The Revolution in Sudan
The Sudanese people have recently led a mass uprising successful in toppling the highly repressive Omar al-Bashir regime. However, a coup sponsored by imperialists installed a new military dictatorship. Despite this setback, the Sudanese people are continuing their long history of struggle for liberation from corrupt local rulers and their imperialist backers.
Thousands of people took to the street on April 12, 2019 to celebrate the end of Omar al-Bashir’s thirty year military dictatorship.
The recent overthrow of Omar Bashir’s 30-year old military dictatorship, has brought mass international attention to Sudan. The ousting of the Bashir regime was carried out by a mass movement of progressive classes, and should be seen as a great victory for the people of Sudan. However, it also has created openings for further imperialist plunder of the country as well. As the transitional government is being formed it is evident that foreign interests in Sudan are concentrated on exploiting the people of Sudan and extracting the wealth of a country rich in natural resources. Before exploring how foreign powers seek to exploit Sudan and its people, it is important to review of Sudan’s history as a colonial and neo-colonial state.
From the late 19th century to the early 20th century, Sudan was controlled by British-Egyptian rule. In 1882 the British invaded Egypt to put down a nationalist revolution that was hostile to colonial rule. This was a move to not only shut down resistance from the Egyptian people, but to also to maneuver against other imperialist countries like France which threatened British dominance in the region. As competition for imperialist plunder in the region heated up, in 1896 France attempted to challenge British supremacy in Egypt by obstructing the flow of the headwaters Nile river—especially those in Sudan—to disrupt England’s economic operations in the country. To counter this maneuver by the French, British authorities determined that they needed to conquer Sudan to protect their interests in the Nile river valleys and secure British imperialist dominance in the region. The British defeated the French and Sudanese forces in the Battle of Omdurman by using an army composed of mostly Egyptians,and secured British rule in the region. This use of colonized people in an armed force against other colonized people was an essential aspect of British colonial rule and a way in which they sponsored ethnic hatred as part of their divide-and-rule strategy. An Anglo-French agreement was signed in 1899 that halted French imperialist expeditions into East-Africa and granted England dominion over the region.
After the British defeated the French in inter-imperialist war in North-East Africa, England had to determine how it would govern Sudan, its newly acquired territory. They adopted a policy of joint rule with the Egyptian elite. This was done through the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium which allowed the British to run the show, but gave the Egyptians power to oppress the Sudanese. This was a key part of sponsoring ethnic hatred which the British used to rule their colonial subjects by pitting one against another and claiming to be “mediators” themselves. Even under this Condominium, England suppressed the Sudanese countryside and various uprisings throughout the country. The Anglo-Egyptian Condominium would remain in place until Sudan won its national independence on January 1, 1956.
Egyptians fought alongside the British in their war to conquer Sudan, and these Egyptian members of the British military crushed many uprisings in Sudan.
The Anglo-Egyptian Condominium is but one example of how imperialist power functions throughout the globe. While imperialist countries often enter into agreements with its colonies, semi-colonies, and neo-colonies that disguise their true intentions, we have to expose their tricks and reveal that their principal objective is to expand their empire, suppress national movements, create favorable conditions for the export of capital, and increase profits at the expense of the masses who inhabit the geographic regions they aim to exploit.
Even with these strategies, the British could not hold back the Sudanese people’s struggle for liberation forever. By the early 1950s the British empire was in shambles and anti-colonial movements were spreading like wildfire. In order to secure their continued domination of the region, the British tried to set up a puppet government which was nominally independent, but actually loyal to their interests. In particular, they wanted to install a unified Egyptian and Sudanese state and used their Sudanese puppets to push for this. However, the Sudanese people were so outraged at the way they had been treated by Britain’s Egyptian lackeys that they were dead set on winning an independent country.
Ismail al-Azhari was a Sudanese lackey of the British who had been an administrator in the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium. He was a key puppet through which the British pushed for a unified Egyptian and Sudanese state; he directly worked against the Sudanese independence movement during the British colonial rule. However, when it became clear that the Sudanese people were not going to accept this he quickly switched his tune and supported an independent Sudan.
After the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 scared the British, they pivoted and were willing to support an independent Sudan. With the Egyptian Generals, they came up with a “transition plan” to a nominally independent Sudan. This was really just a change from direct colonial rule to neocolonialism. This is evident because the British colonial administration was not destroyed in this transition, but remained an integral part of the government, and ensured British rule of the country despite its nominal independence. Ismail al-Azhari was handpicked by the British to run the new Sudanese state. However, his government was incredibly corrupt and inept.
