Abdalla Hamdok, prime minister of Sudan’s fragile transition to civilian rule, resigned Sunday in a new blow to the turbulent African nation.
Hamdok was last year ousted and detained in an October coup then reinstated. After weeks of house arrest, during which Sudan was rocked by mass protests, he officially returned to government under a deal signed with military leader General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan in a televised ceremony on November 21.
However pro-democracy protest organisers rejected the deal and in the ensuing weeks tens of thousands have taken to the streets to protest against Hamdok’s ineffective and hamstrung government hampered by the military’s tight grip.
In the face of the rising violence at least 57 protesters have been killed since the coup and hundreds more wounded according to medics and accusations of “treachery”, Hamdok decided to step down.
“I have tried my best to stop the country from sliding towards disaster,” he told the nation in a televised speech on Sunday hours after the latest anti-military rally in Khartoum.
He cited “the fragmentation of the political forces and conflicts between the (military and civilian) components of the transition” and said that “despite everything that has been done to reach a consensus… it has not happened”.
Sudan “is crossing a dangerous turning point that threatens its whole survival”, he warned.
Hours earlier thousands flooded the streets of Khartoum and its twin city Omdurman, braving a heavy troop deployment, chanting “power to the people” and demanding the military return to their barracks.
Hamdok, a British-educated economist who worked for the United Nations and African organisations, carved out an image as a champion of good governance and transparency over the course of a long and varied career.
He emerged as Sudan’s civilian leader after a wave of unprecedented, youth-led protests brought down long-time autocrat Omar al-Bashir, who was arrested by the military in April 2019.
Hamdok was outside Sudan and not directly involved in that protest movement, but the appointment of the moustachioed technocrat was cheered by much of the population and greeted by the international community.
His challenges were huge: political turmoil and economic crisis, shortages of basic commodities, and the need to rebuild a banking sector on the verge of collapse.
Hamdok was born in 1956 in the state of South Kordofan. After completing a degree in agricultural economics in Khartoum he moved to Manchester in the United Kingdom for his masters.
Years later his home state found itself on Sudan’s southern border when South Sudan became independent in 2011 after decades of war with the north.
His own village turned into a war zone and Hamdok was keen to push for a resolution to Sudan’s civil conflicts.
Hamdok drew on his experience in various African peace-building initiatives when Sudan signed a deal with rebel groups in October 2020 to end unrest in Sudan’s regions of Darfur, Kordofan and Blue Nile.
Before joining the post-Bashir transition he was deputy executive secretary of the UN’s Economic Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa.
Divisions and economic woes
Bashir’s regime had long been under crippling US sanctions but, with Hamdok’s government in power, Washington removed Sudan from a sponsors of terrorism list.
That and debt relief from international creditors opened the way for foreign investment.
The trade-off was tough economic reforms. His government scrapped subsidies on petrol and diesel and carried out a managed float of the Sudanese pound.
Many Sudanese saw the measures as too harsh and anti-government protests broke out in several parts of Sudan.
Delays in delivering justice to the families of those killed under Bashir, and even during the 2019 protests following the autocrat’s ouster, also left Hamdok vulnerable to criticism.
His troubles escalated from mid-September when anti-government protesters blockaded Sudan’s main sea port, triggering nationwide shortages in wheat and fuel.
Divisions deepened within the Forces for Freedom and Change, the umbrella civilian alliance which had spearheaded the protests against Bashir, and which picked Hamdok as premier in 2019.
The compounding political and economic problems augured Burhan’s October military coup.
With his resignation, Sudan, a country with a history of coups, appears to have once again plunged into a new political abyss.