---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: "John Ashworth" <ashworth.j...@gmail.com>
Date: 1 Dec 2016 10:24
Subject: [sudans-john-ashworth] Suliman Baldo on Sudan’s Civil Disobedience
To: "Group" <sudans-john-ashwo...@googlegroups.com>

Sudan’s Civil Disobedience: Africa’s latest "Hashtag Revolution"?

by Suliman Baldo

November 29, 2016

“Because of the nature of the dictatorship we are under, you are
forced to embrace the use of social media, . . . It’s not secure to
try and use the tactics used in the ‘90s — demonstrations openly or on
a daily basis — because we can never match the current government when
it comes to violence. So we have resorted to a peaceful,
constitutional revolution, which we are precipitating through the use
of social media.” That was a Zimbabwean activist by the name of
Mlambo, speaking to a correspondent of National Public Radio on
October 21, 2016.

Mlambo’s words could have been uttered by any of the anonymous youth
activists in Sudan this last week as they covertly and efficiently
organized a campaign of posters and carefully crafted slogans to
invite the Sudanese to undertake a three-day civil disobedience
campaign starting Sunday, November 27. The call was prompted by
dramatic increases in the prices of medicine, fuel, electricity
resulting from a new government monetary policy that effectively
devalued the national currency by more than 100 percent.

Such was the level of public outrage at the spiraling cost of basic
necessities that the anonymous campaign took off immediately when
launched on Thursday, November 24. Thousands of Sudanese citizens and
the ever-ready and keyboard-committed Sudanese diaspora relayed the
message to their networks, even though the identity of the initial
organizers remains unknown. The Sudanese public credits the same
anonymous activists for mobilizing the public protests in September
2013 against an earlier wave of misguided economic liberalization
policies, including discontinued subsidies and austerity measures. The
ferocity with which the regime of President Omer Hassan al-Bashir
repressed that uprising—including the deployment of militias with
instructions to use lethal force against protesters—accounts for this
change of tactic urging would-be demonstrators to instead protest by
staying at home.

Media reports declared the first and subsequent days of the stay-home
shutdown a large success. Watching the grassroots movement take the
initiative, established opposition parties scrambled to join the
mobilization, and by inviting their followers to participate, they
contributed to its success.

Beyond its immediate trigger, the abrupt increase in prices of basic
commodities, the civil disobedience campaign in Sudan showed similar
deeper political roots to its precedent in Zimbabwe. The longevity of
the two autocratic regimes—36 years of rule under Robert Mugabe and 27
under Omer al-Bashir—and the corruption of their elites had brought
the economies of both resource rich countries to the brink of
collapse. In fact, President al-Bashir said the recent monetary
measures were necessary to preempt the collapse of the state. The two
regime’s trampling of democratic values and practices is notorious and
their brutal repression of dissent is well documented.

In addition, generations of youth who grew up under al-Bashir’s regime
are deeply offended by the hypocritical conduct of its leaders when
measured against the Islamic values they proclaim guide their rule.
Hundreds of thousands of unemployed youth, and others who cannot earn
living wages even when employed, are leaving the country in
desperation, many to undertake the perilous crossing of the
Mediterranean Sea to southern Europe. The organized among those who
stay behind have grown increasingly creative in finding effective
means for mobilizing the population for a democratic transition, and
hopefully, transparent governance. Chief among their aspirations is to
bring about a peaceful end to Sudan’s many civil wars.

Theirs is therefore in essence a peaceful, political mobilization for
democratic change, and not a mere passing protest against the lifting
of subsidies as largely reported in the international media on the
first day of the civil disobedience campaign.

This initiative poses serious challenges to the traditional political
structures of the opposition and of the ruling regime alike. Allied
under different and partially overlapping alliances between the
political opposition and armed movements fighting the government for
greater recognition of the political, economic, and cultural rights of
the Sudanese living in peripheral areas of the country, the opposition
was taken by surprise and did well by rallying and relaying the call.
However, the success of the initiative should encourage the opposition
to undertake serious self-examination for having locked out from its
leadership ranks Sudan’s rising generations of political activists.
Indeed, these activists have proved more adept in reading the mood of
the public and earning its trust and following when asked to act.
Without the necessary rejuvenation of the opposition rank and file and
the modernization of its mobilization tools, the opposition will
condemn itself to marginalization and irrelevance.

