Sudan: "Revolution has changed people's mindset"

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Protesters near the army HQ in Khartoum. Pic: Wikimedia/M.Saleh

Marwa Kessinger is a Sudanese activist. She spoke to Socialist Review about the movement that has erupted over the past few months.

What are the demands of the movement?

The high priority now is to hand the transition regime to civilians. Also the movement is demanding an end to the war in Sudan, human rights and the development of the economy. During the austerity policies of this regime, the government concentrated on taking all the wealth of Sudan for themselves. They did not invest in Sudan in anyway — not in education, not in health. Sudan has become poorer and poorer and the people as well. The majority of government funding is spent on their military or their private militias rather than on education or health.

How is the movement organised?

It is organised through professional bodies, such as the Sudanese Professionals Association, representing Sudanese doctors, teachers, along with students and young people from different backgrounds. They get information out through social media, especially Facebook and WhatsApp.

Who makes the decisions about where you’re going to protest next? Is there any opportunity for people to feed in from below where they want the movement to go?

The Sudanese Professionals Association names a date, and then the people implement the actions in the way that is sensible for their area and the people. They agree on the day but then people do different activities.

Are people organising to make sure it’s safe?

When people go to the street they know they might be killed and they might be arrested. But they still go out because they have said: “either way we are dying during this government. Even if we stay at home there is no medical help, no education, there is nothing there. So whether we stay at home or go out, we’re going to die if this regime continues in power.”

You’ve mentioned professionals, what is the role of workers in all this?

People from transport and different sectors have gone on strike. They joined the revolution after about four or five months of the protests.

Will people be able to push forward beyond the military rule and achieve the radical change that they want?

The people are really demanding that kind of change and they are pushing to make it happen. They say: “we’ve spent all these four or five months, and some people have been shot today, then people got arrested and we’re not just going to let this go because we’ve be ruled by the military for 30 years, we’ve suffered and we want that change to happen. So we’re not going back until this civilian regime comes to power. After that we can go back. But if the military is still there then we’re not going back.”

There have been negotiations between the Sudanese Professionals Association and the military council in an effort to secure a deal over the composition of a transitional regime. What are protesters in the streets saying?

They reject a deal totally because if the military is involved then nothing has changed and these four months are for nothing. There has to be change because we would like to move forward. We would like to see changes actually happening, not the same people in power. Omar al-Bashir has stepped down but still everyone else — whether they are ministers, military — are all the same. When the civilian regime comes to power, we believe everything will change because they’re going to get rid of these people that are related to the previous regime.

What do the protesters think about revolution — in terms of uprooting class relations? Is there a mood for that? Is there a mood for fundamentally changing society?

This revolution is totally different from the previous uprising in 1985 or protests in 2015 and 2013. Protesters are aware now that there are wars going on in the Nubian mountains and in South Sudan. Before they didn’t know how those people were suffering. But when they saw people shot dead in Khartoum by the government during the last four or five months they understood what the government has been doing in Nubia and South Sudan. It has changed people’s mindset and then they come together more, they understand each other more, they forget about their tribes and their political parties and everything. People have cried, they said: “we didn’t know the government was doing all this genocide because we haven’t heard about it.” There is no media coverage there.

Government militias have used repression and stoked division among peoples in Darfur, Nubians, and South Sudan. From your experience as a Nubian activist, are we seeing a big shift of people rejecting the racist ideas that have come from the top for decades?

This government, when they came to power 30 years ago, they concentrated on how to divide Sudanese society through tribalism. They pushed the idea that some tribes are lower class, which is to say those people who look more African Sudan and from the mountain. When you go to work or if you want to get an insurance number they ask about your tribe. If you’re from a lower tribe you will not have the chance to be employed in a good place. Most of the time they reject you because you are from that tribe. Since this government has come to power, people from these places have suffered a lot.

Are we seeing people coming together now?

Yes. The people are coming together now. On 30 April, a thousand people came from Darfur to the sit-in in front of the military headquarters in Khartoum. The way people in Khartoum really welcomed them is different to what it was like before.

What other ideas are being challenged by people’s participation in the revolution?

Women’s role in the revolution is leading to demands for change to the Sudanese mentality because we are a conservative society. So women aren’t normally allowed to go out to speak or to join even a demonstration. But now everyone understands that there a big group of women there because they have been leaders during this revolution as well.

Other countries in the region such as the Gulf states have begun to intervene actively in Sudan. What do people think about that?

People in Sudan don’t appreciate it when Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and Egypt interfere. They say this is a private issue for Sudanese people. We started alone, without media coverage from the Arab world. So we’d like to finish it alone. We don’t like people to interfere with our internal issues because this might affect the outcome that we want to achieve.