NAIROBI, Kenya – Sudanese authorities said on Tuesday they foiled a coup attempt by loyalists to ousted dictator Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the latest sign of instability in an African country struggling with lingering economic difficulties under a fragile transitional government.
Soldiers tried to take control of a state media building in the town of Omdurman, across the Nile from the capital, Khartoum, but were pushed back and arrested, Sudanese officials said .
Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok described it as a near failure in Sudan’s turbulent transition to democracy, which began in 2019 with the ousting of longtime leader Bashir. The prime minister blamed the failed coup on Bashir loyalists, both military and civilian.
“What has happened is a coup orchestrated by factions inside and outside the armed forces,” Hamdok said. “This is an extension of the attempts of the vestiges since the fall of the old regime to abort the democratic civil transition.”
The possibility of another coup has haunted the Sudanese transitional government since 2019, when Mr Bashir was toppled in a military takeover sparked by widespread popular protests.
Disgruntled officers have since hatched several plots, but all were foiled before they could materialize. Tuesday was the first time an attempted takeover hit the streets, said Amjad Farid, the prime minister’s former deputy chief of staff.
This underscored the urgent need to bring the Sudanese army under full civilian control, he said.
“There will be no stability without civilian control over the entire state apparatus, including military and intelligence agencies,” Farid said. “A real reform process must begin now. “
The foiled coup was the latest drama in an increasingly turbulent part of the world. Ethiopia is embroiled in a brutal civil war in its region of northern Tigray; Somalia is torn by power struggles between its president and prime minister, and Eritrea’s international isolation has deepened with US economic sanctions, imposed last month, on the country’s military chief .
More broadly, it is part of an unusual wave of coup attempts in Africa. On September 6, the army seized power in Guinea, the third West African country to experience a violent handover this year.
Sudan’s Sovereignty Council, a body of civilian and military leaders overseeing the country’s transition to democracy, issued a statement insisting the situation was under control. But the dramatic events, which saw tanks pass through downtown Khartoum early on Tuesday, have served as a reminder of the deep political rifts threatening the transition.
Some military officers are unhappy with plans to send Mr. al-Bashir, currently in prison in Khartoum, to stand trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. He faces charges of genocide and crimes against humanity for his role in the conflict in the western Sudanese region of Darfur in the 2000s.
The Sovereignty Council, headed by army chief Lieutenant-General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, did not say how the coup attempt was foiled or whether it involved violence.
The military said 21 officers and an unknown number of soldiers had been arrested and a search for more was underway.
Two officials from the Forces for Freedom and Change, a coalition of civil and political groups that led the uprising against Mr. al-Bashir in 2019, said the attempt was orchestrated by the military commander in charge of the region. ‘Omdurman.
It started around 3 a.m. when officers attempted, but apparently unsuccessfully, to read a statement on the state radio station. What the statement would have said was not immediately clear.
The prime minister accused the coup plotters of paving the way for their actions by stoking unrest in eastern Sudan in recent days. This week, members of the Beja tribe blocked Port Sudan, the largest port, and cut highways to the city.
By mid-morning, trafficking was proceeding normally in central Khartoum and authorities said they had started questioning suspected mutineers. Street protests against the attempted coup erupted in several cities, including Port Sudan.
The swift return to normalcy in Khartoum has belied wider concerns over Sudan, where euphoric scenes of Mr. Bashir’s ouster in 2019 have given way to feelings of unease fueled by successive crises.
Public confidence in Mr. Hamdok’s government has been undermined by persistent economic difficulties – the spark of the protests that toppled Mr. al-Bashir.
Some Sudanese also fear that the military is not really willing to share power.
In November, the army chief of staff is expected to hand over the leadership of the Sovereignty Council to Mr. Hamdok – a position largely ceremonial, but nonetheless one that means full civilian control of Sudan for the first time in decades. decades.
Last year, Mr. Hamdok survived an assassination attempt when gunfire hit his convoy on his way to work in Khartoum.
Although the United States last year lifted decades-old economic sanctions against Sudan in return for its government’s acceptance of recognizing Israel, high inflation and rising unemployment have sparked popular discontent.
The difficult economic changes demanded by the International Monetary Fund to stem inflation, which is hitting more than 300% a year, and to help the country qualify for new loans, have contributed to the feeling of unease.