Home | Comment & Analysis    Saturday 16 February 2019

Sudan’s December Revolution is not an Arab Spring


By Mubarak Ardol

Why the Sudanese have decided to put an end to the regime which has ruled them for three decades. Why is this happing now?

It is known that Mr Bashir came to power in Sudan by a military coup, supported and organized by Islamist elites in 1989. The coup was against a democratically elected government led by Imam Sadiq al-Mahdi of the National Umma Party. The Bashir regime promoted itself as a salvation government to empower Islam throughout Sudan and Africa by applying Sharia laws disregarding the religious and ethnic diversity in Sudan and the continent.

Since the Bashir regime seized control, it has applied devastating policies towards the country that have impacted on the economy, political life, foreign policy, war and peace. Attacks on political life, such as the detention of political leaders, media censorship, attacks on other liberal rights by the regime’s national security apparatus are constant. The 2019 Freedom House report classifies Sudan as not a free state and the Fragile States Index lists Sudan among the list of top unstable and fragile states in the world.

The current revolution underway in Sudan involves many factors. In this paper, I will highlight some of them.

The Socio-Economic Factor:

Currently, in Sudan economic growth has declined to the lowest recorded levels. Corruption is rampant according to the world Transparency Index report for 2018. On a scale of 1 to 100 with 1 being the most corrupt, Sudan scores 16, and Sudan’s position is 172 out of 180 globally. Officially the country’s inflation rate is 72.74% and other records show that Sudan has the third highest rate of inflation after Venezuela and Zimbabwe. The national currency has lost its value by 583%. In 1989, one US dollar was equivalent to 12 Sudanese pounds, and now in 2019, after 30 years of misrule, one US dollar is between 70 to 80 Sudanese pounds (BBC video).

The secession of southern Sudan led Sudan to lose about 90% of its income. Why? Sudan was not an oil state when Bashir came to power. How did Sudan come to depend on oil, which is not a sustainable source of income?

Under the Bashir regime, the Gezira Scheme, Sudan’s largest agricultural project, was destroyed along with tens of other productive projects. The scheme was contributing to around 65% of Sudan’s cotton production, and at one time, it employed around 8% of those employed in Sudan with 14,890 regular staff and over 130,000 casual labourers. When the government decided to privatize this scheme, following the liberalist policies such as the structural adjustment programs (SAP) established by the Bretton Woods Institutions, those employees lost their jobs. In the railways, over 36,000 lost their jobs when privatized, and in the ports along the Red Sea, over 37,000 lost their jobs, and around 1,500 lost their jobs when they privatized the Sudanese airways. Currently, Sudan is a highly indebted country. The national debt is around $50 billion dollars, however, the government is paying over 70% from the annual budget for security and less than 3% for development and services.

The Sudanese revolution is seeking a radical change according to its slogans. These ideas and corresponding slogans, such as calls for freedom, peace and justice, are workable worldwide! Moreover, the vision that the Sudanese are aspiring to is wanted widely in the world of today, especially in diverse communities ruled by dictatorships like Sudan.

Sudan was one of the first sub-Saharan African states that achieved its independence in the 1950s, but that independence can be consider as a nominal independence like elsewhere, because the relations between the colonial powers and the national governments continued unequally. The colonial powers structured the economy and politics in the old colonies to continue exploitation and to serve their own interests. This structuring was safeguarded by the national bourgeoisie and/or compradors within the authoritarian regimes. The compradors’ interests are sustained by external investments and powers. There is always a marriage of convenience between the imperialist western powers and the authoritarian regimes in the peripheral countries. Continuation of this marriage and unequal relations for decades has deepened poverty, unemployment, lack of development and lack of hope for all.

The austerity of the authoritarian regimes creates instability, war, human right violations and displacement internally and externally. After decades of accumulation of all these grievances, the masses have decided to rise up. The revolution is seeking to restore freedom of the people from austerity, peace from war, and justice from impunity.

In Sudan, the government has responded minimally to this revolution, changing aspects of reprisal laws, particularly the public order law, and also by opening the Nile Avenue for youth to enjoy a margin of freedoms, but this is not enough. The government went further by asking to negotiate with the leaders of the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which are working clandestinely and are part of the mobilising forces. These negotiations by the government are intended to isolate the leaders from the masses and to meet their demands with posts in the government. In other words, the government is trying to integrate the leaders of the SPA into the system, which is completely against the demands of the masses. The masses are seeking to change the system itself rather than to be part of it. The revolution’s demands of freedom, peace and justice are for everyone, not for the elites only.

The December revolution might definitely have an effect on other African nations that are experiencing the same living conditions as the Sudanese people. This is the era of the masses to decide. When the Sudanese revolution succeeds, others will join with the same agenda and slogans. We remember when the Ethiopians defeated the Italian colonial power in the Adawa battle. They provided momentum and spirit to other African and colonized nations to protest against colonial power. This revolution triggered the second wave of African nations to revolt against the austerity, injustice and the continuations of an unequal exchange that was sponsored by the former colonial rulers.

