26/10/2021

Upwards putsch

A prime minister under house arrest, soldiers on the streets and a state of emergency declared. For Sudan it feels like déjà vu. In the early hours of October 25th the country’s military chief dissolved the transitional government, one that had been sharing power between civilian and military leaders, and arrested most of the cabinet. Only a month ago a similar attempt was scuppered by the prime minister’s henchmen; this time the armed forces’ takeover attempt looks more likely to succeed.

If Sudan’s generals successfully seize power, the government will be the fifth to fall this year, according to a database compiled by researchers at the University of Central Florida and the University of Kentucky (who define a successful coup as one where the perpetrators hold power for at least seven days). The governments of Chad, Guinea, Mali and Myanmar have all been toppled in the past ten months. Between 2015 and 2020, there were just three successful oustings (and four failed attempts): this year coups are making a comeback.

That is bad news for the health of Africa’s democracies. According to research by the Centre for Systemic Peace, an American think-tank, half of all forced regime changes between 2010 and 2020 resulted in greater authoritarianism and disorder. It is little more than two years since massive protests led to the toppling of Omar al-Bashir, the dictator who ruled Sudan for 30 years, and a military coup. Yet many had hoped that Sudan was on a path towards democracy. Since the country’s independence in 1956, there have been 16 attempted putsches. Only Bolivia and Argentina have seen more insurrections in the same time period.

Countries in Africa are particularly vulnerable to putsches. Ailing economies and fragile institutions make coups more likely. The checks and balances that support democracy, such as electoral commissions, independent courts and free media are often too easily subverted. And instability begets instability. For Sudan, which has seen three coup attempts in barely three years, this is ominous. 

This article is from our Graphic detail section.