Unconventional Political Participation In Militarised Democracies: Sudan A Case In Point

By Mfundo Mabalane

The African Union’s condemnation of the military coup d’état in Sudan has highlighted a need for a more nuanced conversation on unconventional political participation in militarised democracies.

On 11 April, the continent awoke to news of the Sudanese army had seized power from long-time leader Omar Al Bashir, following almost four months of protest by civilians over the imposition of austerity measures as a result of a weakened economy, and a subsequent call for Al Bashir to step down.  The army announced the formation of a military-led transitional government that would be in power for two years, much to the citizens' disapproval.

The citizens' reaction is multi-layered. They seek regime change which entails soliciting the help of the army, an army which upon completion of the task, must step down and allow for civilian rule. This is a clear denunciation of institutionalised militarisation, which has not served them but instead, taken away resources of the state under the pretext of defending its territory against external forces only to target and drive policy internally...The gun now keeps civilians in check. Africa, well endowed with raw materials is the site of contestation, many have an interest in militarizing her. Funding for arms comes from all corners of the world in the name of fighting terrorism, true or not, the fact is, armed conflict brings a country to its knees and you’d observe some parties coming in for the “clean up” in the form of "aid, development and investment".  Darfur, Sudan’s oil region is a case in point. The site of a 21st century genocide was crippled by an ethnic war or was its petroleum geopolitics? 

The people of Sudan might not have all the answers, but they have a greater appreciation of the negative impact that militarisation has on development and are therefore unwilling to go that route again. Perhaps the Costa Rican Model of demilitarisation might be an option after all the bloodshed...

Some then ask, where is the African Union during all this, well, through its Commission chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, the body added its voice condemning the military coup on the 11th of April. Interestingly, the condemnation has been met with anger in some quarters, while others appreciate the continental body's position on coups, which is informed by various resolutions. On close interrogation of one piece of legislation quoted by the chairperson, the 2000 Lomé Declaration on Unconstitutional changes of democracy, several questions arise...

Firstly, what is the AU's role in consolidating democracy in Africa? Many would appreciate their vehement denunciation of coup d’états and are aware of the sanctions that would be triggered against an illegitimate regime. However, it remains unclear how they view unconventional political expression/participation by civilians, PRE a coup d’état. What steps do they take in the case of non-adherence to the common values of good governance and transparency by a government? In simple terms, a coup doesn't just take place, it's a culmination of political and administrative issues, which citizens probably bring to the attention of various bodies before a resolution calling for regime change is taken.

The AU maintains that citizens political aspirations must be expressed through a ballot.

What happens if they can't wait for the next election, or believe election results could be manipulated? Is legitimacy of a process of change only established if it takes place under convention means (i.e. elections) or it can also be established if citizens in good faith go the unconventional route (i.e. sit-ins, or demonstrations) to apply pressure on the government? 

The military coup which has taken place in Sudan is, of course, a high jacked revolution, at least according to the protesters, they refuse to be led by generals from Al Bashir’s' regime. So, in this instance, they are on the same page as the AU, but the pertinent question is, what is their real position on citizens unconventional political expression in militarized states, which could lead to a change in government? If read carefully, the Lomé Declaration does not provide for such- it’s the ballot or nothing.

Well, now we wait...

Mfundo Mabalane is a former News anchor and editor


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