By Saleh Mamon
The resignation of Prime Minister Hamdock on Sunday 2nd January has removed the proverbial fig leaf of the military behind which it could control the democratic transition. At last, we have two forces now contending for power, the unarmed people and the armed generals.
The 14 point agreement signed by Hamdock and the generals on 21st November 2021 after his release from house arrest received a firm rejection by the political parties and the civil society organisations, the doctors committee and Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) and the Resistance Committees. Such was the angry civic opposition that Hamdock could not form a civilian cabinet.
The transitional framework since 2020 under Hamdock was favoured by all the foreign powers – the US, United Kingdom, European Union, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt. It was also supported by the United Nations Secretary General, the African Union, the IMF and the World Bank.
But the transitional agreement, the constitutional declaration and the Hamdock agreement were all deeply flawed because they did not address the issue of executive control by the military, its control of key ministerial posts and foreign policy, the accountability of the generals to civilian government for the violence unleashed and the military control of the economy.
There have been daily mass demonstrations and the last march of the millions on Thursday 6th January was one of the more than ten major nationwide protests since the coup on 25th October 2021. The message from the demonstrations could not be clearer. They want the generals out of political power and returned to the barracks. They want no compromise and no negotiations with the military. They want a civilian government.
The military response is fairly standard now. Swamp the protestors with tear gas. Often fire the projectiles directly at protestors deliberately causing death and injuries. Use live fire when under pressure. Shut all the bridges across the Nile connecting Khartoum with other cities. Shut down the internet and social media. But this has not stopped the protests.
But that is not all. In many neighbourhoods, the generals are using “more than excessive force” by deploying the entire security apparatus to suppress the protests: the army, security forces, police, anti-riot police, paramilitaries of Rapid Support Forces, the Central Reserve Police and the General Intelligences Services.
Under the state of emergency, the plain clothes General Intelligence Services has been raiding homes, arresting activists of the resistance committees to prevent them from organising. We still have no idea about how many arrested, at what locations they have been detained, under what conditions people are kept – whether they are kept in solitary confinement or being tortured.
Joint security forces are also reported to have raided hospitals, pursued injured people to detain them and hence prevent them from getting medical care. On 6th January they stormed into Al Arbaeen Hospital the second time assaulting patients and staff. The Emergency Department of Khartoum Teaching Hospital was also raided and gas canisters thrown into the building.
It is quite common in the media to have a death count after the coup of 25th October. This stands at 62 on Sunday 9th January. But that is to ignore the nearly 700 injuries recoded within a month after the coup. This figure would be much higher after nearly three months. Also forgotten are casualties of at least 246 deaths and more than 1,350 injuries by mid-July 2019. This incomplete record is unprecedented in Sudan’s history of uprisings since independence, with a handful of casualties in 1985 and around a score in 1964’s uprisings.
Women have been at the forefront of the Sudanese democratic revolution. At any protest you can see them in groups raising the victory sign. So ‘patriotic’ soldiers of Sudan sexually abused women to drive them away from the protests. On Sunday 19th December, 13 girls and women were alleged to have been raped. This aroused memories of 70 women who were raped during the 3rd June sit in which resulted in the Khartoum massacre by the Rapid Support Forces. Women have come out publicly protesting against sexual violence. No soldiers have been held to account for these infamies.
The violence that was perpetrated in Darfur has now come home to Khartoum and Omdurman. The Sudanese people are not prepared to forget and forgive these atrocities. They want the army to be held to account.
Strikes have been a weapon to defy the military since the inception of the December Revolution in 2018. Recently, important struggles have developed in some workplaces. Thousands of court workers went on strike between 2nd and 6th January, demanding a rise in their bonuses to cope with the escalating cost of living. Workers in the Bank of Khartoum have been demanding pay rises for the same reason. The bank was privatised in 2010 with 70 percent of its shares held by the UAE Bank of Abu Dhabi, with money flowing into the pockets of privateers. To clamp down on the mobilisations of bank workers, the management has sacked 200 workers and 500 more are at risk. These struggles have sparked off solidarity campaigns to bring together the strikers and the activists of Resistance Committees. The Sudanese Workers Association for the Restoration of Trade Unions (SWAFRTU) is reviving a united independent working class movement away from the grips of the establishment.
