‘I will feed the revolution to my children:’ a year of change in Sudan is only the start

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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.

Sudanese protesters run for cover from tear gas canisters fired by police outside the military headquarters in the capital Khartoum on April 6, 2019. AFP

Sudanese protesters rally in front of the military headquarters in the capital Khartoum on April 8, 2019. AFP

Alaa Salah, a Sudanese woman propelled to internet fame earlier this week after clips went viral of her leading powerful protest chants against President Omar Al Bashir, addresses protesters during a demonstration in front of the military headquarters in the capital Khartoum on April 10, 2019. AFP

Sudanese judges, dressed in their robes, gather for a "million-strong" march outside the army headquarters in the capital Khartoum on April 25, 2019. AFP

A Sudanese anti-regime protester kisses a soldier on the head during protests on April 11, 2019 in the area around the army headquarters in Sudan's capital Khartoum. AFP

Sudanese demonstrators march with national flags as they gather during a rally demanding a civilian body to lead the transition to democracy. AFP

Protesters massed outside the army complex in central Khartoum on April 6, initially to demand the overthrow of longtime leader Omar Al Bashir. AFP

Sudanese protesters gather outside the army headquarters in Khartoum on May 6, 2019. AFP

Sudanese protesters burn tyres as they block Nile Street for the second consecutive day during continuing protests in Sudan's capital Khartoum on May 13, 2019. AFP

Sudanese protesters wave flags and flash victory signs as they gather for a sit-in outside the military headquarters in Khartoum on May 19, 2019. AFP

A Sudanese health worker carries a placard as scores of medics hold a rally in front of a hospital in the capital Khartoum on May 23, 2019. AFP

Sudanese supporters of the ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) hold up a sign showing a portrait of its head General Abdel Fattah Al Burhan with a caption below reading in Arabic "we have delegated you Burhan, we want no president but you", during a rally in the centre of the capital Khartoum on May 31, 2019. AFP

Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Himediti, deputy head of Sudan's ruling Transitional Military Council and commander of the Rapid Support Forces paramilitaries, waves a baton to supporters on a vehicle as he arrives for a rally in the village of Abraq, about 60 kilometres northwest of Khartoum, on June 22, 2019. AFP

Sudanese protestors celebrate in the streets of Khartoum after ruling generals and protest leaders announced they have reached an agreement on the disputed issue of a new governing body on July 5, 2019. AFP

Thousands went to the streets to welcome the agreement on Saturday. AFP

Sudanese protesters take part in a vigil in the capital Khartoum to mourn dozens of demonstrators killed last month in a raid on a Khartoum sit-in. AFP

Sudanese protesters gather during Friday noon prayers outside the army headquarters in Khartoum on May 3, 2019, as they continue to protest demanding that the ruling military council hand power to a civilian administration. AFP

Sudanese civilians from other provinces ride on the train to join in the celebrations of the signing of Sudan's power-sharing deal. Reuters

Sudan's Forces of Freedom and Change coalition leader Ahmad Rabiah (3-R) and Sudan's General and Vice President of Sudanese Transitional Military Council, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (2-R) sign power-sharing agreement,. EPA

Sudan's Head of Transitional Military Council, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, and Sudan's opposition alliance coalition's leader Ahmad Rabiah, celebrate the signing of the power-sharing deal, that paves the way for a transitional government, and eventual elections. Reuters

epa07783624 Leader of Sudan's transitional council, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan (R) is sworn in as the Head of the newly formed transitional Council at the presidential palace in Khartoum, Sudan, 21 August 2019. The Sudanese opposition and military council signed on 17 August a power sharing agreement. The agreement sets up a sovereign council made of five generals and six civilians, to rule the country until general elections. Protests had erupted in Sudan at the end of 2018, culminating in a long sit-in outside the army headquarters which ended with more than one hundred people being killed and others injured. Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir stepped down on 11 April 2019. EPA/STRINGER

A pictured released by Sudan's Presidential Palace shows General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of Sudan's ruling military council, during a swearing in ceremony in Khartoum on August 21, 2019. Burhan was sworn today as chairman of Sudan's new sovereign council that will steer the country through a three-year transition to civilian rule. "General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan Abdel Rahman was sworn in as president of the sovereign council," the official SUNA news agency reported. / AFP / SUDAN PRESIDENTIAL PALACE / - / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / SUDAN PRESIDENTAIL PALACE" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

