Reflections on the sudanese revolution (roarmag 17/08/2019) …
The revolution in Sudan is far from over
Today, the Sudanese military and civil opposition are singing a political agreement — meanwhile the revolution is carried forth by grassroots organizers.
political agreement has been reached between the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) — the broad alliance of civil society and rebel groups leading the revolution in Sudan — and the Transitional Military Council (TMC) currently in power. For months, the two forces have been at a gridlock in negotiations.
As the representatives of the people in the streets, the FFC has a mandate to ensure a democratic transition. On the other side, the TMC — supported by UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt — wants to block one. If the agreement is finally signed, the two groups will share power. History will judge whether or not the leaders of the revolution made the correct decision? We suspect this to be capitulation.
What are the vast majority of revolutionaries fighting for? A civilian government, freedom, peace and social justice. Who gives them strength? The martyrs of the struggle, those killed over the course of the 30-year dictatorship, and the hope that we may get justice for the price they paid. We do not believe this agreement will achieve the goals we have been fighting for and neither will it provide justice for the many victims of the regime.
Culture of impunity continues
The three-year transitional period has been sketched out in two documents, a political roadmap and a constitutional declaration. The parties have agreed upon three governing bodies to rule the country: the Sovereign Council, a council of ministers and a legislative council (parliament).
The Sovereign Council is most important to us; it is the supreme body tasked with assigning the Judiciary, representing the country, and appointing governors and mayors. It will be made up of 11 members; five FFC-appointed civilians, and five military men appointed by the TMC. One “neutral” member — a retired military official — will supposedly be the 11th member.
This is not the only concession that the FFC made; a military figure will also head the Sovereign Council for 21 months — most of the transitional period — while the civilians are granted only 18 months at the head of the council.
This flawed arrangement is supposed to kick off a peace process in the peripheries of the country with all of the armed movements, elevate the youth and women — though it does not explain how — and dismantle the deep state. It is hard to be hopeful that this agreement will achieve any of this.
When the FFC went to the negotiating table, they told their supporters that they were going to demand an investigation into the massacre of June 3, when hundreds of people were murdered, raped and thrown into the Nile. The brutality gained global attention, but the investigation eventually exoneratedthe TMC from any wrongdoing. It was an unsurprising outcome, given they investigated themselves. The FFC acted shocked; we were not.
We have been periodically told by the FFC to expect that during the transitional era, the culprits of unimaginable terror — the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), the criminal militia that is led by Hemedti, the vice president of the TMC — will be held to account for the crimes it has committed since it evolved from the Darfur genocide.
The constitutional declaration that they signed however, elevates the RSF to an official body representing the Sudanese Armed Forces. This, coupled with the record of TMC self-investigation suggests that we can expect the culture of impunity to continue unimpeded. The TMC will not tie their own nooses; it is naive to think otherwise.
The very institutional mechanisms of the agreement shield the TMC from wrongdoing. The constitutional declaration demonstrates the Sovereign Council’s powers, it will have the right to approve or refuse the appointment of judges; it will have the right to issue amnesty for whom it pleases. Moreover, consensus is required for decisions to be passed with at least two thirds of the members needing to agree. This can only mean one thing: if the FFC wants something to happen, at least one military member must be on its side.
As these details come to light, we are left to conclude one thing: the FFC negotiated an agreement with little confidence in itself, or in the popular movement on the streets that gave them their legitimacy.
Fractures within the opposition
Will the agreement bring peace? The peripheral armed movements have all rejected the deal because they felt it insufficiently addressed the problems affecting the peoples in the margins of the country. Armed movements like Abdelwahid’s SLA and Al-Hilu’s SPLM-N have stated that any capitulation to the TMC is a betrayal of the revolution.
They have made their position clear: they do not accept the legitimacy of the TMC-FFC government and thus cannot trust a peace process emerging from this alliance.
Then there was the response of groups like the Communist Party, which is part of the FFC. Not only did it renounce the agreement, it claimed that it represented the beginning of the end of the revolution; a soft landing and a concession to a military rule. The Communist Party, and the National Consensus Forces that it represents, have found themselves isolated within the Forces for Freedom and change as a result.
The response of the people on the streets, the everyday revolutionaries building the barricades and confronting the RSF, is what is most important for us.
Admittedly, they have been divided; many believe that these concessions needed to be made, and have full faith that the FFC will take all sufficient steps in guiding the country towards democracy. Others are only cautiously optimistic, willing to risk this path until it becomes clear that the FFC cannot be redeemed.