The Sovereignty Council formula was adopted for the transition after the fall of al-Bashir following the tradition established after the October 1964 revolution, which brought down the government of Major-General Abboud, and the 1985 military coup against President Nimeiry. Given the failure of all the transitions after the overthrow of a military dictator, this approach is flawed because it leaves with the generals the executive control of the Sudanese state.
Since 2019, this executive power of the generals has been on display. When it was on the defensive just after 2019, they were ready to sign a power sharing agreement to give them time. When a civilian was to assume the chairmanship of the Sovereignty Council, then the Prime Minister and ministers were arrested and the civilian government dissolved. Then the Prime Minister was reinstated with a new agreement. Al-Burhan and behind him the military council had total executive power.
The generals are continuing a long tradition of 52 years of military rule during which they have captured the state power. They are a military capitalist stratum with a monopoly over the economy as well as of violence. Their declamations are ‘security’ ‘no chaos’, ‘stability’ ‘public order’, all uttered to preserve the existing order. The rich Sudanese with landed property, real estate, businesses would support the generals. The elite officer class has deep links with the oligarchy.
They want a government of technocrats which they can supervise. Now the generals want a caretaker civilian government which can take decisions during the transition to the elections to be held sometime in 2023. Until then they do not want to transfer all executive power to a civilian government.
The generals are making calculations as to how to resolve the crisis. They could play long with the mediation efforts till the civil society gets tired of coming out on the streets. If all this fails, theycould unleash terror on civil society. The government that emerged under al-Bashir after the 1985 uprising used brutal measures against civic society. When the Doctors Union went on their second strike, Mamoun Mohamed Hussein, its president, was executed. Meanwhile, all professional unions were dissolved and government-controlled replacements created. Activists were sent to infamous ‘ghost houses’ to be tortured, and over 70,000 government employees were dismissed. He silenced civil society for three decades using the National Congress Party and the Islamic movement.
Here is the dilemma for civil society. How is the civilian government to be formed? Through what political mechanism? Who will assure that such a government would represent the people? How would political and economic power be wrested from the generals?
Hamdock when departing, suggested a round table conference bringing all the parties together to resolve the disputes and find a solution. Recently a committee of several university directors are integrating eight proposals from civil society organisations to end the political stalemate. The UN has just launched a mediation process to bring all the parties to the table.
There are legitimate concerns that such mediations are there to undermine the democratic revolution. There is an option not yet on the agenda: the election of a constituent assembly to represent the people of Sudan. Such an assembly would take power on behalf of the people. It would elect a representative civilian government, set up committees to formulate a new constitution, budgetary control, other issues such as accountability of the army and the economic control exercised by the army. The demand for a constituent assembly would be revolutionary. It could galvanise Sudan and address the crisis of representation.
Such is the challenge faced by civil society against the military’s state capture. Political agitation and mobilisation should relentlessly highlight the corruption by the military, the economic strangulation of the nation, the economic stagnation of the country, on how developmental needs of the people in terms of health, education and jobs have been sacrificed to feed the bloated military.
The opposition needs to ensure that the military loses its moral legitimacy in the eyes of the majority of the Sudanese workers and peasants and lower middle classes. The urban movement has to connect with rural movement. All sectarian tendencies will need to be eschewed. The lessons from the previous uprisings in 1965 and 1985 need to be learnt to avoid the pitfalls. If they unite, organise and fight, the people of Sudan will win their fight for democracy.
Take action now:
- Pass a resolution in your trade union and party branches condemning the repression and supporting the demand for civilian rule in Sudan
- Sign and share the conference solidarity statement supporting the resistance to the military https://docs.google.com/forms/d/16-0KwsMOSKtSn79ZmQKB-IOp1iNYZDJljCnOTddonDI/edit
Saleh Mamon is a retired teacher who campaigns for peace and justice. His research interests focus on imperialism and underdevelopment, both their history and continuing presence. He is committed to democracy, socialism and secularism. He blogs at https://salehmamon.com/