On October 25, Sudan’s military dissolved a civilian-led transitional government that had been established following the April 2019 ouster of former President Omar al-Bashir. The coup ended a military-civilian power-sharing partnership that was meant to transition Sudan to democracy, with elections slated for 2023. The power grab prompted thousands to protest in the streets of Khartoum—both on the day of the coup and during planned demonstrations on October 30. The security services have responded by disrupting internet and telecommunications networks, deploying troops throughout Khartoum and other population centers, and beating and firing openly on protesters. They have killed 12 and wounded hundreds in the week following the coup.*
While destabilizing for Sudan’s politics and economy, the coup does not represent a fundamental shift in the power dynamics in Khartoum. Instead, it brings the security services’ warped incentive structures into public view. Confronting these dynamics head-on is essential for addressing Sudan’s political crisis and revitalizing the transition to civilian rule.
The coup is the result of warped incentive structures that trace back to the Bashir era. The security services power grab followed escalating tensions. Throughout the transition, the security services resisted the imposition of civilian oversight or constraints, balked at discussions of accountability for past atrocities, and maintained a range of commercial interests and relationships with foreign patrons.* * By seizing power, Sudan’s security services are hijacking the state and preserving the violent kleptocratic system of the Bashir era.* Ultimately, control over the state affords the security services continued opportunities to accrue wealth while shielding themselves from accountability for past and future abuses.
Financial pressure is essential for building the leverage needed to get the transition back on track. The international community’s response to the coup must confront the warped incentive structures of the security services head-on, targeting the military’s wealth and impunity. Crucially, public diplomacy surrounding financial pressure requires specificity and acknowledgement of sanctions’ challenging legacy in Sudan and should involve focused efforts to counter disinformation. Governments and international agencies should impose targeted network sanctions on the Sudanese officials involved in the coup, as well as those responsible for subsequent abuses perpetrated by the security forces. Sanctions should target the networks of companies controlled by Sudanese military and security agencies. The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) should issue an advisory on the money laundering risks associated with the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), and companies under their control. Finally, financial institutions and the private sector more broadly should not wait for governments to act. Foreign companies, including banks, should assess their commercial ties to Sudan to ensure they are not inadvertently funding Sudan’s security services.
The objectives of negotiators must reflect the stated goals of Sudan’s population. The foundation of any agreement must be the formation of a civilian-led transitional government endowed with full executive powers. The security services—and especially their finances—must be brought under civilian oversight and control. Although some concessions to the security services may be necessary and inevitable, continued free rein over the country’s lucrative economic sectors and amnesty for the perpetrators of atrocities and war crimes should be off the table.