World in View: Can the Sudanese Revolution survive?

July 22, 2023

It has been 110 long days for the people in Sudan. . . the capital, Khartoum, and in the Darfur region, cities such as Al-Fashir, El Geneina, as well as many other cities and towns that have faced airstrikes by the Sudanese Armed Forces and violations by the Rapid Support Forces. . . It is becoming more and more likely that we will see a famine in Sudan due to this war.
Marine Alneel, Sudanese activist

(The) need to put Sudan’s revolutionaries front and center. . .
The revolution must have the last word.
Sharath Srinivasan, author of When Peace Kills Politics:
International Intervention and Unending Wars in Sudan

Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan. Photo: Prachatai, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

In one of the latest outrages against the Sudanese, a mass grave of 87 bodies was uncovered in the Darfur region, a massacre likely carried out by the Rapid Support Forces (the Janjaweed) and their militia. Those murdered were ethnic Masalit, mostly African farmers.

The Masalit and other African ethnic groups have been terrorized for decades by Arab Janjaweed, now the Rapid Support Forces headed by General Mohamed Hamdan. He and his now rival General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of the Sudanese Army, both got their murderous start by perpetrating atrocities in Darfur while following orders from the former President-dictator Omar al-Bashir. The decades of genocidal violence, which killed over 300,000, have entered a new phase of ethnic war in the Darfur region of Sudan.

The generals have been equals in terrorizing and murdering the Sudanese masses. Since the April 15 outbreak of fighting between rival forces, it is civilians who have suffered and died: thousands killed and close to three million displaced, with hundreds of thousands seeking shelter across borders.

“Peacemaking” through so-called ceasefires has failed again and again and again. Maneuvers of various regional powers as well as the U.S. have gone nowhere. These countries all have their own vested interests regarding Sudan. They all need “peace” to realize them, but what kind of peace? They all seem to agree on one thing: negotiations must be directed only towards the warring parties—the two generals—and not include representatives of civil society.

What has been willfully forgotten is the Sudanese Revolution of 2018-19 and the powerful participation of the Sudanese masses who carried it out. Perhaps not so much forgotten, as pushed aside. In all the maneuvering of foreign interests, what is not to be on the agenda because they fear they can’t control it—is revolution, especially since it was the generals who joined together to crush that non-violent uprising’s demands for social transformation before they split apart to each seek sole power. We must return to that revolution to see what is at stake.


On Dec. 19, 2018, demonstrations erupted in several cities, sparked by a long dire economic situation faced by the population, including the tripling of the price of bread, a crucial staple. Those street protests were met by tear gas, rubber bullets, and live ammunition, killing and injuring dozens.

Despite the government’s attempts to suppress the protest movement with arrests, censorship and outright brutality, it continued. In January 2019 protests broke out not only in the capital, Khartoum, but in other cities, such as El-Gadarif, where thousands took to the streets on Jan. 9. The demands now were not alone economic, but political—the ouster of Al-Bashir—and were becoming fully social. As Sharath Srinivasan wrote: “During the revolutionary events of 2019, Sudanese who took to the streets in the hundreds of thousands were demanding radical political change; they were not talking about peace or transition.”

Masses on a train during the 2018-2019 Sudanese Revolution. Photo: Osama Elfaki, CC-BY-SA-4.0

The protests and demands continued. In response, al-Bashir declared a state of emergency on Feb. 22, dismissing the central and regional governments, replacing governors with generals. But the protests could not be stopped. March saw more protests and more repression. A march on military headquarters in the capital was called for April 6, and hundreds of thousands responded.

A social uprooting was occurring. While the original December outbursts were spontaneous, the Sudanese masses had been organizing for years. Activists formed hundreds of neighborhood civilian resistance committees to oppose the dictatorship. Women in particular have their own organizations and played central roles in the protests. Many other civil organizations were becoming active.

On April 11, al-Bashir was ousted but it was a palace coup organized by generals, not a path toward deepening social revolution. Yes, there was jubilation in the streets, but immediately the military maneuvered to keep power in their hands. We need not follow all the ins and outs of a “transition stage” that was supposed to lead to full civilian rule. Crucially it was slowly strangling the developing social revolution. The protest movement began fragmenting over attitudes toward and participation in the so-called transition.

The transition—one in which women were excluded from any meaningful role—only led to the October 2021 complete seizure of power by the Sudanese military. In response, massive protests of hundreds of thousands took place. But the combined forces of the Sudanese military and the Rapid Response Forces were in control, stopping the Sudanese Revolution midstream.

Parts of the international community were disturbed and began a dance with the military rulers attempting to return them to a transition to civil rule. But the military was not interested. It soon had its own internal differences, which led to this year’s April 15 split and open warfare between the Sudanese Army and the Janjaweed.


A number of states—including Kenya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and of course the U.S., which has long involved itself in Sudan politics—involved themselves in negotiating with the warring parties. “Peace negotiations” have occurred in Jeddah, Addis Ababa and Egypt, without success. What these meetings and negotiations have in common is that none of them have involved the key actors of civilian society. It seems as if only the warring generals count, forget the Sudanese people.

As Sudanese activist Marine Alneel commented: “All these talks that are being organized by foreign entities are still insisting on centering the war-makers, who will obviously never be interested in the well-being of the people.”


Can the Sudanese Revolution renew itself? There is no simple answer. Neither the warring generals nor their troops nor the maneuvering of foreign interests can bring this about. Their real interest is prompted by fear of revolution and preventing authentic social change in Sudan. But for those interested in actual freedom and self-determination there is instead an urgent “need to put the Sudanese revolutionaries front and center.” Only then can “the revolution have the last word.”

Eugene Walker

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