Sudan’s revolutionary path against war
First published at Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung.
Should war nevertheless break out, it shall be the duty of the social democracy to work for a speedy peace, and to strive with every means in its power to utilize the industrial and political crisis to accomplish the awakening of the people, thus hastening the overthrow of the capitalist class rule.
Rosa Luxemburg, The Junius Pamphlet, 1915
The first shots were fired between the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, on the morning of 15 April. These were followed by the bombing of buildings inside the capital by army warplanes and the launching of anti-aircraft fire from RSF vehicles inside residential neighbourhoods — all within the first six hours of the war.
Disregard for people’s lives has been and remains a characteristic of both sides fighting in this war between Sudanese general Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and RSF commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, widely known as “Hemedti”. Hundreds of people have lost their lives. Victims’ bodies lie in the streets and in abandoned houses, while countless more have gone missing, as can be seen from calls on social media to bury the dead and search for the missing.
Yet as the war drags into its second month, having turned Sudan’s most populated city into a conflict zone, the main news in regional and international mainstream media is all about negotiations and agreements, the details of which, we argue, offer no benefit to the Sudanese revolution. On the ground, however, a much different picture is emerging: one of mass popular organization to ensure basic human needs and build a more socially just Sudan.
The effects of diplomacy in the past few years of Sudan’s history should not be ignored. It would not have been possible to impose the Partnership Agreement with the Transitional Military Council (TMC) on the Sudanese in 2019 without the support of the governments of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, the United States, and various European governments, not to mention the support of the local elite — businessmen, politicians, sectarian leaders, and the like.
The Sudanese people’s rejection of military rule was clear and strong in the first half of 2019, taking the form of a sit-in at the Army General Command and a strike on 28 and 29 May, organized under slogans such as “100-percent civilian government” and “Hemedti, come and fire me!” in response to the Janjaweed militia leader’s threat to replace the strikers with workers from his militia.
Shortly thereafter, the Sudanese resistance responded to the massacre of 3 June with a massive demonstration on the thirtieth of that same month, rejecting the military regime even after — and perhaps because of — the brutality they experienced. In the face of this clear revolutionary rising, ambassadors and diplomats from anti-democratic countries in the region conspired to coordinate agreements between the TMC and the leaders of the Sudanese elite in order to stifle the revolution.
The deeply flawed power-sharing agreement was heavily promoted by foreign powers, who praised the Sudanese model of harmonious partnership with the criminals of the TMC. The “international community” continued to support the agreement and followed it with its support for the Juba Peace Agreement, which distributed some power to the leaders of the armed movements instead of addressing the roots of war and conflict Sudan. These same movements were later among the biggest supporters the coup October 2021.
The power-sharing agreement did not bring the justice, freedom, and peace called for by the Sudanese resistance, nor did it bring the stability or economic improvement heralded by ambassadors, representatives of international missions, and the civilian elite. Despite the fact that this failure was evident in the 25 October coup, the same diplomats continued to call for negotiations with the criminals and granting them positions of power as punishment for their crime.
This pattern is not the result of these diplomats’ evil minds or their hatred of Sudan in particular. They merely represent the interests of the regimes they work for, most of which prefer to establish a dictatorial regime that controls the Sudanese people through force and oppression, and that owes its survival to external support. The international institutions — humanitarian, financial, etc. — created by these regimes work to serve these purposes, even if they are referred to with new terms. They belong to a network of international diplomatic personnel whose lives, careers, and financial security are tied to the continuation of the status quo.
The Sudanese have made their lives and needs a compass for their steps, thus getting organized to protect the lives that the generals are taking every day.
On the other hand, these regimes and their diplomats are hostile to any truly democratic form of government that puts power in the hands of the Sudanese people, not the delegations of funding institutions or donors’ ambassadors. In line with this analysis, the repeated failure of international diplomacy is mainly due to the counter-revolutionary doctrine that animates its participants.
Nevertheless, it is astonishing that the foreign powers’ initiatives and the agreements they support do not even achieve their own declared objectives, ever since American experts and diplomats, citing the impossibility of a revolutionary change, proposed a form of shared governance with the tyrant Omar al-Bashir beginning with a national dialogue. This approach failed to accomplish anything until the revolution arose and overthrew Bashir, restraining the diplomats for a while until they came back with other names for the national dialogue, such as the Partnership Agreement, the Juba Agreement, and the negotiations with the coup leader throughout the past year.
