The collapse of Bashir’s regime: A regional perspective on the Sudanese revolution
The revolution for freedom, peace and change started more than half a year ago, not in Khartoum but in regional towns where the economic hardships and three decades of political marginalization has been most brutal. That makes this revolution unique, especially taking into consideration the history of Sudanese popular uprisings. Previous popular uprisings against military dictatorships in Sudan in 1964 and in 1985 started and ended in Khartoum. Despite this regional dimension to the on-going revolution, international media and observers have largely communicated the national or Khartoum based story.
Bearing in mind Sudanese in regional towns and rural areas throughout the country have actively participated in the on-going revolution, this blog post primarily focuses on South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur; three areas which are conflict zones in the West of the country and along the border to South Sudan. As in Khartoum, the majority of protesters have been youth evenly distributed male and female, born and raised during the 30 years of military dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir. However, the protests have largely been organized and directed by more experienced politicians and activists who are mostly older men.
Although the protesters in the streets declared their support to FCF and its demands early on, the sheer number of demonstrators have varied widely. Although images of hundreds of thousands of Sudanese taking to the streets have been circulating in international media, the numbers were considerably lower in the three areas. In the capital of South Kordofan, protesters counted only a few dozen people because of the security situation, meanwhile thousands took to the streets in Blue Nile and Darfur States. In Blue Nile and Darfur sit-ins were also organized in front of military offices in Damazine, Nyala, El Fashir, Zaligi and Genaina. Protesters from the three states have also traveled to Khartoum to join demonstrations in the national capital. The protesters communicated and coordinated with each other locally as well as FCF in Khartoum through social media, mainly Whatsapp and facebook. But when internet was shut down they turned to direct phone calls, text messages, and face to face meetings. The FCF leaders in Khartoum and the main towns have organized demonstrations by establishing committees at districts levels. Every district committee has leader/s who receive and respond to phone calls from the FCF.
Many civil society activists and academics have nonetheless stood up in this difficult political environment been arrested. Two of them, were my colleagues at Dalanj University. They were arrested for distributing a statement against the TMC in Dalanj after the Ramadan massacre on June 3rd where hundreds of peaceful protesters were killed.
The protesters in the regions have demanded that state governors in South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur states should dissolve several organizations with close links to the National Congress Party. Bashir’s regime have established a range of governmental organizations, often portrayed as NGOs, but in reality controlled by the state. These organizations have been established for many reasons, but among them to control and surveil the implementation of internationally funded projects which are often implemented by local NGOS or in the case of Sudan GNOS, that is Governmental Non-Government Organizations. The governors in the three states have responded to such demands by dissolving and freezing funds of for example the Sudan Women’s General Union which since 1990 have been the main GNOS within the area of women’s issues.
It has also been voiced as a enormous problem in a dire economic situation that representatives of Bashir’s regime, including security officers, reek the benefits of controlling local gold resources which are not re-distributed back into development of these largely marginalized areas. On April 11, 2019 protesters in Liri and Talodi in South Kordofan attacked a gold mining company which was run and controlled by national security officers. People were deeply angered about gold companies which mostly belong to government supporters and security officers. It is to be noted that, Rapid Support Force (RSF) commander Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo deposited more than one billion USD at the central bank of Sudan after the downfall of Bashir. Gold mining in Darfur is one of the main sources of the commander who is now better known as Hermitti. He declared on national TV that:
We the RSF paid more than one billion US Dollars to the central bank of Sudan to secure the needs of the Sudanese people from wheat, oil and medicine. If you asked me about the source of such money that I deposited, I would say that we have the salaries of our forces abroad and also we have special sources of gold mining and marketing.
The people living in these areas have not yet seen the wheat, oil or medicine promised by Hermitti. According to the protesters, those resources belong to the people living in these areas.
The role of the political parties
It remains unclear whether the most prominent political parties in South Kordofan and Blue Nile do indeed support the call for regime change. The political parties that are prominent are the Umma Party, the Justice Party, the Democratic Union Party, the Sudanese Communist Party, the Arabic Revival Party, and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement—North (SPLM/N). Some of these, for example the Justice Party, are known supports of Bashir are ruling political party, the National Congress Party. The Sudan Liberation Movement active in Darfur and led by Abdelwahid M. Nour has not signed the Declaration for Freedom and Change. Nour cited that his movement has not signed the declaration because they again any group to design a declaration and invite others just to sign without involving them in the process from the beginning, despite he is not against the content.
Despite the fact that SPLM/N members represented a critical mass among protesters in all three states, the organization did not initiate meetings or public arrangements to declare their support for FCF. Known for being in stark opposition to Bashir, they might have feared for their own security especially considering that the areas along the border to South Sudan has been heavily securitized since June 2011. This has impacted the room for maneuver of political oppositional parties considerably.
Although the power sharing agreement provides cause for optimism, political parties will use the transitional period to position themselves for political power within the space the revolution has opened up. Although the demands of FCF are clear, the political parties’ position and commitment to the national demand for freedom, peace and justice remains unclear and there is a high risk of fragmentation along ideological lines.
This Sudan blog post is written by Abdelmageed M. Yahya, Associate Professor of Geography and participant in the ARUS programme. Yahya is also a member of the IGAD Roster of Mediators. On July 14 to 18, he will participate in the 4th High level retreat for IGAD Mediators in Juba in South Sudan. This retreat is organized by the Mediation Support Unit of IGAD, a professional unit that works to promote mediation in the IGAD region.