Around this time the U.S. had overtaken the British as the dominant imperialist power in the world. The U.S. imperialists were looking for new markets for U.S. goods and new sources of raw materials and cheap labor.
U.S. President John F. Kennedy meets with Sudanese dictator General Ibrahim Abboud in the Oval Office in 1961.
With the promise of “helping to develop and diversify the Sudanese economy” the U.S. was able to win the loyalty of a section of the Sudanese elite. Many people were rightly outraged at the treatment that they had faced at the hands of the British, and because of this some harbored illusions that the U.S. might represent a progressive alternative. The imperialistic aims of the U.S. became more clear when they sponsored a military coup in 1958 that installed General Ibrahim Abboud in power.
The U.S. elite’s strategy for ruling Sudan involved settling Sudan’s disputes with Egypt and instead fostering ethnic and religious hatred internal to the country. Abboud would oversee a theocratic dictatorship which would forcibly facilitate the spread of Islam and the Arabic language throughout the majority Christian south. Under this policy the Southern Sudanese—and all other religious and ethnic minorities—were forced to hide all aspects of cultural and religious differences from the ruling elite or face brutal repression. This oppressive program was met with resistance by southern Sudanese who viewed self-defense including violence as the only logical answer to opposing General Abobud’s authoritarian and violent rule.
This pattern of various imperialist powers competing, and the Sudanese people paying the price in blood, has continued to the present day. However, it’s also important to see that despite these hardships the people in Sudan have a rich legacy of people’s struggles and have overcome a number of military dictatorships, even though they have yet to win their ultimate liberation. These twists and turns of inter-imperialist competition led to the eventual establishment of Omar al-Bashir’s military dictatorship in 1989 which secured the backing of the imperialist Soviet Union. After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, his government grew increasingly close to China.
More recently, inter-imperialist conflict between the Chinese and U.S. imperialists has literally divided the country in two. Starting in the late nineties, China began to invest heavily in Sudan and won support of the ruling elite there. Through a series of bribes and other maneuvers typical of imperialists, China was able to secure a dominant role in Sudan, which led to U.S. sanctions against Sudan in 1997. These sanctions were nominally aimed at combating terrorism, but in reality aimed to cut the Sudanese government’s access to international markets, and prevent China’s rise a strategic competitor to the U.S.
The U.S. tends to sanction any country that does not support its interest in an attempt to bully them into submission. They are able to impose these sanctions due to their international control of economic markets and immense military might. From Cuba to Iraq to Venezuela to Sudan, the U.S. has devastated economies through sanctions which of course bring the greatest harm and suffering to the vulnerable and impoverished working-class people of these countries.
Economic sanctions are a tactic that allow the U.S. to claim they are using peaceful measures to oppose unfavorable policies from foreign governments but in reality, these sanctions are not peaceful, they are ruthless, cruel, and brutal. These economic sanctions imposed on Sudan by the U.S. beginning in the Clinton era had an extreme effect. It is estimated that the cost of the sanctions before they were lifted in 2017 was $45 billion dollars. This is a significant amount considering Sudan’s GDP only exceeded $45 billion dollars in 2007.
Then-Chinese President Hu Jintao (right) visited Sudan and met with military Omar al-Bashir (left) to publicly reiterate China’s support for Bashir in the wake of the genocide he carried out in Darfur.
However, U.S. sanctions did not curb Chinese influence in Sudan. In fact between 2000 and 2011, China exported mass amounts of capital through the initiation of 65 different infrastructure projects in Sudan, which included railway lines, power stations, electricity grids, shopping malls, and even a presidential palace built specially for Omar al-Bashir. All of this investment ensured that Chinese companies would get the lions’ share of Sudan’s resources—in particular its oil and gold—and that the profits made by the hard labor of the Sudanese people would flow into the pockets of Chinese billionaires.
These kinds of infrastructure projects are often presented as being progressive investments intended to develop underdeveloped countries. These are lies. The sole reason countries like China export capital to countries like Sudan is to extract as much profit as possible through the exploitation of Sudanese workers and loot of natural resources. While China has a huge impact on Sudan’s economy through foreign direct investment, China also supplied around 30% of all imports to Sudan prior to the lifting of U.S. sanctions. This relationship allowed China to extract raw materials from Sudan, and sell back finished products to the country, and is a hallmark of colonialism. It is important to also note that China was one of few countries to supply weapons to the Bashir regime. All of this is evidence of China’s heavy economic and political investment in Sudan.