But, more importantly, a considerable portion of the Sudanese people sees the agreement as treachery and betrayal. They consider negotiating with the TMC to be an insult to the basic principles of this revolution, embodied, ironically, in the Declaration of Freedom and Change, for which the alliance is named.
It was the resistance committees that organized the neighborhoods clandestinely and did most of the groundwork for the revolution. Resistance committees in Burri, Khartoum North and Port Sudan have all claimed that this agreement has ignored them and they have vowed to oppose it.
Spontaneity and organization
So if the FFC, the supposed vanguard of this struggle, has signed a power-sharing deal with the TMC, that body universally detested by the people of Sudan, who should lead in the streets?
It is possible that the FFC themselves betrayed the streets, but much more likely that the FFC is made up of dedicated revolutionaries who genuinely feel that the best and most pragmatic decisions are being taken. The FFC does not want to miss this moment. It knows that the favorite watchword of the TMC — “stability” — could very well lead to its eclipse. It does not want to give the TMC an excuse to seize all power, and it has to balance against all of the geopolitical forces that have a stake in Sudan’s future: Egypt, UAE, Saudi Arabia and the United States.
It is not difficult to imagine the pressure they feel. Revolutions come and go, people get tired, and bellies go hungry. If people get tired, they can often choose stability over liberty, the FFC likely has little faith that the situation could be otherwise.
Regardless, it is irrelevant whether the FFC are traitors or bureaucrats responding to political circumstance; the political consequences are just the same. As this agreement stands, the chances of a democratic transition are slim, and the chances of the TMC being held to account is even slimmer.
What FFC sees as realpolitik, furthermore, is interpreted by many in the margins of Sudan as just the status-quo since Sudan’s independence; a Khartoum elite, with few to no women in leadership, only symbolically sloganeering about the whole country being Darfur, while it signs an agreement with the devil in the form of military commander Hemedti — a monster who played a leading role in a genocide that killed hundreds and thousands of their kin. What peace process can take place under such circumstances?
And so what happens then, when the vanguard of a struggle is compromised — not because it has been bought off, but because of the dictates of realpolitik? If its hands are tied, and by virtue of its position at the negotiation table is unable to deliver the deepest aspirations of this revolution, then the moment inevitably comes for popular organizations not to be antagonistic towards the FFC, but to do what they can with their untied hands.
Neighborhood councils and trade unions
The concessions should not lead to a re-creation of the very system this revolution has been trying to overthrow. It ought to be a form of benevolent counterpower; when the FFC does things right, it is supported against the TMC, and when it does things wrong, it ought to be pressured. Only two bodies are up to this task: the neighborhood committees and the new trade unions. If they fall into the same traps as the FFC, then they too should be subjected to this process, ad infinitum.
The neighborhood committees, also known as the resistance committees, spontaneously emerged during the last wave of revolt in 2013. Preparing for the next revolutionary wave, they organized clandestinely through word of mouth and with the Telegram app. By 2017, various resistance committees had been organizing under a shared umbrella at the town and neighborhood levels. When the revolution erupted in 2018, many joined the Forces for Freedom and Change upon the invitation of the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), an alliance of illegal professional unions that quickly emerged as the leader of the revolution.
But indeed, various neighborhood committees emerged during the revolution that were unaffiliated to the FFC and maintained their independence. The task of the neighborhood councils, beyond organizing the resistance has been to propagandize, organize talks, provide food and medicine for the needy, and to prepare the barricades. Most resistance committees are loyal to the FFC. What is required of them, however, during this period is to hold the FFC accountable when it does wrong.
At the municipal level, it is necessary for the neighborhood committees to maintain the resistance. But the resistance is not only in the streets. Over the course of the revolution, the FFC called for general strikes, which saw millions refusing to go to work, demonstrating the power of collective action. It showed the power of the strike and that of the FFC.
But during the transitional period, this power must be transferred to other organizations, and no group will be more important than the Sudanese Workers Alliance for the Restoration of Trade Unions. The alliance is made up of trade unionists that had to organize in the shadows since the dissolution of trade unions after the 1989 coup. It came back to life during early January 2019, and it now operates in several cities and across various industries.
Only with coordination between the alliance and the resistance committees can we truly see an effective watchdog against the FFC-TMC arrangement.
Whatever the case, the FFC should not lead in the streets anymore. Its mandate has changed. It is now or never: the neighborhood councils and worker organizations must stake out their independence. All power to the councils.