What Provoked the Sudanese Uprising?

Written By: Intisar Kunje

ACP Candidate Member


The 11th of April was a day of celebration for the people of Sudan. Continuous organized protests and strikes led by the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), effectively paralysed the whole nation, leading to the ousting of president Omar al-Bashir in a military coup d'état. Rebelling against the military junta, the organised masses showed unmatched solidarity and worker’s power and paralysed economic life throughout the state. All government institutions including hospitals, banks, schools and public transportation were closed. Large demonstrations were held in Khartoum Airport, with engineers, pilots and airport workers ceasing their work. Oil, electricity and gas employees, mine and factory workers, pharmacists, lawyers, journalists, university staff and more, all laid down their instruments in observance of the strike.

“While the IMF’s role in Sudan’s bread protest is surely a catalyst for the demonstrations and strikes, the people of Sudan had long been dissatisfied with the previous Bashir government”

The unrest can be traced back to the 13th of November 2018, when a report released by the IMF predicted that should the government continue subsiding fuel, wheat and other commodities, Sudan would face future inflation (1). The IMF called for “tighter monetary policy”, reinforcement on “limits on central bank monetization of fiscal deficits” and the devaluing of the Sudanese currency (2). Austerity measures, including the cutting of fuel and bread subsidies that the IMF considered “inefficient” (3), hit low-income families hardest, leading to the “bread protest” demonstrations and demands for a civilian-led transitional authority.

While the IMF’s role in Sudan’s bread protest is surely a catalyst for the demonstrations and strikes, the people of Sudan had long been dissatisfied with the previous Bashir government. Bashir looted the impoverished country, still suffering the consequences of the decades long civil war. In 2010, a leaked US diplomatic cable proved that Omar al-Bashir siphoned $9 billion in oil money, the cable commenting “Ocampo reported Lloyds bank in London may be holding or knowledgeable of the whereabouts of his money,” (4) further fuelling fury and calls for his resignation and arrest.

Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia were the Bashir government’s chief supporters; their support wasn't coincidence, it was to dissuade their own discontented citizens from taking inspiration from the Sudanese people. Memories of the Arab Spring still weigh heavy on their minds and support for Bashir was an attempt to dissuade dissent. The Bashir government were Saudi allies and participated in the Saudi bombing campaigns in Yemen against the Shia Houthis, providing the UK/US/Saudi coalition with Sudanese youths to use as tools for the globally condemned slaughter. Reuters stated, "The war in Yemen has given Omar Hassan al-Bashir, a skilled political operator who has ruled Sudan for a quarter-century, an opportunity to show wealthy Sunni powers that he can be an asset against Iranian influence – if the price is right." (5)

Protestors with a sign reading, “Freedom, Respect, Justice”

Protestors with a sign reading, “Freedom, Respect, Justice”

“The grassroots workers offensive in Sudan demanding the ousting of Bashir and the military junta dictatorial regime should be met with optimism and support from all the workers of the world”

Most damningly, the ethnic cleansing by the Bashir government and the Arab Janjaweed militia forces in Darfur, on Sudan’s western border with Chad, lay testament to the brutality of the previous Khartoum government. The Arab-dominated central government endorsed an Arab/Black African split, paying and arming Arab nomads to terrorise the Darfur villages. This was in response to the Sudanese Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M) and the Justice Equality Movement (JEM), made up of the targeted black ethnic groups (Fur, Masalit, Zhagawa) demands to end economic persecution and the abuse at the hands of the Arabized nomadic pastoralists. Drought and desertification pressured the nomads to move into Darfur’s farmlands (4). The JEM and SLA/M organisers also sought a fairer representation of the African ethnic tribes in government and to share power with the Arab/Arabized government, which resulted in brutal Janjaweed-government pushback.  

The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor Luis-Moreno Ocampo described Darfur as a crime scene and drew a juxtaposition between some of the horrors committed in Sudan, and the horrors witnessed in Nazi Germany. 51 cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity were documented in the Hague including oppression, torture, mass murder and rape. “Impoverished and frightened ethnic Africans huddle in refugee camps, while Arab nomads control the hinterland, threatening any farmer who tries to return.” (5) 42 year old Darfur witness Ibrahim, recalls "The minister (Harun) told them their mission was to burn all the region down," he said. He says the men were ordered to "get rid of every Fur" and turn their territory into Dar al-Arab, meaning "Land of the Arabs".  

In 2013 the United Nations (UN) evaluated that up to 300,000 individuals had been executed during the genocide; accordingly, the Sudanese government insisted that the murders were "grossly inflated" (6). By 2015, it was assessed that the loss of life remained somewhere in the range of 100,000 and 400,000 (7). The viciousness proceeded into 2016 where the administration utilized chemical weapons against the Black Africans of Darfur. This prompted millions being uprooted due to the escalated violence. More than 3 million lives are affected by the genocide.

The grassroots workers offensive in Sudan demanding the ousting of Bashir and the military junta dictatorial regime should be met with optimism and support from all the workers of the world. The people’s campaign to reverse the destruction neoliberalism has wrought is a step towards the liberation of the proletariat. Only the Sudanese workers can be trusted to shake the chains of exploitation in Sudan, to forge their own future and to make a revolutionary disturbance within the international capitalist system.

  1. International Monetary Fund. Sudan: 2017 Article IV Consultation-Press Release; Staff Report; and Statement by the Executive Director for Sudan. IMF Staff Country Reports. 2017;17(364):1.

  2. Sudan maintains balancing act with Saudi, Iran [Internet]. U.K. 2019 [cited 6 August 2019]. Available from: https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-sudan-yemen/sudan-maintains-balancing-act-with-saudi-iran-idUKKBN0NL0K72015043

  3. Hirsch A. WikiLeaks cables: Sudanese president 'stashed $9bn in UK banks' [Internet]. the Guardian. 2019 [cited 6 August 2019]. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/dec/17/wikileaks-sudanese-president-cash-london

  4. Straus, Scott (2015). Making and Unmaking Nations: War, Leadership, and Genocide in Modern Africa. Cornell University Press. p. 233

  5. UN: 460,000 displaced in Darfur this year [Internet]. Aljazeera.com. 2019 [cited 6 August 2019]. Available from: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2013/11/un-displaced-violence-darfur-20131114132610566629.html

  6. Darfur dead ‘could number 300,000’. (Internet). The Guardian. 2019 (cited 6 August 2019). Available from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/apr/23/sudan.unitednations

Ray O'ShannassyComment