When sanctions were not effective in curbing Chinese influence in Sudan, the U.S. sponsored separatists movements in the south of the country. The people in South Sudan had been oppressed by those in the north going back to the times of British colonial rule. The people of South Sudan had real grievances and faced real oppression at the hands of Omar al-Bashir’s government and prior regimes. However, the U.S. was able to seize upon this and use it for its own imperialist aims.
And while the U.S. had previously supported General Abboud’s military dictatorship which led brutal attacks against the people of South Sudan, in the mid-2000s the U.S. began an all out effort to split Sudan into two. In response this Omar Bashir’s government launched a genocidal war on the people of South Sudan and the Darfur region in particular. With weapons supplied by China, the military and the fascist Janjaweed militias carried out a genocide that killed at least 400,000 people in South Sudan.
Despite U.S. sanctions, Chinese trade with Sudan increased expontentially during the early 2000s, even as Omar al-Bashir’s government was carrying out a genocide in Darfur.
While the U.S. was trying to split the country for its own imperialist agenda, the Chinese imperialists’ response was to support Bashir’s genocide in Darfur to protect the interests of Chinese billionaires. This is the logic of capitalist imperialism. China imported hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil a day from Sudan, and many of the oil fields were located in the south of the country. The secessionist movement threatened to cut off that flow of oil and instead sell it to U.S. allies. In the view of the Chinese imperialists, a genocide was a small price to pay if it secured their economic interests and future profits. The U.S. imperialists operate by the same logic, and the oppressed people of Sudan and the world constantly find themselves caught in the middle.
Ultimately the civil war between Bashir’s government and the South Separatists resulted in the formation of the country of South Sudan in 2011. This had significant implications of the economy of Sudan as the southern region, now an independent country, contained most of the oil reserves and other resources. All of this led to a severe economic crisis that developed over the past eight years. In South Sudan as well, deep problems exist. Since its nominal independence it has been under the thumb of U.S. imperialists, and a brutal civil war broke out in 2013 which killed at least 400,000 people and continues to rage to this day.
In Sudan proper, as the economic situation declined, China was less willing and able to provide economic support, especially given that the Sudan’s oil exports decreased by 80% after the secession of South Sudan. As a result of this, Sudan looked to find other economic sponsors. Saudi Arabia and the UAE in particular saw an opportunity to expand their influence in the region and grow their budding imperialist power. When they launched their genocidal war on the people of Yemen in 2016 they called on Bashir’s government for support, and he was happy to oblige in exchange for loans and investment. The Obama administration, seeing the opening to drive a wedge between Sudan and China agreed to roll back some of the sanctions against Sudan. Trump completed this rollback in 2017 at the behest of the Saudis and UAE.
With the lifting of U.S. sanctions on Sudan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been able to deepen their economic and political ties with Sudan. In 2013 less than 1% of Sudan’s exports went to the UAE. By 2016 that number was 60%. Furthermore, in the wake of the recent upheavals in Sudan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have provided $3 billion in support to the military in loans, fuel, and arms. This support of the Sudanese military by the Saudis and the UAE reveals an effort by these Arab countries to sponsor a new military dictatorship in the country, this time that is loyal to their interests. It also reveals how the Sudanese capitalists and ruling elite benefit through having ties with imperialist powers. It is clear that Saudi Arabia and the UAE view their relationship with the military as key to their own economic, military, and political power in the region.
In order to understand the recent maneuvers by these imperialists powers, and in order to more clearly see a way forward for the Sudanese people, it is important to analyze the recent mass movements that toppled the 30-year military dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir. These protest movements are incredibly inspiring, and while their work is far from complete, they show that the power of the people can topple even deeply entrenched despots and tyrants. The heroic struggle of the people of Sudan is a inspiration to the people of the world.
People protest in Sudan’s capital Khartoum in April , 2019. This photo become a symbol of the people’s resistance.
The Recent Protests and the Present Situation
Despite the difficult conditions in which competing imperialist powers circle over Sudan like vultures and corrupt local despots try to bleed the people dry, the Sudanese people have risen up in heroic rebellion. The recent mass movements have driven the corrupt, decadent, and genocidal government of Omar al-Bashir out. What’s more the people have not only been struggling against the Bashir’s dictatorship and a possible new military dictatorship, but also against the imperialist pigs who back these oppressive forces.
The recent protest movement began in December, 2018 in the city of Atbara, which has a long history of working-class organizing, including a powerful railroad union. Given this history of organizing the people were better equipped and ready to fight back against their oppressors. The catalyst for the protest was the government’s decision to triple the cost of bread, a staple of the country’s diet, as well as skyrocketing inflation of around seventy percent.