Governments in sub-Saharan Africa must see what is going on in Sudan in order to address wisely the demands of the masses for democratization, respect of human rights, social justice, peace, and fighting corruption. As a preventative measure against similar uprisings, these issues need to be addressed correctly and practically.

In Sudan’s current revolution, like elsewhere, the youth are representing the major forces on the streets, especially among the women, simply because they are the most devastated slice of society and their future lies before them.

Before closing this section, there is a point that needs to be addressed. In the 1990s, the Sudan regime declared a holy war (Jihad) against its own people. The war caused southern Sudanese to secede and it continues in other parts of the country such as in Darfur region, the Nuba Mountains area and Blue Nile state, effecting more than 6 million IDPs and refugees. According to IOM, Sudan is in the top three states, as the country of origin or transit, of immigrants who are braving the Mediterranean Sea. Although the European Union’s Khartoum Process, a partnership with the Sudan regime to curb immigration to Europe, may have reduced the numbers of immigrants, the solution is short-term as the reasons of migration remain, therefore, without addressing the root causes of migration, we cannot celebrate the supposed success of the Khartoum Process.

The Peace Process:

The African Union High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP), led by former president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, is assigned by the African Union to mediate the peace process between the armed opposition and the Sudan regime to stop the wars in the first step and to work towards improving the national political process. The efforts of the panel, however, are obstructed by the determination of the regime to achieve a piecemeal solution rather than a holistic approach to end the crises of the state. The regime wants to bribe the rebels and the opposition groups by giving them seats in the executive branch of the government or in parliament without addressing the real drivers of the conflicts.

After the Sudan Revolutionary Forces (SRF) joint military operation and September uprising in 2013, the regime initiated a national dialogue process. Although most of the opposition groups, including the armed oppositions, accepted the initiative, the regime was not ready for a genuine process, that is an inclusive and holistic dialogue to bring an end to wars and to bring about democratization and normalization with the international world, and to pave the way for economic growth. The regime understood the dialogue as a guarantee to extend their hold on power forever. This was proven recently by the regime’s process of amending the constitution for Bashir to run again in the 2020 elections, after finishing the available terms according to the 2005 Sudan Interim Constitution. Bashir wants to rule for life!

Why the Sudan revolution is not like the Arab Spring:

The Sudanese revolution is distinguished from the Arab Spring in two ways. First, the Islamist forces in the Arab world were one of the drivers of the uprisings and mobilizers of the protestors against the military authoritarian regimes in the Arab spring in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Libya and Yemen, but in Sudan, the Islamists are in power and the uprising is against their authoritative regime. Secondly, the Arab Spring forces were not clear about taking the approach of a non-violent struggle. In Sudan, the revolution is completely a nonviolent movement, despite the regime’s brutality against the protestors. We have lost over 50 civilian peaceful protestors, hundreds have sustained severe injuries, and more than 2,000 are arrested, including women, students, activists, and journalists and yet it remains a peaceful revolution. (Selmia – Selmia) is one of the main slogans.

The armed opposition has supported the peaceful revolution and have declared a unilateral cessation of hostilities for three months. In addition, they have promised a comprehensive ceasefire after the success of the revolution. The intention is not to give the regime a pretext to justify the violence.

The Sudan revolution of December started on 13 December in El-Damazin city of Blue Nile state, and on 19 December, it was more organized in Atbara City of River Nile state. Now it has become a national revolution against the regime. The revolution is attracting new forces and gaining new ground every day. Recently, more than 500 Khartoum University professors signed an initiative asking Bashir to step down and they proposed forming a transitional government to return democracy to Sudan.

The Declaration for Freedom and Change (DFC):

Immediately, after two weeks from the start of the revolution, four major opposition groups signed the Declaration for Freedom and Change - January 2019. Those groups are the Sudanese Professionals Association, the Sudan Call, the National Consensus Forces and the Democratic Coalition in Opposition. The DFC is an open-ended charter that was signed initially by four groups, as mentioned, but now it is endorsed by seventeen groups.

The declaration is formed around three pillars. The first pillar calls for the unconditional and immediate end to Bashir’s presidency. The second pillar advocates for the formation of a four- year transitional government through the consensus of all Sudanese forces to carry out specific tasks, including stopping the wars, addressing the economic crisis, final security arrangements, leading the transitional arrangements, reforming the legal and judicial systems, women’s empowerment, improving foreign relations and social support, and a constitutional conference and process. The last pillar is about stopping all forms of violations, abrogation of the regime’s laws, and instituting measures of accountability and justice according to local and international laws. Finally, the charter asks the security forces, especially the Sudanese Armed Forces, to join the revolution and to not attack or allow peaceful protestors to be attacked.

