Thank you for your reading and interest in the news ‘I will feed the revolution to my children:’ a year of change in Sudan is only the start and now with details
Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - A year after Sudan’s seismic uprising began against the country’s dictator of 29 years, Ghadeer Hamdi says the revolution continues to live inside her.
Only if it lives on, she argues, will its motto – freedom, peace and justice – finally become a reality.
“For the revolution to die, we must all die first,” said Ms Hamdi, a 28-year-old self-employed graphic designer. “I will spread the revolution and I will feed it to my children.”
Ms Hamdi recounted to The National her first-ever street protest.
It was on April 6, four months into the uprising, that she joined tens of thousands of protesters who endured tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds to reach the headquarters of the armed forces and start a sit-in protest.
They wanted the country’s generals to remove Omar Al Bashir, Sudan’s general-turned-president. The heads of the military, five days later, obliged.
But the sit-in remained, the focus shifted to pressing the military to hand over power to a civilian administration.
For nearly two months after the sit-in formed, Ms Hamdi designed posters and banners that were hoisted at the sprawling site. They ranged from revolutionary slogans to hygiene tips and words of caution against the sexual harassment against women protesters.
The encampment remained for 58 days. Then, elements of the security forces violently broke up the sit-in on June 3.
“I left my phone behind at home and stuck in my pocket a piece of paper with my father’s name and phone number in case I was killed,” she recounted. “I was thinking, ‘I will either die or we all move forward’.”
An official government investigation into the events of June 3, headed by prominent lawyer Nabil Adib, is expected to report its findings early next year.
In some ways, Ms Hamdi’s memories of her personal contribution to the uprising – the third in Sudan since independence in 1956 – and her enduring commitment to its principles romanticize a historic event that would likely be remembered as much for its violence as the sweeping change it brought.
However, her assertion that the revolution lives on to this day is not empty rhetoric.
The neighbourhood committees that played a vital role in organizing protests throughout four months of unrest are still organizing today. They identifying and fighting graft and making sure that loyalists of Mr Al Bashir don’t regain the power and influence they wielded for years.
The committees also organize medical care and markets where goods are sold at a discount to help poor families.
Activists who had effectively used social media networks to mobilize protesters during the uprising are now helping ministries of the transitional government set up informative websites to familiarize the public with the functions of government departments and their services.
Overall, the committees and the Sudanese Professional Association, the body that largely orchestrated the protests, are operating as watchdog agencies to monitor and assess the work of the new government. But they are also partners.
“The ministers cannot do everything alone. We all have to work together,” said Ms Hamdi. “When people say the government has done nothing since it came to office three months ago, I ask them about what THEY have done the last three months.”
Meanwhile, the transitional government of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been moving, albeit slowly according to some on the streets, to dismantle Mr Al Bashir’s legacy. It is purging members of the former ruler’s now-dissolved party from the government, security agencies and the civil service.
This week, the government disbanded and confiscated the assets of Al Bashir-era trade unions and professional associations, thus paving the way for the professional groups that spearheaded the protest movement to become full-fledged unions.
Also this week, several media outlets created and run by the security services were disbanded.
“The neighbourhood committees have taken ownership in today’s Sudan,” said Ameen Maki, a prominent activist and member of the Sudanese Professional Association. “The committees now enjoy the tacit recognition of the government.”
But while the revolution lives on to those who instigated it, a mixed picture emerges from examining the extent of the fulfilment by the government of the high hopes the revolution has given to Sudan’s 40 million people.
Virtually overnight, Sudan morphed from the brutal dictatorship it was under Mr Al Bashir to a nascent democracy of freedoms, a celebration of diversity and, perhaps most importantly, everyone’s right speak their minds freely and without fear.
Curiously, there is little fear of a backlash by Mr Al Bashir’s supporters or remnants of his ruling National Congress party. Although they continue to wield significant economic clout, their ability to mobilize appears to have been greatly weakened.
The “Green March” protests on December 14 – the day Mr Al Bashir was convicted of corruption and sentenced to two years in a correctional facility – only attracted several hundred loyalists of the old regime.
The military, on the other hand, appears to poses no major threat to the new Sudan, where the millions who protested against Mr Al Bashir’s rule remain filled with revolutionary fervour.
“I see the complacency, or maybe arrogance, of some of the revolutionaries as the most serious threat,” said Ms Hamdi, alluding to the leadership of the protest movement, the Forces of Freedom and Change. “They may be thinking that we’re already there. But, in reality, we still need to work all the time.”
Another danger, contend analysts, diplomats and activists in Sudan, lies in whether the transitional government can quickly kickstart the economy to meet some of the sky-high expectations of the people. There is also the question of whether it can resolve the long and costly conflicts in the west and south of the country.
The two goals are intertwined.
If a peaceful settlement is found for the conflicts – a six-month timeline was set for that in a constitutional declaration announced in August – then they can make a substantial reduction in the usual 25 per cent of the state budget assigned to defence and security spending to free up vital public funds for health care and education.
If not, then the country will continue to pour its limited financial and logistical resources into wars that could very well end the same as the decades-long civil war in the south. That region seceded in 2011 with devastating consequences. Sudan lost a third of its territory and most of its oil wealth, plunging into its worst economic crisis in living memory.
“The general impression so far is that the government is weak, slow, too lenient and without a defined program of action,” said Othman Mirghani, a prominent analyst and editor of Khartoum Daily Al Tayar. “People want to see goals and not just a lot of passing in midfield,” he said, using a football metaphor.
There is some truth in that, but the legacy left by Al Bashir’s regime is both heavy and complex.
For example, the government spends about $2 billion (Dh 7.1 billion) annually on subsidizing fuel and bread. If the economy is to make a recovery, those subsidies must be gradually reduced and replaced with cash for the most vulnerable.
Moreover, the country’s infrastructure has for years been falling apart, something that impacts on the key agricultural sector. Corruption, to which Mr Al Bashir turned a blind eye, is institutional and is believed to eat up substantial resources.
The Sudanese pound is not doing well.
The official exchange rate is 45 pounds to the dollar, but the US currency is traded at nearly twice that much on the black market. Sudan has been on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism since 1993 for its links to militant groups, a massive impediment that prevents it from receiving desperately needed assistance from international donors.
Mr Hamdok, the career economist and now prime minister, was in Washington this month lobbying for Sudan to be taken off that list, but he acknowledged on his return home that it is a long process.
Sudan’s economic predicament is so deep that the state 2020 budget has yet to be announced with less than two weeks left before the year’s end. The delay, says a top Western diplomat in Khartoum, is caused by lack of resources to cover expenditure.
At this point of time, he said, it’s more like an “aspirational” budget.
The protracted peace negotiations between the transitional government and rebel groups in western and southern Sudan have made little or no progress on the main issues like self-determination, the role of religion and a fair distribution of national resources and political power.
The power-sharing agreement signed by the military and the protest movement stipulates that comprehensive peace agreements should be reached within six months from the time the pact was signed in August. Compounding the challenges facing the peace track, some of the rebel groups insist that naming new provincial governors and a 300-seat legislative assembly should wait until an agreement is reached, a request that’s opposed by the Forces of Freedom and Change.
“Hamdok continues to enjoy unprecedented popularity but seems unable to take advantage of that,” said Mirghani, the newspaper editor. But, he says, he is not acting like the leader of a mass movement of change. “He’s conducting business like he has come to office through a cabinet reshuffle, not a revolution.”
Updated: December 18, 2019 07:23 PM
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