The increase in the cost of bread was part of a broader austerity plan imposed by Bashir’s government to comply with the conditions of an IMF loan. Other conditions for this loan included cutting a variety of subsidies to social services and fuel that the people of Sudan depended on. Without these subsidies the majority of people in Sudan would simply be unable to make ends meet. However, in order to secure a good return on investment for powerful capitalist investors, the IMF pushed Bashir’s government to cut these subsidies and raise tax revenues. These sorts of “structural adjusts” which open countries up for capitalist imperialist plunder, are a typical condition attached to IMF loans and are often met with fierce resistance by the people. This IMF loan in particular was part of the U.S.-Saudi-UAE scheme to further open Sudan up to loot and plunder by multinational corporations.
In this regard these protests in Sudan share a similarity to other anti-imperialist rebellions in neocolonies around the world like Haiti, Yemen, and Jordan where the people’s initial rebellion against economic austerity imposed by imperialist institutions like the IMF quickly escalated into full-scale political rebellion against the established corrupt rulers like Bashir and his military clique. It is also important to note that the protests in Sudan not only targeted Bashir’s government, but also the wealthy elite as a whole, including those in the opposition parties.
The initial upsurge itself was quite powerful and shows the power of the people when mobilized in resistance against their oppressors. During the first protest which erupted in Atbara, the people surrounded the main office of the ruling party in the city and set fire to the building as well as the headquarters of the city government. The next day, in the eastern city, Qadaref, demonstrators surrounded the office of a local governor, forcing him to flee the scene in a speeding car under a hail of rocks. The same day in Dongola, north of the capital of Khartoum, protesters torched the headquarters of the Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party. These are just a few examples of how quickly the movement spread, and how angry the people were with the brutal and oppressive rule of Bashir’s fascist military dictatorship.
A funeral march in Atbara protesting the violent crackdowns and killing of protesters by Bashir’s government. Many of the people who led these violent crackdowns are now playing a big role in the newly formed government.
While some liberals may decry such actions as “going too far” the reality is that the people have been crushed and beaten down by three decades of violent suppression at the hands of a military dictatorship. It is only natural that when the people rebel against their oppressors they will attack their enemies. After all, revolution is no dinner party, book club, or academic exercise. It is a violent process in which one class overthrows another by force. No oppressor in history has ever governed by peaceful means, and none have ever given up power because of peaceful protests alone. They must be driven from power, or they will brutally slaughter the people to crush their rebellion.
The struggles in Sudan have confirmed this lesson of revolutionary history. Bashir’s government had a long track-record of violently suppressing the people and systematically depriving them of their means of livelihood. They had carried out a genocide and many massacres. Given this violent oppression, it is only natural for the people to rise up in rebellion, including by opposing the state’s violence with violent rebellion of their own. These two types of violence are not the same. One is the violence of a small wealthy minority to maintain the power over the people, and the other is the violence of the oppressed majority to topple the oppressors and create a better world. And, as Malcolm X said, truth is on the side of the oppressed.
Bashir’s government met the initial protests with violent attacks, including deploying the military, secret police, and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) a paramilitary gang of former Janjaweed militia members—which was the force which carried out the genocide in Darfur. These forces fired live ammunition into crowds of unarmed protesters—killing many—carried out planned rapes and sexual assaults against women involved in the protests, and assassinated key leaders of the movement.
A curfew was imposed across the country, internet access was cut in many places to prevent the spread of news about the protests, and hundreds of people were arrested and tortured as Bashir’s government attempted to suppress the movement. Despite these efforts to stop the rising tide of rebellion, Bashir was eventually forced to resign when the military turned against him.
Many generals and high ranking members of the military grew anxious as rank-and-file soldiers began to defect, take off their uniforms, and support the protesters. These defections in the military threatened to split the army and help the movement to topple the whole government as a whole—not just Bashir and his closest allies. The generals and other Sudanese elites became increasingly concerned as the protests continued to grow in power and threatened the oppressive and exploitative foundations on which the modern Sudanese state was built. In this crisis the military and the wealthy elite hoped to quell the rebellion by forcing Bashir to resign. While many of them had been his long-time allies, they would rather let him take the fall—and preserve their own power—than risk supporting him only to have the protests topple his government, drive the elite from power, and divide up their wealth and redistribute it to the people.
Omar al-Bashir (right) and Mohamed Hamdan “Hemeti” Dagolo (right) prior to Bashir’s fall. Hemeti led the Janjaweed militias that carried out the genocide in Darfur. He is now the defacto leader of government.