The foreign diplomats have no other tool than rewarding criminals and sometimes punishing the people. They have never been held accountable for past failures, while imposing the same corrupt agreements drafted by the same experts on the Sudanese people every time. Therefore, it is not useful to follow the details of their upcoming failure.
To the extent that any political efforts should target the role of global diplomacy in Sudan, then they should be in the form of calls for the development of popular accountability tools for its actions and initiatives. The world has suffered enough from international experts and their unchecked spreading of wars and “humanitarian aid”.
Revolution, not roundtables
The Sudanese population as a whole has taken up a revolutionary path against the war, in contrast to the path of monotonous criminality advocated by diplomats. Most Sudanese have declared their rejection of war and armed themselves with revolutionary organizing to preserve their lives and their communities.
Since the early hours of the war, neighbourhood groups have formed on messaging apps like WhatsApp. Some neighbourhoods have reactivated old groups or used resistance committees, while others regrouped in more logical forms based on neighbourhood geography and connection of services. Group members exchange information on the security situation, on available water and electricity, and collaborate on searches for missing persons and evacuation efforts.
These groups coordinated needed efforts in their areas, such as keeping track of health workers, available medicines, and the operations of clinics. Specialized groups driving ambulances or delivering food and medicine also emerged, as did emergency response teams that coordinated with electricity workers to restore power to areas affected by the criminals’ war. These organized revolutionary efforts were not limited to the battlefield in the capital, Khartoum, but also ensured the operation of hospitals in Al-Fashir and provided water, food, shelter for those displaced from Khartoum.
The Resistance Committees in Khartoum State issued a statement on 16 April, the second day of the war, in which they declared their peaceful rejection of both sides of the fighting. They called on the Sudanese people to get organized and asked the groups of “revolutionaries in the neighbourhoods to be prepared in the current situation and to be ready to meet the basic needs of our people in their areas, in accordance with the current circumstances”. However, it is difficult to say whether the organized efforts of the Sudanese public were a response to this statement so much as to their real needs, using the tools that the resistance committees have used among the masses in the past four years.
Meanwhile, the media machines of the warring parties and their former partners, the civilian elite, continue to appeal to the Sudanese people in the language of revolution to rally them to their cause. Hemedti claims to be the “protector of democracy” and the army uses resistance slogans in its statements calling for the dissolution of the Janjaweed, while the failed civilian elite keeps repeating that going back to its agreements with the war criminals is the solution.
Organizing in defence of life
That the power of the revolution dominates political discourse is obvious to any observer. Although most propaganda efforts have failed to win the support of the majority, it is worth nothing that the “national army” rhetoric has failed the least. In our opinion, this is the result of the elite’s ingrained morality, which is its most dangerous weapon in dealing with the masses.
For years, the ruling elite has spread its corrupt morality and instilled it in the population, so that it has become natural for people to distinguish politicians according to who accumulates the most academic degrees or whose pronunciation of English is most similar to that of foreigners. There is no logical link between these “qualifications” and the soundness of political orientation, but these qualifications have enabled the transitional government staff to gain the support of many Sudanese.
No matter how the Sudanese revolution evolves in the months and years ahead, the revolutionary advantages gained from the path of rejecting war through popular organization remain crucial for achieving the revolution’s goals.
This corrupt morality is the very same that supports the government militia (SAF) over the private militia (RSF) on the basis that the commander of the latter is a non-qualified livestock farmer, while the commander of the former is a military academy graduate, among other similar bureaucratic differences. Some maintain this preference despite their inability to identify any differences between the crimes of the two militias, current and historical, and even agree that the government militia produced and trained the private militia and provided it with resources and funding.
The matter goes beyond logic, then, to what can only be described as falling victim to the systematic obfuscation of the elite, which defends its crimes with various flimsy justifications. However, this elite propaganda crumbles with each passing day in the face of the real needs of residents in Khartoum and other Sudanese cities, and the increasing hardships they face as a result of the generals’ war and their disregard for the lives of the people. The overall attitude remains thus the refusal of war and acting to protect life.
