Sudan: Three-Day Nationwide Strike Shuts Down the Country, in Unique Defiance of Al-Bashir’s Rule
Escalation of the Struggle Needed to Overthrow Repressive Regime
Serge Jordan, CWI
The streets and public squares of Sudan’s major cities have been left looking deserted from their usual traffic and pedestrian frenzy as the country was shaken by three days of “civil disobedience” from November 27 to 29, an action organized and rallied for by activists and ordinary people via social media campaigning, and backed up by some opposition parties. According to ground reports coming from activists and supporters of the CWI in Sudan, universities, schools, market places, public transport and many private businesses, cafes, shops and restaurants remained closed. In the face of open threats issued by the autocratic regime of Omar Al-Bashir, and the intimidation tactics of his notorious security forces, this nationwide shutdown was a remarkable success.
Latest reports coming in from Sudan clearly signal an increase in state violence, with riot police forces resorting to firing tear-gas at protesters in Omdurman, dispersing women activists who took to the streets in Khartoum, and surrounding the headquarters of the Sudanese Communist Party in the capital.
The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back was the new cuts in State subsidies announced by the government on November 3, which for many poor Sudanese represented a vital lifeline, and separated them from starvation and disease. The authorities had announced a 30% hike in fuel and electricity prices which had a snowballing effect and led to a stiff rise in the cost of other goods, including food and medicines. A decision by the Central Bank of Sudan to free the exchange rate of the U.S. Dollar for the import of medicines has added insult to injury, pushing the prices of medicines over the roof. They have increased between 150 and 300% according to local pharmacists, scores of whom had already gone on strike about two weeks ago to protest against this decision and its calamitous effects on the daily life of the poor and the sick.
These cuts are part of a wider set of austerity measures “recommended” by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In its last report on Sudan, the IMF went on to argue for the need to “contain spending on goods and services,” in a country where half of the population already lives below the poverty line. The same report indicated that the Sudanese authorities have “committed to strengthening cooperation with the IMF on policies and payments.” The irony of a regime with a long history of flirting with an anti-Western narrative bowing to the IMF’s austerity demands has been lost to no one. Meanwhile, U.S.-imposed sanctions continue to cripple the country’s economy, while leaving the lavish lifestyle of the regime dignitaries and of the Sudanese capitalist class largely untouched.
People’s anger is running far deeper than just on the rising cost of living. The worsening conditions of life, extending poverty and mass unemployment combine with generalized outrage at the enormous corruption of the ruling elite and the systematic asphyxiation of the most basic freedoms. In the preceding weeks, doctors and health professionals had waged an inspiring several days-long strike protesting the collapse of the public health system. While people’s living standards are being constantly undermined, a large proportion of State spending is siphoned off by the military and security apparatus, aimed at protecting those in power and at perpetuating a state of war in the Nuba mountains, in the Darfur region, in South Kordofan and in the Blue Nile region.
Living under dire oppression and among the first to suffer, many Sudanese women have been leading the way in braving the police and staging many of the street protests held in various cities in recent weeks and, along with many young people, have been particularly involved in the subterranean preparation of the recent nationwide action of disobedience, by covertly putting posters, crafting slogans in support of the strike, etc.
Social media has also been a useful tool for many Sudanese activists and ordinary people to overcome the blackout imposed by the pro-regime media. A Facebook group titled “Sudan: Civil Disobedience on Sunday November 27th, 2016” gathered 150,000 members in just a few days. On Monday 28, after having already shut down a TV station for having reported on the movement, print-runs of three newspapers who had similarly published reports on the people’s struggle were seized by the regime’s security services.
These moves, along with the reported arrest of dozens of activists and supporters of the protest movement, betray the nervousness of the regime. A presidential spokesman argued before the start of the strike that “We are confident that our people will not go to respond to these calls”; on Tuesday, al-Bashir himself declared that the strike had “failed by one million percent.” However, the attitude of the government and of the state forces all along these three days suggests a very different story. On November 26, the government’s Health Minister had promptly announced the sacking of the secretary general of the Sudan Pharmacy Council, as well as the partial reversal of the liberalization of the prices of medicines: an indication that even before the strike had begun, the government had already moved into panic mode.
Significantly, open fissures have since appeared from within the state apparatus, with sections of the armed forces and the police condemning the government and proclaiming their endorsement of the people’s demands. This is a very serious development, highlighting that the regime in its present form could be on the verge of an implosion.
General strikes in Sudan have a charged history, because of the insurrectional character they took in both 1964 and in 1985, the mass action of the workers’ movement leading both times to the overthrow of the then ruling dictatorships of General Ibrahim Abboud and General Jaafar Nimeiri respectively. The peculiar character of the last three days of “civil disobedience” has been that this movement has been essentially based on people deciding on their own accord to observe a “stay-at-home” protest, responding to a call by anonymous activists through social media. The solid success of this stay-home shutdown, notwithstanding the evident limitations represented by such a method of action, is testimony of how deeply discredited and detested the present regime is.
