126. The Most Unstable Country in the World?: What is Happening in Sudan? (English Vocabulary Lesson)

What is the most unstable country in the world? How about a country with nearly 20 coups since becoming independent? A country with countless wars, massive corruption, and daily protests? A country with a Prime Minister who was appointed, arrested, reinstated, and then resigned in the space of a few months? Let’s talk about this country on today’s episode of Thinking in English!!

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Vocabulary List

To dissolve (v) – to end an official organisation or a legal arrangement

Parliament has been dissolved before the election

Coup (n) – a sudden illegal, often violent, taking of government power, especially by part of an army

Last year Myanmar’s government was overthrown by a military coup 

Unstable (adj) – not firm and therefore not strong, safe, or likely to last

It is a politically unstable country

Consensus (n) – a generally accepted opinion, decision, or agreement among a group of people

The general consensus in the company is that the manager is a horrible person

Civilian (adj) – relating to a person who is not a member of the police or the armed forces

The army has been criticised for attacking the unarmed civilian population 

To reinstate (v) – to give someone back their previous job or position 

A month after being unfairly fired, he was reinstated in his job 

Ungovernable (adj) – unable to be governed or controlled; uncontrollable

After an economic crisis, the state became ungovernable 

To mount (v) – to organise and begin an activity or event 

The lawyers are preparing to mount a defence of their client  

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In October 2021, a coup took place in the African country of Sudan. The prime minister and top government officials were arrested, and the government was dissolved. They were replaced with a brutal military dictatorship with little patience for protesters. At the same time, Sudan was suffering from economic crises – inflation was incredibly high and key supplies like food, medicine, and fuel were in short supply. 

Back in October, I planned to make an episode on the situation in Sudan but my other deadlines and responsibilities left me distracted, and eventually I pretty much forgot. Well, I forgot until yesterday when Abdalla Hamdok, the Prime Minister who was arrested in October, then released and made Prime Minister again a few weeks later, resigned. If it sounds a little confusing, don’t worry, because I think that should be the natural reaction to this story!

So in this episode of Thinking in English, I’m going to try and clear up the situation a little. I’ll start by explaining the background to the coup in October, then talk about what happened yesterday, before discussing why Sudan is one of the most unstable countries in the world. If you’re interested in listening to more about coups, you can check out the episode I made a year ago on the situation in Myanmar!

Sudan: Country of Coups

To understand what is happening in Sudan, we have to go back a few years. This is not the first case of political instability in Sudan. It is also not the first coup in Sudan. Africa in general has been very familiar with military coups over the past 60 or 70 years. When European countries’ colonial control of the continent ended, they left behind major political, religious, cultural, and economic problems. And in turn, this has caused many revolutions, coups, civil wars, and authoritarian governments. Since 1946, Sierra Leone and Ghana have had 10 successful or attempted coups, Nigeria and Mali 8, and Mauritania, Niger, Chad, and Guinea-Bissau have each had 7. 

However, Sudan is in a league of its own. Since becoming independent in 1956, Sudan has had six successful coups and 10 failed attempts. In total, 16 in only 70 years. Political parties kept splitting and failing to build a government with the ability to govern the country. Each time this has happened, the military has stepped in to take control. Why do political parties struggle to control the country? Well, there are a few different reasons –  a major one being that there were over 80 different political parties active in Sudan last year. With 80 different political parties attracting different levels of support, it is almost impossible to form a political consensus!

Moreover, since independence the country of Sudan has generally been controlled by a group of elites concerned with making the most money from the country’s resources as possible. Many experts have described the country as a ‘kleptocracy’ – which literally means rule by thieves, and refers to a highly corrupt government which seeks to make as much money for themselves as possible. The powerful elites in the country, including the military and its allies, have long controlled parts of the economy for their own benefit. 

The 2019 Revolution Against President al-Bashir

In 2019, Sudan’s long time authoritarian President Omar al-Bashir was overthrown by a revolution after being accused of genocide by the International Criminal Court. Although Bashir was overthrown by the military, pressure from the citizens of Sudan forced the army to negotiate with officials and make a plan to eventually become a democratic country. Civilians and the military were supposed to be running the country together – with the official leader being the prime minister Abdalla Hamdok. 

However, the military and the civilian groups at the heart of Sudan’s government had an uneasy relationship. During the period from August 2019 until October 2021, when the two groups were supposed to be working together, there were actually failed military coups and numerous public arguments. The prime minister Hamdok blamed the military and other parts of the government, while the military blamed Mr Hamdok and other civilian leaders.

In particular, Mr Hamdok’s attempts to reform the economy caused major disagreements throughout the country. As I mentioned before, Sudan has been described as a kleptocracy. And Mr Hamdok’s economic reforms, as well as civilian control and future democracy, would threaten the financial interests of the military and other elites.    

Another Successful Coup…

So, on the 25th of October 2021, the military launched another successful coup. The Prime Minister Hamdok was arrested by soldiers, the national TV and radio stations were under the control of the military, and the internet was restricted. The military stated that although the government was dissolved, they would hold an election in July 2023. 

Yet, Sudan’s reputation as the most unstable country in the world suggests that this was not going to be the end of the story. In fact, Mr Hamdok was released and put back in power just a month after his arrest in October. The result was mass protests across the country, demonstrating anger at the military for taking power once again as well as criticising the Prime Minister for making a deal with the military.

The deal made in November reinstated Mr Hamdok as Prime Minister, but under the supervision of the military. This was rejected by many Sudanese who want democracy. While Mr Hamdok appealed for calm and peace, the military instead killed a number of protesters earlier this week. And on January 2nd, Mr Hamdok resigned, marking the latest phase of political instability in the country. 

To summarise, Mr Hamdok was appointed Prime Minister, then arrested by the military last year, then reinstated by the military a month later, and now after six weeks has resigned. The military has a major problem, however, in that the Sudanese people have been protesting against the military almost constantly since the coup in October. The country will become ungovernable if there is no real attempt to allow civilian control. On the other hand, if the military were to give up control, they would likely be punished by the new government or even international courts for human rights abuses and corruption. 

Why is Sudan so Unstable?

Why is Sudan so unstable? Aside from all the underlying social, cultural, and political problems, I think it is fair to say money is the major reason Sudan is so unstable. The country has long been a kleptocracy. The government has traditionally only cared about making money for their own benefit, leaving behind the majority of Sudanese. A large country with extensive natural resources, Sudan, like many African countries, has the possibility to be a rich and successful country. But the kleptocracy has stolen much of the country’s money for themselves. For example, when the former president Al-Bashir was overthrown, they found $130 million of cash in his house, not including any of his other assets or money in other places. 

The elites at the centre of Sudan’s governments have tended to be Arab’s from the capital Khartoum, and used the military to fight their battles for them. The country has faced years of wars between the poorest regions and the government armies. At the same time, ordinary Sudanese people have struggled with the consequences of war. Inflation rates are currently over 100%, meaning that around a quarter of the country’s population cannot afford to buy food. Millions of Sudanese people are also living in refugee camps. 

Just to make everything more difficult, Russia has tended to support the country’s military leaders rather than the civilians backed by the West. The Military use Russian supplied weapons, and attempts to mount international responses at the UN are blocked by Russia. Moreover, China is heavily invested in the country, and care more about stability than democracy. 

Final Thought

This episode of Thinking in English has attempted to explain the situation in Sudan. Nearly 20 coups since becoming independent, countless civil wars and conflicts, dictatorships, and massive corruption have left the country one of the most unstable in the world. The future of the country is a mystery for even African experts. However, I think it is likely Sudan will remain unstable while the military controls much of the country’s valuable natural resources. 

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