SUDAN’S OPPOSITION CALL FOR CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE CAMPAIGN AFTER CLAMPDOWN
By Donnelly McCleland
A civil disobedience campaign in Sudan has brought the country’s capital to a standstill, closing down restaurants, banks and other businesses and turning streets desolate on Sunday [9 June], the latest escalation by protesters demanding an end to military rule. The mass showing of government defiance follows a military crackdown, that protestors say left more than 100 killed by security forces in Khartoum over the past week. Government forces also cut off mobile data, which most Sudanese use to access the internet, posing major difficulties in getting basic information out of Sudan. In addition to those killed, at least 784 people have been wounded in Khartoum since Monday [3 June], the World Health Organisation reported on Saturday. (National Public Radio)
Paramilitary crackdown on protestors
On 3 June, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – a heavily armed paramilitary group linked to atrocities in Darfur – attacked a protest camp in Khartoum. The sit-in camp has been the focal point of Sudan’s protest movement, which saw long-time autocrat Omar al-Bashir overthrown in April. The protestors remained in place after his removal, calling for the generals who replaced him to hand over power to a civilian-led administration. An expert on Sudan said the military council intended to use snap elections as a means of legitimising their interests and possibly linking up with role-players from the former regime. Analysts believe that it is no coincidence that the violent crackdown on protestors followed a series of meetings between the leaders of Sudan’s Transitional Military Council (TMC) and regional autocratic Arab governments that are actively attempting to shape the country’s future.
The man suspected of being behind the recent violent clampdown is Lieutenant General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo – known as Hemedti – the deputy chairman of the Transitional Military Council and the commander of the RSF. According to The Telegraph: “Hemedti began his fighting career when war broke out in Darfur in 2003 and he joined what would become the Janjaweed militia, an irregular pro-government force accused of committing genocide against the region’s non-Arab population. The unit he led at the time has been accused of mass rapes and killings.” Former strongman Omar al-Bashir promoted Hemedti to the senior rank of lieutenant general and lavished generous funding on the RSF to balance the power of the army and security service. However, when protests against Bashir broke out in December, Hemedti – to the surprise of many – turned on him, publicly saying he would not fire on demonstrators and demanding that the government address their grievances. After taking part in the coup to oust Bashir, he then (weeks later) launched the attacks on protestors that he had refused to carry out for his former boss. Those who know the man say this befits his character. It has been said that Hemedti’s brutality “combines ruthless mercenary opportunism, a charismatic persona, and an uncanny ability to sense where political and military winds are blowing”.
Hemedti currently controls the capital with approximately 15,000 heavily armed RSF troops. If he seeks ultimate control of the country, however, he would have to potentially come up against the regular Sudanese Armed Forces (with more guns and men) who also patrol the capital, as well as the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), which also fields an army of thousands of heavily armed paramilitary troops. Eric Reese, who has followed Hemeti’s career since the 2000s, is convinced that “Hemedti is all in… he can’t go back to Darfur, and there is no limit on what he would do to acquire power in Khartoum.”
Sudanese protestors regroup
The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), the main group behind the current resilient uprising, has refused to surrender, vowing to fight the brutality with a campaign of civil disobedience. People from all walks of life have been encouraged to stay away from work to bring the country to a standstill and force the generals to relinquish their control. Activists claim that professionals including bankers, doctors, air traffic control staff, pilots, electrical engineers and economists have been targeted by intelligence services in what they say is an obvious attempt to break the strike. The SPA said airport workers and pilots were taking part in the civil disobedience and posted photos of a deserted Khartoum International Airport. The total number of people detained by security services in recent days is unclear but some estimate in the hundreds.
African Union suspends Sudan, Ethiopia offers to mediate
On Thursday 6 June, a few days after the violent clampdown in the capital, the African Union (based in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa) announced the suspension of Sudan “until the effective establishment of a civilian-led Transitional Authority, as the only way to allow the Sudan to exit from the current crisis”. On Friday 7 June, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed flew to Khartoum from Addis Ababa to try to mediate the country’s crisis. He held separate talks with the ruling military council and leaders of the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces, an alliance of protesters and opposition parties. He urged Sudan’s military rulers and civilian opposition to exercise “bravery” in trying to agree on a transition to democracy. Khaled Omar, a leader of the opposition alliance, said Mr Abiy proposed setting up a transitional council comprised of eight civilians and seven military officers with a rotating presidency. According to Omar, “the opposition demanded that the military rulers take responsibility for the bloodshed, allow an international investigation into the violence and free political prisoners.” No prisoners were released, according to the opposition, while two leaders were apparently arrested after meeting with Mr Abiy. “This amounts to a practical response from the military council that effectively rejects the Ethiopian prime minister’s mediation effort,” Omar told Reuters, adding that the Sudanese opposition would not agree to any deal before all of its conditions are met. Although no breakthrough was announced at the end of Mr Abiy’s one-day visit, one of his advisors said the talks went well and that Mr Abiy would be returning to Sudan soon.
It is heartening to see the African Union and Ethiopia’s prime minister not condoning the actions of the Transitional Military Council but taking concrete steps in addressing the issue and working towards a peaceful resolution. It is also a tangible reminder to the Sudanese protestors that their cries have not gone unnoticed by the world, and particularly by their African neighbours.
FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
Christianity has a long history in the region that is now Sudan and South Sudan, dating back to the 2nd Century. However, from the 7th Century, the Christian Nubian kingdoms were threatened by the Islamic expansion, though the southernmost of these kingdoms (Alodia) continued its Christian legacy until 1504. During the 19th Century, British missionaries ‘re-introduced’ the Christian faith into South Sudan. After the 2011 split into Sudan and South Sudan, it was estimated that 97% of Sudan adhered to Islam. Joshua Project currently maintains that 89.9% of Sudan’s population is Muslim, while 5% is professing Christian.
Sudanese Christians have suffered severe persecution and hardship under various military regimes for decades. Despite the onslaught, the Sudanese Church has remained resilient. During the recent uprisings, protestors encouraged Christians to join them in peaceful resistance. Many Sudanese believers have stood openly with the protestors, seeking change for their nation. They continue to hope that a decisive breakthrough can come, but there is a deep realisation that this will not be an easy or quick journey. Their support for the opposition could have both a positive and negative outcome for the Church – solidarity with the protestors has built relationships (across religious divides) as they focused on a common goal, but it has also made them more visible, which could result in increased targeting at some point.
Sudan is in need of much prayer in the coming weeks as it teeters on the edge of greater freedom or widespread conflict. It is important for the Sudanese people to know that they are not alone, and that the world sees and is aware of their struggle. It is also important for Sudanese believers to know that the larger Body of Christ stands with them at this crucial time. Despite the efforts by the military to disrupt internet communication, there are ways of getting the message through that Christians around the world are praying with and for them.
- For a breakthrough in negotiations between the military and opposition leaders
- For constructive input and assistance from other African leaders to defuse the crisis
- For Sudanese believers to remain steadfast in their faith and to be active ambassadors of peace