/ 9 March 2024

Resistance committees keep Sudan’s revolution alive

Clashes Continue In Sudan
Smoke rises as the clashes between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) continue in Khartoum, Sudan on June 09, 2023. (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

We will call her Amal. That’s not her real name but using her real name could get her abducted or killed. 

She lives in the east of Khartoum and she is a member of her neighbourhood resistance committee. This committee’s 80 members include students, blue-collar and white-collar workers, artists, journalists, trade unionists and members of political parties. Many are women.

There are hundreds of such committees in Khartoum and thousands countrywide. In the absence of a functioning government, they often provide the only semblance of governance — informal, democratic bodies that respond to the needs of their communities, while pushing for national reform.

Their effect has been phenomenal.

It was these largely youth-led groups that spearheaded the peaceful revolution that put an end to the 30-year tyranny of the brutal dictator Omar al-Bashir.

As the uprising spread, thousands of resistance committees were formed across the country. Amal’s formed in December 2018. 

“We came together organically, organising night marches and stand-up protests in the neighbourhood and participating in the main protests in the city centre as well,” she says.

The committees worked together to coordinate daily demonstrations that drew hundreds of thousands of participants. They planned and publicised routes, raised money to treat those who were injured by security forces, supported the families of the many who were killed and created neighbourhood spaces for discussion and debate.

By April the next year, Bashir was out. But the resistance committees were not done. They continued to organise huge sit-ins, especially in Khartoum, where hundreds of thousands of people gathered daily to demand civilian rule instead of the military junta that removed Bashir.

Traffic was banished from the vast sit-in site outside the army headquarters and barricades erected to keep the security forces out. Artists, musicians, singers and dancers converged to promote the revolution. Banners were posted to show protesters, many of whom had been kept in the dark, the full extent of Bashir’s atrocities. Street children were given free food.

Then came the brutal backlash. 

In June 2019, the sit-in was dispersed by the Rapid Support Forces, a powerful militia group that was part of the junta. Hundreds of protestors were killed and dozens raped. This was a wake-up call for the committees. 

“After the Khartoum sit-in, members became more aware of political dynamics,” says Amal. 

Nonetheless, they continued to push hard for a government led by civilians, and their calls caught the attention of the international community, which forced the generals to form a joint military-civilian transitional government.

This did not last long. In 2021, the generals ousted the civilians in a coup d’état. And then, in 2023, they turned on each other. Since then, the Rapid Support Forces have been locked in a civil war with the Sudanese Armed Forces. The war has devastated much of the country, leaving more than 13 000 people dead and nearly eight million displaced. 

Dreams of democracy are further away than ever before. In response, those resistance committees still operating on the ground have focused on their social role, delivering life-saving support to their communities. 

Amal’s resistance committee runs a communal kitchen to feed people who are struggling to feed themselves. Political photos and artwork decorate the walls.

“Each resistance committee is different,” Amal says, “but most of them are participating in providing humanitarian assistance and organising mutual aid. In our case, we have helped set up an emergency response room.”

Local health workers use the emergency room to deliver medical care, while soup kitchens provide food to about 6  000 people every day. For many, it is the only support available. 

“In some areas, including Khartoum, we are the only provider of aid on the ground — there is nobody else doing it. And, if we are to keep supporting our community, we will need more aid. Our funding is extremely limited and it’s difficult for aid from overseas to reach us. As the war goes on, finding food is becoming more and more difficult.”

And the backlash from the generals has not relented. Hundreds of resistance committee members have been killed around the country since the outbreak of the civil war last year — a war which is, in part, a brutal rejection of the committees’ vision of a free and democratic Sudan. 

Shortly after our interview, several members of Amal’s committee were abducted by militia fighters.

Even in the midst of the suffering of war, the resistance committees continue to show how a more democratic and peaceful Sudan is possible. “We try to keep the revolution alive,” Amal says. 

Mark Weston is the author of The Saviour Fish: Life and Death on Africa’s Greatest Lake. He lived in Khartoum for the first two years of the revolution. This article first appeared in The Continent, the pan-African weekly newspaper produced in partnership with the Mail & Guardian. It’s designed to be read and shared on WhatsApp. Download your free copy here.