The difference between the positions of the warring parties and the Sudanese masses is most obvious at the moment. As the RSF enter hospitals and the SAF bombs elite power centres, radio stations, and presidential palace buildings without bothering to protect facilities that affect people’s lives, a supporter of the army posts in a Facebook group his prediction of a new field command of the armed forces, and a Sudanese woman responds, “Well, tell him to fix the water.”
The Sudanese have made their lives and needs a compass for their steps, thus getting organized to protect the lives that the generals are taking every day.
Demanding and building a new Sudan
This path taken by the Sudanese against the war is truly revolutionary. It is possible, by logical analysis, to trace the steps of its development from the current “fire-fighting”, i.e. improvised forms of popular organization towards a vision of a new sustainable structure for the provision of services and a space for political and economic decision-making. These “People’s Councils” will inevitably emerge, and in this sense, in line with the revolution, will be spaces of real political debate, as opposed to the empty debates of the elites, detached from the lives of the people.
The debates of the People’s Councils will link political decisions to the demand for water, safe housing, kidney dialysis centres, free transportation, quality education, child welfare, and constructive employment. Within this framework, we have already mentioned that
Neighbourhood Councils position the battle with the old regime around the question: Who offers a better model of life, the existing system or the new one? This is a battle that the resistance will win. As opposed to battles over who has the most lethal weapons or who can attract the most external allies, these are battles against the nature of resistance and the pursuit of justice, and we will certainly lose them because they are battles within the operating framework and capabilities of the anti-revolutionary actors.
A very important point is its answer to the question of how to deal with weapons. Through the Housing Council model, we address the economically and socially poor and oppressed young soldiers, i.e., they are poor and oppressed and will naturally prefer to live in neighbourhoods that provide them with services and protect them from the evil of poverty and the evil of being turned into killing machines by their leaders. The best development for this would be for them — or for some of them — to opt to prioritize their own lives and side with the lives of those who share the same problems and interests, abandoning weapons and the institutions that hold them.
This evolution is inevitably coming, but the extent to which the current wave of the Sudanese revolution will move towards this direction depends on the extent of organized action and the clear theory that will support it at the present time. The extent of organized action means concretely to what extent the Sudanese will have the opportunity to survive through cooperation governed by the values of protecting life and the welfare of society, or whether they will continue to die under the oppression of elitist regimes which are focused on profit and the control of the minority over resources.
As far as the soundness of theory and its connection to work is concerned, this is where the difference lies between immersing revolutionaries in tasks involving the provision of services in a monotonous way that distances them from revolutionary action, or engaging in this work with a critical mind-set that constantly exposes the origins of poverty and death, issues rooted in the policies of the current ruling elites, and the scientific and ethical search for more just alternatives.
No matter how the Sudanese revolution evolves in the months and years ahead, the revolutionary advantages gained from the path of rejecting war through popular organization remain crucial for achieving the revolution’s goals. Just as the resistance committees remained a thorn in the side of the compromise with the military throughout the transition period, the new organized resistance front will become a more important bulwark against any new game the elite invents to preserve its power.
The experience of popular organizations holding control over services and putting people first will — logically — bestow upon the Sudanese people rights that they will not easily give up in the face of calls for reconstruction through privatization, which will inevitably come from the so-called “Friends of Sudan” and organizations they control. One can even conclude that the pursuit of this path threatens the disintegration of elite control over resources and political decision-making in the country and the emergence of new tools against their monopoly over wealth and governance. One can readily imagine how frightening this vision could be for global, regional, and Sudanese elite control centres, which shall accelerate their movement to stop the war and gain control over the democratic wave.
This is how the revolutionary trend pressures the parties involved to stop the war while building a more just society, countering global and regional elite diplomats’ tendency to give fighters more control and wealth, as the regime’s bureaucracy works on strengthening counter-revolutionary structures of injustice. This is the path that we have derived from Sudan’s organized resistance. It is a revolutionary path.
Muzan Alneel is a cofounder of the Innovation, Science and Technology Think Tank for People-Centered Development — Sudan and a non-resident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, focusing on a people-centric approach to economy, industry, and environment in Sudan.
 The Friends of Sudan Group was formed in 2019 and consists of the governments of Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, the European Union, Italy, and the United Arab Emirates.