A picture released by Sudan's Presidential Palace shows General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of Sudan's ruling military council, during a swearing in ceremony in Khartoum on August 21, 2019. Burhan was sworn today as chairman of Sudan's new sovereign council that will steer the country through a three-year transition to civilian rule. "General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan Abdel Rahman was sworn in as president of the sovereign council," the official SUNA news agency reported. / AFP / SUDAN PRESIDENTIAL PALACE / - / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / SUDAN PRESIDENTAIL PALACE" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

A picture released by Sudan's Presidential Palace shows General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan (C-R), the head of Sudan's ruling military council, standing during a swearing in of the new sovereign council, in Khartoum on August 21, 2019. Sudan took further steps in its transition towards civilian rule today with the swearing in of a new sovereign council, to be followed by the appointment of a prime minister. The body replaces the Transitional Military Council (TMC) that took charge after months of deadly street protests brought down longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir in April. Burhan, who already headed the TMC, was sworn in as the chairman of the new sovereign council in the morning. / AFP / SUDAN PRESIDENTIAL PALACE / - / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / SUDAN PRESIDENTAIL PALACE" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

epa07784051 Members of Sudan's newly formed transitional Council (R-L) General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, Hassan Sheikh Idris, Genereal Ibrahim Jaber, Raja Nicola Issa Abdul-Masseh, General Shams al-Din Kabashi, Aisha Moussa, Mohamed Alfaki, General Yasser al-Atta and Sadeek Tawer look on during their sweaing-in ceremony at the presidential palace in Khartoum, Sudan, 21 August 2019. The Sudanese opposition and military council signed on 17 August a power sharing agreement. The agreement sets up a sovereign council made of five generals and six civilians, to rule the country until general elections. Protests had erupted in Sudan at the end of 2018, culminating in a long sit-in outside the army headquarters which ended with more than one hundred people being killed and others injured. Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir stepped down on 11 April 2019. EPA/MORWAN ALI

Demonstrators march with banners and the old (L) and current (R) flags of Sudan outside a courthouse complex in the capital's twin city of Omdurman on August 21, 2019 during the trial of 40 members of Sudan's now-dissolved National Intelligence and Security Service facing charges over the death in custody of Ahmed al-Kheir, a teacher from the eastern town of Khashma el-Girba, in the early days of the wave of nationwide protests that eventually brought longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir. / AFP / Ahmed Mustafa

epa07784904 Sudan's new Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok (L) swears in during a ceremony at the presidential palace in Khartoum, Sudan, 21 August 2019. The Sudanese opposition and military council signed on 17 August a power sharing agreement. The agreement sets up a sovereign council made of five generals and six civilians, to rule the country until general elections. Protests had erupted in Sudan in December 2018, culminating in a long sit-in outside the army headquarters which ended with more than one hundred people being killed and others injured. Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir stepped down on 11 April 2019. EPA/MARWAN ALI

epa07784903 Sudan's new Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok (L) shakes hands with Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan (R) after being sworn in during a ceremony at the presidential palace in Khartoum, Sudan, 21 August 2019. The Sudanese opposition and military council signed on 17 August a power sharing agreement. The agreement sets up a sovereign council made of five generals and six civilians, to rule the country until general elections. Protests had erupted in Sudan in December 2018, culminating in a long sit-in outside the army headquarters which ended with more than one hundred people being killed and others injured. Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir stepped down on 11 April 2019. EPA/MARWAN ALI

Sudan's new Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok speaks duringa press conference in Khartoum, Sudan, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019. (AP Photo)

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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’.”

This December 17, 2019 photo shows Sudabese activist Ghadeer Hamdi speaking to The National about her recollections of the uprising that started a year ago against the now-removed dictator Omar Al Bashir. Photo by Hamza Hendawi for The National. 
This December 17, 2019 photo shows Sudabese activist Ghadeer Hamdi speaking to The National about her recollections of the uprising that started a year ago against the now-removed dictator Omar Al Bashir. Photo by Hamza Hendawi for The National.

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.”

A worker at a bakery at the centre of Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, on the eve of the first anniversary of the uprising that toppled the 29-year regime of dictator Omar Al Bashir. A steep hike in the price of bread was the spark behind the uprising that began on December 19, 2019. Photo by Hamza Hendawi fur The National. 
A baker sits in his shop in Khartoum. A steep hike in the price of bread was the spark behind the uprising that began on December 19, 2019. Photo by Hamza Hendawi for The National.

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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