People chant slogans during a protest to denounce the October 2021 military coup, in Khartoum, Sudan, Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022. Sudanese security forces fired tear gas Sunday to disperse protesters as thousands rallied against military rule, medics said. (AP Photo/Marwan Ali)

By Adam Taylor

Last year saw a rash of coups d’état across the world, from West Africa to Southeast Asia. But the reverberations of 2021 political takeovers are continuing into the new year in Sudan, Myanmar and elsewhere.

On Sunday, 2 January 2022, just two months after being reinstated by military leaders, Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok announced his resignation.

“I tried as much as I could to avoid our country from sliding into disaster,” he said in an address to the nation.

Hamdok’s short-lived return to office dashed many hopes that Sudan’s coup leaders could turn toward democracy. The former United Nations official had become prime minister in August 2019 following the fall of longtime authoritarian ruler Omar Hassan al-Bashir in April of that year. He had been charged with leading the country’s transition to post-Bashir elections this year. Instead, amid increasingly fractious relations with Sudan’s powerful military, he was ousted on October 25, 2021, and placed under house arrest.

What comes next for Sudan is not clear. Medic groups aligned with the protest movement say that at least 57 civilians have already died since the coup amid a government crackdown on demonstrations, Reuters reported Monday. Protesters argue their demands are simple. “Are we asking for something so complicated — a competent, civilian government?” Samuel Dafallah, a 51-year-old protest leader told The Post last month.

Still, coups were a matter of political concern all around the world. In October, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres called it an “epidemic of coups d’état” and said that global division had helped create a lack of deterrence:

“The fact that we have strong geopolitical divides; the fact that the Security Council has lots of difficulties in taking strong measures; the impact and the problems of covid and the difficulties that many countries face from the economic and social point of view — these three factors are creating an environment in which some military leaders feel that they have total impunity,” Guterres told reporters. “They can do whatever they want because nothing will happen to them.”

In Myanmar, there is little sign that international outrage has tempered the military’s behaviour. Almost a year after a military junta pushed out the democratically elected government, violence continues. The country’s military leaders have resorted to a scorched earth tactic, burning villages and massacring any suspected opponent, according to investigations by The Washington Post and the Associated Press.

Hundreds of civilians had been killed since the coup, according to The Post’s analysis. “These are crimes against humanity,” Tom Andrews, the United Nations special rapporteur for Myanmar, told The Post this summer after reviewing some of the footage of an alleged massacre in the city of Bago, noting the “very systematic” pattern of violence used by military leaders.

In a massacre on Christmas Eve, the military was accused of killing at least 35 villagers in an ethnic enclave who were fleeing violence, with women and children among the dead. Myanmar’s military leadership has denied any wrongdoing and ordered staff to not receive any notifications issued by international courts seeking to prosecute junta leaders, according to reports in independent media.

In Mali, the absence of repercussions is stark, as one coup follows another. In 2020, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta resigned after being taken into custody by mutinous soldiers in what may have been the first coup d’état of the coronavirus era. Less than a year later, transitional president Bah N’Daw and his allies were arrested by soldiers, and again the country’s political leadership was forced from power.

Though the military-led government had initially said that it would hold presidential and legislative elections in February 2022, Mali’s foreign minister said that it had proposed to its West African neighbours a delay in the transition to democracy a further five years.

Soldiers cross a street as people gather to protest against the military coup, in Yangon, Myanmar, February 15, 2021. REUTERS_Stringer

The source of this epidemic is not clear. There are myriad local factors behind each coup, though the fact that they took place during a historic global health crisis — the coronavirus pandemic — is notable. As I wrote in November, research has shown a stark increase in the number of protests in 2020, the first year of the pandemic, which suggests a broader level of global political unrest.

However, the seeds of 2021′s coups were planted long before the virus first spread. One likely factor was a muted global response to previous military takeovers. Jonathan Powell, one of the researchers who maintains the coup data, argued last year in an article co-written with his University of Central Florida colleague Salah Ben Hammou that coups can beget more coups, pointing to the lax global response to the 2013 military takeover in Egypt and the 2017 takeover in Zimbabwe.

“This year’s coups are probably not contagious in the sense that coup plotters are learning tactics from one another. But recent successes may have taught plotters one valuable lesson: The international community isn’t likely to condemn their actions in any meaningful way,” Powell and Ben Hammou wrote for The Post’s Monkey Cage blog.

For President Biden, who hosted a ‘Summit on Democracy’ just last month, condemning a coup can seem complicated. Section 508 of the Foreign Assistance Act says the United States is required to suspend aid to nations that undergo a military coup, while he runs the risk of turning nations toward geopolitical rivals like Russia and China, both of whom can block U.N. Security Council action.

But with Hamdok out of power in Sudan, delaying a major response becomes even harder to defend. The U.S. president is now facing calls from Congress and former officials to lend its backing to the country’s pro-democracy protesters. “The Biden Administration must treat what occurred on October 25 as it was…a military coup.” Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement. –

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