After the news broke that security forces led by the Sudanese Transitional Military Council (TMC) massacred, beat and raped protesters in the early hours of the morning in Khartoum on June 3, calls for “solidarity with Sudan” spread across social media. The TMC—ostensibly the body negotiating Sudan’s transition to democracy but widely understood to be a military regime set on keeping power—did its best to curb the circulation of news about the massacre by enforcing an internet blackout throughout Sudan. This meant that the majority of the calls for solidarity, and the responses, came from outside Sudan.
Logging on to the internet for the first time from Khartoum, more than a week after the atrocities of June 3, was a surreal and depressing encounter with the ways in which media attention can distort and sidetrack attempts at solidarity, even as it helps to disseminate information about injustices.
Much of the effort to spread the message about Sudan’s revolution and garner support for Sudan’s protestors has been taken up by the Sudanese diaspora, who have worked hard to ensure that family and friends fighting and dying in Sudan are not ignored by the rest of the world. Yet once that message circulated among those who were not already familiar with the Sudanese uprising, the calls for solidarity quickly lost focus. From relatively benign but ultimately unhelpful celebrity tweets to far more worrying calls for US military intervention, the rising storm of “solidarity” risked overshadowing the issues at stake in Sudan and provided little of use for those interested in pushing solidarity further than awareness raising.
A number of Sudanese commenters—both from within Sudan and in the diaspora—raised concerns about the lack of context and historical background displayed in some calls for solidarity, not only because they spread misinformation, but also because these calls often run counter to revolutionary solidarity within the Sudanese rebel movement itself. Claiming that the violence and abuse of the TMC is ignored because it is violence against Muslims, for example, erases the ways in which non-Muslim communities in Sudan have been targets of terror and discrimination throughout Sudan’s history, including during the recent uprisings.
These misjudgments point to some of the pitfalls of attempting solidarity across difference and across borders (as well as, less charitably, to the ways in which careers that capitalize on hurt and anger often undermine genuine struggles for justice). Some of these problems can be offset by listening closely to activists who work to inform the global public despite systematic campaigns by many states to repress information about rebellions. In the case of Sudan, twitter accounts such as @YousraElbagir, @BSonblast, and @ReemWrites all provide reliable and up to date information in English. Google Translate works more or less adequately for the many Sudanese accounts tweeting updates and analysis in Arabic, for example @wasilalitaha and @MuzNote. These sources and many others provide a wealth of information for anybody wanting to better understand exactly who and what they are standing in solidarity with.
Just as important as doing the research is using the lessons learned from it to inform action, wherever and however it is that we are able to act. For those living in countries facing similar troubles, paying close attention to both the victories and losses in Sudan can help guide future strategies for revolt. The timeline of the Egyptian revolution has provided useful context for the Sudanese protests and sit-ins, as well as the continued counter-revolution and is often referenced by Sudanese protestors. Libya provides valuable lessons about the dangers of both multiple competing centers of power in a post-revolutionary environment and international military involvement. Ethiopia, on the other hand, provides an example of the equally present dangers of foreign interference through international institutions such as the World Bank.
There is also a lot to be learned by supporters of the revolution who live in countries with contexts that feel distant from those in Sudan. One lesson that jumps out is that while individual struggles for justice are deeply embedded in their local contexts, the systems of oppression that allow for injustice to occur operate globally.
The massacre in Khartoum on June 3 may not have occurred without support from other international actors. For example, an EU program, known as the “Khartoum Process,” provided funds to organizations in Sudan to curb migration. Although the EU did not give funds to the Sudanese government directly, they also did not provide effective mechanisms of control. The Rapid Support Forces (RSF, commonly referred to as the Janjaweed) led by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (also known as Hemedti), began patrolling Sudan’s border with Libya, stating publicly they were carrying out the EU’s agenda. (In addition, European countries like the UK and Italy have bilateral deals with Sudan on migration; the details of which are not made public.) These militias are known to be responsible for atrocities including murder, rape and mass displacement in Darfur. Today, they provide the strength the regime needs to suppress, abuse, and kill protestors around Sudan.
Others have left even clearer evidence of their support of the Sudanese regime and its security forces. Money from Saudi Arabia and the UAE in particular has kept the Sudanese regime afloat, giving the government a $3 billion aid package and producing pro-regime propaganda. This was likely in exchange for Sudan’s continued support of their war efforts in Yemen in the form of thousands of Sudanese security forces, primarily RSF. The Saudi war in Yemen has of course also been supported through arms supplies from the United States and the United Kingdom. (A court recently ruled that UK arms sales to Saudi are unlawful in a case brought by activists in the Campaign Against Arms Trade.) Russia is also known to have provided al-Bashir’s regime with strategic advice and are alleged to have trained Sudanese security forces through private contractors.
These global connections show that working in solidarity with protesters in Sudan can take place far away from Sudan itself—in any of the places that support the systems protesters are struggling against. For those of us with stakes in countries or institutions that exert their power globally, solidarity therefore has to mean first striving to better understand how the decision making of governments and institutions that are accountable to us do their part in supporting and perpetrating terror around the world. This isn’t a new insight. Internationalist revolutionaries have long understood that the hard work of global revolution begins at home.
Working to change the systems and institutions over which we do have some control, and using the information that is broadcast by those who are hurt by those systems, is probably the best we can do to stop horrors from occurring, and re-occurring. This can take the form of short term actions when we hear about crises that occur anywhere in the world. A concrete way of putting awareness into action is finding out what the roles of governments, companies and organizations close to home have been, in order to either support or obstruct them. Petitions, donations and awareness campaigns are all tools that can be used to this effect.
Then there is the work that takes sustained attention. This is harder than crisis driven solidarity that is based on shallow depictions of “tragedies,” which absolve the watching world of any complicity. It requires tracing the lines of neocolonial interference and uncovering the new patterns of global subjection, then using this information to inform our local actions. This work involves being politically active within our own communities while remembering to prioritize struggles elsewhere alongside our own. It means understanding and keeping at the forefront of our consciences the consequences in Sudan of our efforts to better the political systems we have direct access to.
Franz Fanon spoke directly to this kind of work when addressing the role of Europeans (and by extension European settlers across the world) in the fight of colonized people against empire. He recognized that while European governments and leaders were lost causes, there was still a chance that solidarity from their people could help to address the wrongs of colonialism. To do this, those claiming to stand in solidarity must “first decide to wake up and shake themselves, use their brains, and stop playing the stupid game of the Sleeping Beauty.”
In Sudan, the TMC continues to orchestrate its counter-revolution—most recently with the announcement of a deal that will keep its key players in power for at least three years. It is important that the rest of the world keep watching as closely as it did after the acute crisis of June 3. This should include watching who supports these counter-revolutionary efforts, and how. In solidarity, we have to destabilize the global networks that support oppression and counter-revolution. Ultimately, we will have to use what we learn from Sudan to topple our own regimes.