US suspends Sudan aid payments following coup

State Department warns of broader bilateral damage and calls on military to refrain from violence against protesters

Sudanese security forces keep watch as they protect a military hospital and government offices during protests against the military coup. AFP

The US State Department on Monday said it was suspending aid payments to Sudan and warned of wider risks to Washington-Khartoum ties following a coup in the African nation.

"Military officials should immediately release and ensure the safety of all detained political actors, fully restore the civilian-led transitional government and refrain from any violence against protesters, including the use of live ammunition," State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

"Any change to the transitional government by force risks assistance in our bilateral relationship more broadly."

He added that the US would be "pausing" payments from a $700 million appropriation fund for Sudan.

"Those funds were intended to support the country's democratic transition as we evaluate the next step for Sudan programming," Mr Price said.

Earlier on Monday, Chris Coons, the head of the US Senate panel that funds foreign aid, said assistance would end unless the civilian transitional government is restored.

Mr Coons, a Democrat who chairs a Senate foreign appropriations subcommittee, condemned the “brazen effort” to undermine Sudan's hopes for democracy.

“I am watching with grave concern the apparent military coup under way in #Sudan, including the arrest of Prime Minister Hamdok and civilian leaders,” he wrote on Twitter.

“I condemn this brazen effort to undermine the democratic aspirations of the Sudanese people and put the gains of the revolution at risk.”

Sudan's military seized power earlier on Monday, sacked the civilian-led government, declared a nationwide emergency and arrested the country's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, along with members of his Cabinet and top civilian officials.

The move undermines US efforts to support a democratic transition following the 2019 removal of dictator Omar Al Bashir.

President Joe Biden’s administration has repeatedly warned against a coup in Sudan and sent two senior officials to Khartoum in the last week to try to patch up differences between the military and civilian leadership.

Jeffrey Feltman, the US special envoy to the Horn of Africa, held high-level meetings in Khartoum at the weekend.

But his efforts appear to have come to naught. No sooner had he left Sudan on Sunday than the military made their move.

Before his visit, Mr Feltman, told The National that any military takeover would have grave consequences for US-Sudan relations.

“If the transition is interrupted, if one side or the other in this [civilian-military] partnership tries to prevail, then the US support for all of these issues, including debt relief, will be in question,” Mr Feltman said.

With the tables now turned in Khartoum, Mr Feltman said on Monday that the latest developments are “utterly unacceptable".

The military takeover “would contravene the Constitutional Declaration and the democratic aspirations of the Sudanese people and is utterly unacceptable … any changes to the transitional government by force puts at risk US assistance,” he said.

Following the removal of Mr Al Bashir, the US became the largest humanitarian aid donor to Sudan.

In 2021, it provided about $337 million to support Sudan's transitional government and helped Khartoum in its talks with the International Monetary Fund, which granted the African nation $50 billion in debt relief and $2.4bn in funding last June.

The US embassy in Khartoum called on Sudanese factions impeding the transition to “stand down".

Cameron Hudson, a scholar and expert on African affairs at the Atlantic Council, said the military takeover is a slap in the face to the US.

“This is a gut punch to US and international efforts, not just in Sudan but more broadly, to incentivise transitions from autocracy to democracy.”

Mr Hudson told The National that the US has two options.

“Washington must now decide whether it will impose consequences for this coup [suspension of US assistance, revisiting of aid packages like debt relief and investment incentives] or use those threats of punitive measures as leverage to try to avoid a violent outcome and perhaps even walk back certain elements of the coup,” Mr Hudson argued.

Asked why the US administration has not yet called it a “military coup”, Mr Hudson said such a decision awaits the gathering of facts from the ground — or that Washington is “hoping beyond hope to try to walk this back".

USAID chief Samantha Power said on Twitter that the US "strongly" condemns the military takeover and she posted an image of demonstrators.

Updated: October 26th 2021, 7:00 AM