This form of protest flows from the present conditions which the Sudanese masses have inherited, whereby the state-controlled Sudan Workers’ Trade Union Federation (SWTUF) offers no genuine channel for trade union activity, the main opposition parties have been shying away from seriously mobilizing the working class, and many people are still afraid to demonstrate openly, especially after the regime had made explicit threats of shooting at protesters. A previous, months-long wave of anti-regime protests that shook the country in 2013 was met with ferocious State repression, involving the widespread use of torture, forced “disappearances” and the deliberate killing of around 200 people by the regime and its militiamen. In the context of such ruthless carnage, the people taking recourse in a peaceful but not public protest appears to have been the only option left to them.
It is important, however, that the resounding success of these three days of strike is followed up by another round of actions, to escalate the pressure against the regime and to make sure that the struggle does not lose its momentum. Already, today, November 30, 2016, lawyers protested against human rights violations in front of the National Court and have offered to defend pro bono the minors arrested in this week’s crackdown. Other sections of workers and youth are burning for action, and calls for an open-ended general strike next December have been rumored.
Importantly, the millions of Sudanese people who have actively or passively been supportive of the three days of civil disobedience should find ways to converge, to discuss and to organize together the next steps of the struggle. While the tactic used by the stay-home campaign has taken the regime by surprise, depriving the state and its security services from their usual tools of intervention and repression, and offered a first step for people to overcome their fears of defying the regime, it also has its drawbacks, in leaving people essentially isolated from each other. It does not offer the same opportunity to debate collectively on how to resist and fight the regime, and to display the movement’s strength and impact in a clear-cut manner. While very handy, Twitter and Facebook are unfortunately not an adequate substitute to the genuine exchange of political experiences and the boost to people’s confidence that mass protests, picket lines and workplaces’ and neighborhoods’ assemblies can offer. This would especially be the case if the regime decides to shut down the internet, as it did in the past.
That is why it is important that anti-regime campaigners in their workplaces, schools, university and communities try and find a way to bring people together, for example by calling for assemblies that can discuss how to plan future actions -such as further strikes, but also blockades and occupations- and that can elect action committees within them. In some places, these might have to be done in a clandestine fashion initially, but are necessary steps for people’s energy and anger to coalesce and eventually find a collective outlet. Discussions on how to organize against the regime’s repression are equally vital. For this purpose, defense committees can be set up by workers, students and poor communities to be prepared in defending themselves against attacks from the regime’s thugs and police. In effect, the low paid rank-and-file members of the State forces have more in common with the people they are ordered to repress than with the officers they take orders from. Many are sympathetic with the movement’s goals; clear class appeals towards these layers could enhance their reluctance to attack their brother and sisters, and push the regime in total isolation, ready to fall like a rotten fruit.
A majority of the Sudanese people are absolutely fed up with the corrupt and brutal 27-year-long rule of Al-Bashir. The overthrow of this regime should be the order of the day, which could be greatly assisted by a new, well-prepared mass general strike. Yet the experience of the so-called Arab Spring protests bring home the fact that even once hated dictators have lost their grip on power, a resilient counter-revolutionary ruling class will try all tricks in the book to keep its profiteering and exploitative capitalist system in place. Hence the workers and poor of Sudan need to prepare themselves for a drawn-out struggle.
The lessons must be drawn from what happened in Egypt where within 18 months of Hosni Mubarak’s downfall, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was leading a new authoritarian regime, worse than the one deposed by the revolution. To avoid this happening in Sudan, workers and poor, relying on their own strength and organization, need to establish their own, democratic, rule and appeal for solidarity from the working masses in North and Sub-Saharan Africa and in the rest of the world.
Below are a few demands that the supporters of the CWI in Sudan want to submit for debate among Sudanese protesters and activists, as a genuine contribution on the program and strategy needed to finish with the present regime, and to build a future based on real democracy, social justice and peace. We believe that the formation of a left-wing party, rooted in the workplaces, schools and communities, and equipped with a socialist program based on the democratic nationalization and planning of resources, would be a vital input to bring this revolutionary struggle to fruition.
- No to price hikes – reinstate all state subsidies now
- End the economic sanctions on Sudan – no to the IMF’s plans – no trust in Western powers
- Down with dictatorship – freedom of expression and assembly now, release all political prisoners
- Build and strengthen committees of action and defense in every neighborhood, school and workplace – anti-regime soldiers and police to form their own committees, disarm their officers and join the popular struggle
- Build up for a well-prepared, mass general strike for the fall of the regime
- For the building of a party to unite and organize workers, students, the unemployed and the poor
- No trust in old regime officials, no to any governmental arrangement imposed on the Sudanese people without their democratic consent
- For genuine elections to a revolutionary constituent assembly, based on delegates from people’s committees
- For a democratic socialist government of workers and poor people
- Bring back the country’s wealth to the Sudanese people – nationalize under workers’ control the major companies, banks and big land estates
- For international workers’ solidarity
Originally published at SocialistWorld.net.