Understanding Legitimacy in Post-Revolutionary Sudan

Western donors, class interests and moral populism

Hosted by LSE’s Centre for Public Authority and International Development

Lead researcher: Dr Laura Mann

How do different actors understand the moral legitimacy of public authorities established by the Al-Bashir regime?


The regime of Omar Al Bashir ruled Sudan from 1989 to 2019, when a popular revolt forced him out of office. A power-sharing government, led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, has sought since August 2019 to re-establish popular moral legitimacy in the eyes of disenchanted citizens while bringing Sudan back into the orbit of external creditors and Western-led development efforts.

This project examines the role of Western donors in shaping this legitimacy re-building within and across two areas of public concern with different class interests: higher education and social protection. Overall, it seeks to understand how different actors within the reform process perceive reform priorities and processes as morally legitimate or illegitimate. It will also identify potential conflicts of interest and conceptual blindspots among parties that might jeopardise the transition to a more ‘morally legitimate’ form of public governance in the country. 


Internationally, the former regime under Omar Al Bashir had placed Sudan in a difficult financial position, creating multiple exchange rate regimes, chronic budget deficits and mounting debt. As the transitional government took office, it immediately came under pressure to remove fuel subsidies and to liberalise its exchange rate regime. In this way, the new government was pushed to prioritise economic policies over calls for a more radical social reckoning and forceful political change.

Western donors and foundations were also keen for the new government to place emphasis on poor and marginal communities, and to embrace new developmental technologies such as randomised control trials and digitally mediated cash transfer programmes. Such programs promise to generate legitimacy through de-politicisation, de-personalisation and quantification, reflecting a technocratic view of accountability, which places emphasis on proper accounting and technical competence. However, as anthropologists and sociologists have demonstrated, such ‘neutral’ and impersonal mechanisms can often rely on more personal processes to administer and can end up reproducing existing social biases. Furthermore, these legitimacy processes stand in contrast to more personal and politically explicit forms of accountability, such as the evocation of popular narratives and/or the display of government support during elections.

These conditions offer us the opportunity to better understand the role of external donors in shaping post-revolutionary transitions within a country’s moral and social structure. In essence, Sudan’s political transition depends on citizens believing that its class system – or the formal and informal means through which social stratification and mobility occur – is morally just.

The project will analyse attempts by different actors in the reform process to re-establish a belief in a moral social order, focussing on two areas of Sudanese policy-making chosen for their different class concerns: higher education policy and social protection. The project will seek to understand how technocratic perceptions of policy-making interact with moral beliefs about Sudan’s social structure, which have been promulgated and challenged by domestic political actors before, during and after the revolution. 

Research questions

  • How do different actors – be they government officials, private sector actors, donors, middle class and disadvantaged citizens and programs beneficiaries – understand the moral legitimacy or illegitimacy of previous systems of public authority established by the Al-Bashir regime?
  • How do they understand the transitional government’s challenge to restore public legitimacy today?
  • Finally, in a country with a long history of redistributive conflicts, how do actors understand the importance of cross-group solidarity in generating moral legitimacy and how should such solidarity be built and publicly performed?


Laura Mann

Dr Laura Mann

Laura Mann is an Assistant Professor in the LSE Department of International Development focusses on the political economy of development in Africa. Before joining LSE, Laura worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute and the African Studies Centre in Leiden.

Research interests: political economy, knowledge production, communication technologies and data

Email: L.E.Mann@lse.ac.uk


Muez Ali Abdelgadir Ali

Muez Ali is a doctoral researcher at the UCL Energy Institute. His research focuses on the effects of urbanisation, governance, and land policy on energy consumption in Sub-Saharan Africa. He is also a research associate at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning in Sudan. 

Research interests: political economy of energy, economic development, social policy, Sudan economic history

Email: m.a.ali@ucl.ac.uk

Photo: USAID and WFP aid. Credit: Sudan Envoy. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.