Sudan protesters face repression, economic crisis


On Aug. 17, mass demonstrations were held in Khartoum and other cities on the anniversary of the signing of the Constitutional Declaration. These “Marches of the Millions,” organized by the Resistance Committees, were met with repression as police attacked protesters with tear-gas projectiles, arresting at least 77 and injuring dozens more. Organizers responded two days later with road blockades that stopped traffic on major highways leading into the capital.

Resistance Committees announced a “revolutionary escalation schedule” for the coming week, with continued and expanded road blockages. The neighborhood-based Resistance Committees (RC) and the coordinating body of the RC played a critical role in last year’s revolutionary upsurge and have remained active following the deal between the opposition and military.

The Sudanese Doctors’ Central Committee, Sudanese Professional Association, “families of the martyrs of the glorious Sudanese revolution 2018,” Democratic Lawyers Front, and Sudanese Lawyers Syndicate have all condemned the repression as contrary to the guarantees protecting free speech made as part of the Constitutional Declaration.

The demands raised by the demonstrators, for “peace, justice and correction of the course of the Revolution,” seek to address the stalled transition to a democratic government and the continued economic crisis in Sudan. Demands include the convening of an economic conference, forming a legislative council, the placing of enterprises under the control of the Finance Ministry, the dissolution of the Rapid Support Forces (a paramilitary group allied to the former al-Bashir regime), and the reorganization of the armed forces. The protests also demand the reinvigoration and restructuring of the Forces for Freedom and Change, the main coalition of last year’s revolutionary upsurge.

The December revolution

Beginning in December 2018, demonstrations and strikes mobilized hundreds of thousands of workers, women, and students across Sudan for months. This led to a coup on April 11 that removed dictator Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir in an attempt by the military to preserve the regime by placing a new face in power. Al-Bashir’s military-installed replacement lasted less than 48 hours as the masses continued to mobilize and insisted on a transition to a civilian government.

A general strike on May 28-29, 2019, shut down industry, ports, transport, and government ministries, with high levels of participation by workers. The general strike was followed by violent repression on June 3 as demonstrators took to the streets. Government-aligned militias slaughtered more than 120 people, raped protesters and medical personnel, and wounded more than 700.

On July 5, 2019, the military and civilian opposition forces reached an accord to end the months of unrest. U.S. imperialism and its regional allies, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, exerted enormous pressure on both the movement and the Transitional Military Council to reach a deal. Similar pressure to resolve the situation came from both Russia and China, which have economic interests in the country. Subsequently, the Sudanese Communist Party withdrew from the negotiations and urged continued mass protests. Sections of the opposition broke ranks and negotiated with the military regime ahead of the rest of the opposition. 

Over the past year, episodic demonstrations have been held to protest continued violence by state forces and allied militias and continued economic insecurity. These protests have been the victim of repression and attacks by militias. Activists have continued to press for the arrest and trial of perpetrators of violence against last year’s mass upsurge. A series of protests in June and July of this year have demanded a more rapid transition to civilian rule, economic reforms, accountability of regime officials responsible for repression, and the formation of a parliament.

The ruling Sovereign Council, a body with six civilian and five military representatives has fulfilled, or partially fulfilled, some promises by firing the police chief and his deputy, negotiating with armed rebel groups, an anti-corruption campaign, and withdrawing about two-thirds of Sudanese military troops from Yemen. Throughout this “transition,” the military has retained control over the process and worked to slow civilian control of institutions. 

Economic crisis

The economy remains in crisis with shortages of bread and fuel. The official unemployment rate is around 15% and likely bigger in reality. GDP fell last year and continues to fall. Inflation, in excess of 100%, is projected to continue and worsen over the next year. Power outages are frequent in the cities. 

In June, the International Monetary Fund reached an “initial” agreement with the government to reform the Sudanese economy. This entails cutting fuel and food subsidies, devaluing the Sudanese pound, and allowing the price of grain and gas to rise. Fuel subsidies account for about 36% of the national budget. The price of fuel has already risen dramatically over the past year. 

The IMF claims its goal is “reducing fiscal and external deficits to contain inflation, strengthening social programmes … and improving the business environment.” This would mean, in other words, higher prices and austerity for workers and the poor. The Sudanese Communist Party condemned the IMF deal, noting that a previous IMF aid package resulted in privatization, cuts in public-sector jobs, lower wages and reduced government spending. These measures worsened the situation of the workers and poor of Sudan. “As a result of Sudan’s response to IMF conditions of borrowing, the prices of basic commodities such as bread and food products have increased insanely, the SCP stated. “Wherever you find the IMF, there are crises…”

The opposition Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change, condemned the IMF plan, stating that “complete liberalization of fuel prices will have a negative impact on people’s lives, transportation and pensions. …The pursuit of these policies will force people into a dangerous and unbearable state.” The IMF has made restructuring a prerequisite for any aid package. 

The Jubilee Debt Campaign points out: “The Sudanese government’s external debt is thought today to be close to $40 billion, over 70 per cent of GDP. Of this, close to half is owed to the IMF, World Bank and Western governments, and debt payments are not being made on it. The debt owed to western government’s has had interest of 10-12 per cent added to it every year since 1984.”

Need for revolutionary socialist party

Sudan’s social, political, and economic crisis is similar to the situation in other semi-colonial countries. A mass fightback against dictatorship and economic inequality in these countries is to be expected. In the course of these struggles, which are often led by multi-class protest leaderships, petty bourgeois and bourgeois forces will compromise the regimes in service of their own class interests and imperialist allies.

Negotiations between the old regime and the opposition give the regime time to organize itself for counterrevolution. The revolutionary movement needs its own democratic organs to lead the fight. In previous revolutions these have been workers’ councils, factory committees, and other popular organizations. This also means that the revolution cannot rely on the existing state to reform or dissolve its own forces of repression. Every possible opportunity to split the ranks of the military from the existing regime must be taken. The goal must be to smash the repressive forces of the state and replace them with the armed people.

To carry forward these revolutionary opportunities, the working class and oppressed need their own independent leadership. It’s only through class independence and the construction of a revolutionary socialist party that the democratic tasks of the revolution can be completed along with the implementation of anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist measures. 

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