protests, political deadlock

A respected economist with decades of experience working for the United Nations and African organisations, Hamdok was outside Sudan when a wave of civil protests brought down longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir in April 2019.

Months later, he was appointed prime minister as part of the civilian government that, along with a joint military-civilian sovereign council, was tasked with leading the country to full civilian rule.

As prime minister, the technocrat was supported by many in the public, even as he tackled a series of compounding challenges, including a severe economic crisis, shortages of basic commodities and the need to rebuild a banking sector nearing collapse.

Sources close to Hamdok said previously he would only remain in office if he had the political support and if the November 21 agreement was enforced.

But days after his reinstatement, 12 cabinet ministers submitted their resignation in protest against the deal. Meanwhile, pro-democracy protesters continued to defy a bloody crackdown to demand the military play no role in government during the transition to free elections, as well as justice for those killed since the coup and during the mass protests against al-Bashir.

Osman said that while Hamdok found himself “lacking in public and political support”, the security forces continued “using sheer force against the protests”.

“So the reasons he had used to justify the November 21 deal – avoiding bloodshed – fell apart and his resignation became imminent,” he added.

“By cutting a deal directly with the military he succeeded in squandering the political goodwill he enjoyed and made himself a target of the street along with his military partners,” said Cameron Hudson, a non-resident senior fellow at US-based think-tank the Atlantic Council.

Khair agreed. “Practically, the executive space within which he could work was vastly limited by [the November 21] agreement, which ironically ensured his freedom,” she said.

“The political parties calculated that it would make sense to back the streets rather than the prime minister ahead of an election, leaving him isolated and unable to form a government. After that, it was only a matter of time before his frustrations came to a head,” she said.

She added that Hamdok’s resignation “lifts the facade over not just the sham pact of November 21, but essentially over the past two years, showing that there was never a will to commit to genuine transition”.

She added, “Hamdok was never the cornerstone of the pro-democracy movement and if anything, his leaving will further unite the civilian bloc”.

Source: Al Jazeera