Elia El Khazen interviews Raga Makawi, an editor at African Arguments, associate at Review of African Political Economy (ROAPE) and a Sudanese activist.
The transitional government in Sudan has failed to deliver on its promises to undo decades of Omar al-Bashir’s rule. Its main component, the post-revolutionary civilian-military alliance that has led the counter-revolutionary momentum in Sudan and was specifically forged to oversee the transition towards a ‘democratic Sudan’ is on shaky grounds as several political factions, including ex-rebel groups, have split from the main civilian bloc and announced the formation of a separate alliance. Sudan has also witnessed large protests in its eastern provinces by key tribes opposed to the October peace deal while other protests have erupted in urban centers, including Khartoum, which have condemned the military coup attempt and called for civilian rule.
Since the failed coup attempt in late September, events have unfolded rather dramatically in Sudan. Is the military component in the civilian-military alliance getting restless or are we witnessing a nostalgic longing from sections of the military higher ranks?
I’m not sure to what degree the claims of ‘insecurity’ in the form of a regression towards old forms of authoritarian military governance mark a substantial shift away from calls for ‘democracy’ as practiced by the civilian component. The civilian-military alliance shares more principles with the political settlement formula of violence-induced power and wealth sharing devised by the old regime than adopting meaningfully any of the principles of the revolution and its declaration. To this end the alliance was never a departure from monopolising politics by whoever holds the strongest bargaining chips – as reflected in the alliance within the military component itself and in its relationship with the rebels (Sudan Revolutionary Front) as opposed to empty claims of ‘partnership’ by both parties, exploited to push agendas of austerity and control against the public.
For those following the developments in Sudan closely, the fragility of the alliance is a constant political theme, one that defines the elusiveness of democracy. Daily infighting and contestation over vital governance issues while overlooking the main demands of the revolution – restructuring the state away from elite patrimonialism – reinforces kleptocracy as the only model of rule whether fast-tracked through a military coup or not. The commodification of security by the new militia-military alliance in an otherwise stable center, introduces a new reality among the most progressive of the modern forces, restacking the odds against making a clear break with the past.
The failed coup attempt in Sudan seems to have accelerated the rupture between the civilian and military components of the ruling class. In one of their latest statements, the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), the organisation that spearheaded this civilian-military alliance from the civilian standpoint, called for the end of the partnership with the military. Does this constitute the beginning of the end for this alliance?
The alliance has been unravelling since it came into being. Backtracking on promises, pushing austerity and failing to deliver on the principles that make up the revolutions manifesto under the pretenses of political pragmatism has in effect given rebirth to new alliances, ones further away from the aims of the constitutional declaration of the revolution and more in keeping with the demands of political marketplace praxis and their geopolitics. The erosion of the alliances that gave birth to the Freedom and Change Collation (FCC) – early on signaled by the existence of the SPA – is a practical example of how these alliances were reworked and reproduced to cater to the preexisting political settlements forged by violence and clientelist politics. The overall transition is constantly prone to internal turbulence as alliances shift to keep up with the demands of extraversion politics, regional powers, globalisation and new capitalist relations, international aid and the latest incursions on the scene; diaspora influence.
Furthermore, the constitutional declaration itself as is the case with other aspects of revolutionary discourse that is shaped by moral populism suffered reactionary elements from within. Nowhere did the counter revolution flourish as it did in debates around peacemaking in the war-torn periphery. As with liberal peace, they assumed the ethnic based outlook of representation as opposed to rejecting elite creation through violence for the further division of spoils. The Juba Peace Agreement, at the core of the post revolution constitutional process, contributed to these fissures by introducing an alliance whose aims were not in line with the revolution’s mandate and whose interests intersected at times with the military component and the counter revolutionary forces within the civilian wing, further undermining the transition to ‘democracy’.
The socio-political and economic realities that have driven the ‘revolution’s’ agenda are much more intertwined and complex than the once-popular demand of ousting al-Bashir as several political factions including ex-rebel groups have announced the formation of an alliance separate from Sudan’s main civilian bloc. Are we witnessing a revival of the uprising that could exploit the cracks of a fractured ruling class that doesn’t seem able to govern or the deepening of the counter-revolutionary wave that will end in more repression?
The uprising, albeit taking alternative forms now, never ceased. Evolving and operating away from central state politics, the neighbourhood committees have organized themselves across neighbourhoods, and forming trans-local collaborations that span a once closed off peripheries of western and southern areas of Sudan. Within those retreating communitas, non-hierarchical forms of organisation are taking place in preparation for the coming wave of oppression, signs of what is to come all too apparent. Even though it is unclear how they are streamlining pressing socioeconomic concerns within the overall political framework availed by the transition.
While a new ideology of political rights is being formulated on the basis of the revolutionary encounter and its momentum, the divided ruling class continues to diverge and converge on its narrow interests without adhering to any of the basic requirements of political accountability needed for popular buy-in. Operating in the shadow of the ‘transition’, the civic alliance doesn’t seem too concerned with initiating mechanisms to facilitate the commencement of rule after the transition. With the elections looming, it seems unfathomable that they would run and win youth votes on antiquated sectarianism from the pre revolution era of reconciliation.
What of the social movements and main unions that were the driving force behind the uprising, where do they stand vis-a-vis the potential split of the ruling class? Can they be counted on to rekindle the revolutionary fervour?
The unions and professional associations, once a driving force of the revolution, their activities and massive organisational force have since been confined to a de-politicised professionalised technocratic presence used to back up the policies and activities of the civilian government. This demotion is a side effect of the overall recanting of the revolution’s principles for a more pragmatic political approach. While the SPA early on purged the counter revolutionary elements from within its ranks and reworked its mandate to rejoin social movements, there remains work to be done to streamline sector and labour politics in the overall agenda for social transformation. One such example is the electricity and pharmaceutical shortages that hit the country steadily over the past period because of the economic policies of the transitional government. The absence of a political narrative to help explain and prepare the public as to the implication of these austere measures on the most destitute is a missed opportunity to reconsolidate the waning fervor on the street. The politicisation of unions, especially those of the bourgeois class whose political allegiance is predetermined through clans and social based alliances caused further polarisation of the political landscape especially in the aftermath of the FFC crisis. At the level of workers, repression and capture are the preferred tactics. Workers, two years in, are still trying to get the new Unified Workers Union Law passed, an impossibility given the suspension of the legislator, a move backed by the civilian arm of the government. Union politics in Sudan are caught between bourgeois politics and the state; out- dated slogans, occupation with state politics over labour organization and the exclusion of a predominant informal sector whose proletariat workforce made the majority of the rank and file of the protestors is weakening the prospect of unions in delivering on the promises of the revolution.
Raga Makawi is an editor at African Arguments, associate at Review of African Political Economy (ROAPE) and a Sudanese activist. Find them on Twitter.
Elia El Khazen is a revolutionary communist currently organising in Lebanon. Find them on Twitter.
Photo credit: Aladdin Mustafa