So, as the protests grew in strength and numbers, more and more of the Sudanese elite began to support a military coup. During February 2019 Sudanese intelligence chief Salah Gosh met with Yossi Cohen—the head of the Israeli intelligence service Mossad—in Germany to discuss plans for a coup that would install Salah as the new president of Sudan. Gosh was instrumental in attacking and suppressing the protest movement, and he was seen by foreign imperialist powers as a capable “strong man” to take over for Bashir. The meeting was reportedly brokered by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.1 While Salah ultimately did not become president and actually fled the country in April, this meeting was instrumental in organizing foreign support for the eventual military coup that ousted Bashir on April 11, 2019. This coup installed the so-called Transitional Military Council, which is really just another name for military dictatorship.
The Saudis and UAE were quick to throw their weight behind this coup and dictatorship after the Sudanese generals reiterated their continuing support for the Saudi-UAE led war in Yemen. To secure Saudi and UAE business interests in Sudan—and ensure they would get the lions’ share of the profits made by the hard labor of the Sudanese people—they extended over $3 billion in “aid” to the military dictatorship. This included a large amount of military equipment and ammunition which was in turn used against the protest movement. The military dictatorship “promised” that it would be temporary and would allow elections in a number of years. However, they also immediately imposed a curfew which prevented people from being out of their homes from 10pm to 4am. They also continued to attack protesters and target them for retaliation, just as Bashir’s government had.
Despite these repressive measures the people had mobilized and organized to such a degree that the military dictatorship was quickly forced to grant the movement some concessions. For example, curfew was repealed only two days after it was imposed. Likewise, the head of the Transitional Military Council, General Awad Ibn Auf, was forced to resign after only one day in power. However, he chose Lieutenant-General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan to be his successor, and Mohamed Hamdan “Hemeti” Dagolo to be his vice-president.
The appointment of Hemeti is significant because he was not a member of the military. However, Hemeti led the Janjaweed fascist militias during the genocide in Darfur, and more recently, he oversaw their reorganization into the RSF. His appointment was strongly supported by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as they saw him as a loyal ally. Shortly after his appointment as second-in-command of the military dictatorship, Hemeti traveled to Saudi Arabia, met with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
During this meeting with Saudi Arabia Hemeti warned that “Sudan is standing with the kingdom against all threats and attacks from Iran and Houthi militias.”2 This helps to clarify that Saudi Arabia now sees Sudan as a key ally in the region and plans to rely on their military support in any future conflict with Iran.
Even though the movement in Sudan had a temporary setback, the long legacy of people’s struggles in the country shows that oppressive powers cannot keep the people down for long.
All of this leaves the Sudanese people in a precarious position. They are facing another military dictatorship with foreign imperialist sponsorship. What’s more, in this situation a section of the middle-class leadership of the mass movement is pushing for capitulation. These people are generally represented by the Sudanese Professionals Association which is led by doctors, engineers, and other office works. While this organization and people from these classes played an important role in toppling Bashir’s governments, they have fundamentally different class interests than the masses of Sudan people. A minimum wage worker in Sudan makes around $1,100 a year, where as professionals often make around $100,000 a year.
Given this reality, the Sudanese Professionals Association and many of its members can more easily reach a compromise with the military rulers of the country. If the outright dictatorship and silencing of middle-class dissent is abolished, then middle-class professionals can lead a relatively comfortable life, even in a fundamentally oppressive society. However, the vast majority of Sudanese people have a real interest in toppling the entire power structure in the country. Even though the outright military dictatorship of Bashir has been replaced by a power-sharing agreement between wealthy professionals and the military, the poor masses of Sudanese people will still be bound by the chains of wage slavery and life as subsistence farming peasants. Only through completely kicking out the imperialists, smashing the ruling military clique, and redistributing the wealth of the country can the people achieve true liberation from oppression and exploitation. The true nature of the newly formed government is evident in the fact that Ibrahim Ahmad al-Badawi, a World Bank economist, has been appointed the new Finance Minister. He has noted that Sudan needs at least $10 billion in funding for foreign countries, has promised to “restructure the economy overall” which is a coded way of speaking of imposing further austerity measures and opening the country up for more imperialist plunder.3
Therefore, even though Bashir’s government has been toppled, the Sudanese people’s struggle is not at an end. A new government has been formed which serves imperialist masters and it is already plotting on how to continue to sell the people down the river. However, the history of Sudan has shown that no oppressive government can last forever. The people have a long and rich tradition of overthrowing corrupt and decadent rulers, and they were surely continue the struggle towards their collective liberation.