The African Union (AU) suspended Sudan on Thursday, demanding a “civilian-led transitional authority” to resolve an entrenched and bloody crisis.
Calls for the AU to take action had mounted after Monday’s crackdown on protesters who had camped outside army headquarters in Khartoum.
Sudanese authorities admitted dozens were killed when security forces stormed the lengthy sit-in.
But an opposition-linked doctors’ group said on Wednesday that 40 bodies had been pulled from the Nile, sending the death toll to at least 108.
In handing down its suspension the Peace and Security Council, the AU’s conflict-resolution body, said transferring power to a civilian-led authority was “the only way to allow the Sudan to exit the current crisis”.
Thousands of demonstrators had remained defiant after long-time president Omar al-Bashir was ousted by the military.
They took to the streets calling for the generals to cede power to civilians.
The AU had been strongly supportive of the protesters and had urged the military council to ensure a smooth transition, warning they risked suspension otherwise.
The organisation reiterated this ultimatum in May, giving the military a new 60-day deadline, despite pressure from some African nations for a longer timeline.
But the brutal dispersal of protesters – condemned by among others the United Nations, US and Britain – changed that calculation, pushing the AU into acting sooner, analysts said.
“I think this outbreak of violence has caused them to bring this forward,” said Elissa Jobson, head of Africa regional advocacy for the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank.
“I would say it was a clear condemnation of that.”
Sudan joins a handful of African nations in recent years to be suspended from the 55-member AU, a move that bars them from all summits and meetings.
Egypt was suspended in 2013 when the army overthrew the elected president Mohamed Morsi, and Burkina Faso was barred in 2015 for its own military coup.
Patrick Kapuwa, the chairperson of the Peace and Security Council, said “punitive measures” would also be imposed on those standing in the way of a peaceful transfer of power in Sudan.
The AU does have the power to impose sanctions on member states but rarely does so, and the suspension is unlikely to affect the day-to-day functions of Sudan’s military council.
“But it still has a really, really big symbolic effect,” Jobson said.
Expulsion by the AU and threat of punishment is keenly felt by member states.
Zimbabwe’s military went to great lengths to show its ousting of long-serving leader Robert Mugabe in 2017 was not unconstitutional and avoid its own censure from the AU, Jobson said.
A strong AU stance can also guide how nations and governments outside Africa choose to engage with regimes on the continent in times of crisis.
“It will galvanise international condemnation of this act (by Sudan). And if the continent is behind it, it gives it much more weight and particularly allows Western countries to take a bigger stand,” Jobson said.