Sudan’s current “leaderless” mobilization also shares several
characteristics with neighboring Ethiopia’s mass protests in the
Oromia and Amhara regions in 2015 and 2016. There, as in Sudan and
Zimbabwe, organizers mobilized for protest through social media. While
the ruling Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has
strived over more than two decades of near total rule to deliver
economic prosperity and development gains to the population, levels of
rural poverty have remained high and resentment among marginalized
groups gained momentum fueled as they were by ethnic tensions. The
protests exposed the failure of the EPRDF to earn legitimacy, despite
its economic and development successes. Faced with massive protests,
but with no recognizable leadership to target, the EPRDF resorted to
the declaration of a state of emergency, under which it proceeded to
detain 11,000 youth. It also severely restricted access to the
Internet since mid-October, curtailing public use and making
allowances only for businesses and official use.

The regime in Sudan has failed miserably in delivering economic
stability and basic goods and services to the public. Instead, it has
further impoverished the country by destroying preexisting
institutions and neglecting the traditional sectors of the economy
that provide livelihoods for a majority of the Sudanese people:
agriculture, livestock and the industrial sector.

Khartoum’s regime was overtaken by the speed with which the events of
the November protest unfolded from the first call on Thursday November
24 to the actual abiding by millions of Sudanese to take a common
stand rejecting the regime’s economic policies and challenging its
legitimacy. Crucially, the stay-home campaign deprived the much feared
National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) and militias
operating under its command from their usual tools of interventions:
mass detentions, torture of “agitators,” and the use of lethal force
against unarmed protesters, as happened in 2013. The regime has
invested considerable resources in Cyber Jihadist squads within NISS,
precisely to neutralize the risks to its power from online political
and human rights activism and to diffuse the exposure of the massive
corruption of its leaders. These human and resource investments
notwithstanding, democracy, human rights, and transparency advocates
have proven that they have broken through to the public and earned its

The disobedience campaign and the buildup that led to it have created
their own heroines and heroes. These include doctors who waged a
rolling strike for weeks protesting the collapse of the public health
system in the proceeding weeks; a mother who broadcast a recorded
message inviting revolution against daily humiliations; secondary
school girl students and neighborhood women protesters who were the
first to take to the streets in rejection of the price hikes. NISS
agents detained those it deemed most influential among the organizers
of these protests, including leaders of the opposition Sudan Congress
Party who have adopted direct public addresses in marketplaces,
neighborhoods, and public transportation centers as means of political
action. To suppress the coverage of events, NISS agents confiscated
the post print editions of Al-Ayam and Al-Jareeda, Al-Tayar and
Al-Youm Al-Tali newspapers on November 28. They also ordered a private
television channel broadcasting in Omdurman off the air and issued a
stern warning to a second broadcaster, Sudan-24.

It is evident that Sudan is at a critical crossroad. The regime has
little to no maneuvering room to find sustainable remedies to the
severe economic crisis it has inflicted on the Sudanese people after
nearly three decades of political misrule and ill-advised economic
policies that have undermined the productive sectors of the economy.
Given the massive corruption of its leaders and their families and the
high cost to the national economy of the patronage system which
underpins the regime, no corrective policies of the Ministry of
Finance and the Central Bank of Sudan can reign in the galloping
inflation and likely collapse of the national currency.

The political opposition has yet to adapt their tools of mobilization
and alternative building to the reality that the mishandling of the
economy is the government’s Achilles Heel, as I argued in a recent
Enough Project report. To make up for lost time, the opposition needs
to humble itself and learn from the successes of the independent youth
movement, including the ongoing civil disobedience campaign.

Last, but not least, the “cyber revolutionaries” and the traditional
political opposition should heed the warning from the Arab Springs.
There is no tangible evidence today that either would be ready to take
over in the event of a sudden collapse of the regime either as a
result of the cumulative effects of their war of attrition against it;
or under the weight of the economic crisis that’s of the regime’s own
doing; or in the event of a health crisis that would suddenly remove
President al-Bashir from effective control. With no clear succession
plan for the President that we know of, and given the deep structural
damage that 27 years of his regime had inflicted on the country, lack
of preparation for an orderly transition would spell further
destabilization for Sudan.

Suliman Baldo is a Senior Policy Advisor to the Enough Project.


John Ashworth


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