Apr. 30, 2024 |

Generals and rebels. April 15 marked the one-year anniversary of the outbreak of civil war in Sudan—between the military and the Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary group that once worked with it. Now, Sudan is enduring an acute humanitarian crisis, with children dying of hunger in displaced-persons camps as the RSF appears close to taking control of Western Sudan’s Darfur region.

In October 2021, the military seized power from a civil-military council that had ruled Sudan since 2019, when the longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir was overthrown. A month after the coup, James A. Robinson examined the obstacles to a successful transition from autocracy to democracy in the country.

As Robinson explains, Sudan’s military had long controlled much of its economy, as armed forces in many developing countries do—making the leadership uninterested in economic reform. Which, it turns out, is a problem for everyone. Across dozens of countries that have tried to pull of political transitions in recent decades, Robinson says, a common cause for failure has been an inability of the coalitions that depose autocrats to build political and economic institutions that can include and attract their countries’ vested interests—not least the military.