The army’s presence and its role is important for the transition process, but still, they are facing obstacles from the Islamist groups within the army. The regime, over its 30 year rule, has managed to separate the army and the security sector institutions in general from the regular national elements. Those loyal to the regime are maintained, especially within the higher ra,nks, but still there are elements loyal to the country and the people of Sudan rather than to the regime.

Who is the Alternative?

Before answering this question, let me clarify that Bashir is promoting himself as an element of stability in the region. He is seeking legitimacy to sustain his power, but it is important to recall the history of the regime in intervening in the issues of neighboring nations. For example, who was hosting Josef Kony? Who hosted Osama Bin Laden? Who is hosting Dr. Riek Machar now? Who is hosting the Jihadi movements of Eritrea? Who hosted the Somali Jihadist? Who attempted to assassinate president Hosni Mubarak of Egypt in 1995? With regard to Libyan Islamists, just google the crisis of Libya to know the role of the Sudan regime up to now. Even if in some circles, the regime is now appearing positive with regard to South Sudan and the Central African Republic, it is only for one reason, to access oil and other resources due to the economic crisis in Sudan.

For the question of the alternative, this question was tabled inside Sudan during the September 2013 uprising. It was not asked in order to get an answer to it, but rather it was used for creating contradictions within the forces of change and the people. We are not going to answer the question with a name. Not Mr. Minni Minnawi of the Sudan Liberation Movement or Mr. Malik Agar of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North or Mr. Omar El Digeir of the Sudanese Congress Party or Dr. Jibril Ibrahim of the Justice and Equality Movement, Mr. El Khateeb of the Sudanese Communist Party or even Imam Sadiq al-Mahdi, the former Prime Minister of Sudan.

The people of Sudan will install a democratic government that will seek the will of the people by electing their president in a free and fair process. This government will end wars, return refugees and IDPs to their homes, and respect the diversity of the Sudanese people. This government will not beg from the Arab Gulf countries but it will accelerate the economic capabilities of the country.
This government will not beat girls for wearing trousers or kill them for expressing their rights. It will not destroy Christian churches and it will not sponsor the LRA, Islamist extremist groups and other armed opposition groups of neighboring countries. The new government of Sudan will protect the interests of the people of Sudan and it will live peacefully in the region. This is the Sudan or the government we are bringing. practically a government of a constitutional order . Please support our struggle for freedom.

*Mubarak Ardol is a Sudanese political activist, the SPLM-North Spokesperson, and a Member of the Technical Secretariat for the Sudan Call.

1- Freedom house report 2019 (https://freedomhouse.org/report/countries-world-freedom-2019
2- Ibrahim Ishaq omer Alansari 2015– article about Alguzira scheme (http://www.sudanile.com/86368)
3- Yasir Arman – Paper presented on the African studies at Oxford university- UK.
4- Adam Abdelmomen 2011 Interview Hurriat Sudanese media house (https://www.sudaress.com/hurriyat/30104)
5- Sudan inflation rate – trading economics records December 2018 (https://tradingeconomics.com/sudan/inflation-cpi).
6- Eayin report about the effect of the privatization of the Sudanese ports 2018 (https://3ayin.com/%D9%85%D9%8A%D9%86%D8%A7%D8%A1-%D8%A8%D9%88%D8%B1%D8%AA%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%AF%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AE%D8%B5%D8%AE%D8%B5%D8%A9-%D8%AA%D8%B4%D8%B1%D8%AF-%D8%A2%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%81-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9/)
7- Aljazeera report – Sudanese economy after the secession- 2011 (https://www.aljazeera.net/news/ebusiness/2011/4/24/%D8%A7%D9%82%D8%AA%D8%B5%D8%A7%D8%AF-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%AF%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%A8%D8%B9%D8%AF-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%81%D8%B5%D8%A7%D9%84).
8- Alaraby alajaded report about the Sudanese airway 2018 (https://www.alaraby.co.uk/economy/2018/5/5/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AE%D8%B7%D9%88%D8%B7-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AC%D9%88%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%AF%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AA%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%86-%D8%A5%D9%81%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%B3%D9%87%D8%A7-%D9%88%D8%AA%D9%86%D9%87%D9%8A-%D8%AE%D8%AF%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%B9%D8%A7%D9%85%D9%84%D9%8A%D9%87%D8%A7).
9- BBC report – migration to Europe in charts 2018 (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-44660699).
10- African news - Sudan protest hub: Anti-Bashir protesters tear gassed in Omdurman (http://www.africanews.com/2019/02/01/police-clashes-with-sudanese-protesting-a-state-of-emergency-in-atbara//)
11- BBC report on Sudan secret hit squads 2019 (https://www.bbc.com/news/topics/cq23pdgvgm8t/sudan).

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