All posts by Saleh Mamon

Marking the Centenary of the Salanga Massacre

British Imperial India, 1909
British imperial India in the early 20th century.

On 13th April 2019, the centenary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre was widely commemorated in India and in the South Asian diaspora across the world. Over the years, it has been memorialised through exhibitions, plays, songs, films and the memorial in the park in Amritsar where the bloody event took place.

Yet three years after this horror, on 27th January 1923, nearly 2,000 kilometres to the South East in unpartitioned Bengal, the small town of Salanga witnessed a terrible atrocity perpetrated by the British Imperial Police Force. There are no memorials to mark this tragedy which has long been forgotten.

Both the Jallianwala Bagh and Salanga massacre took place in the years following the end of World War One which was an earth-shattering convulsion across the world. Nearly 1.3 million Indians served in the British Indian Army across the world in all the battle fronts from the Western Front to the Middle East, East Africa to Burma. 

On 13th April 2019, the centenary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre was widely commemorated in India and in the South Asian diaspora across the world. Over the years, it has been memorialised through exhibitions, plays, songs, films and the memorial in the park in Amritsar where the bloody event took place.

During the war, Indian politicians like Gandhi supported the war effort. Field-Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck, Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army, acknowledged that the British could not have made through the Great War without the Imperial Indian Army. In total, more 74,000 Indian soldiers died and nearly 67,000 were wounded.

At the end of the war, there were high expectations that the British government would grant India self-governing status similar to that granted to Canada, Australia and New Zealand in 1907.  The struggle for independence resumed. Gandhi returned to India from South Africa and began to fight for justice by leading satyagraha (passive non-violent resistance) in places such as Bihar and Gujarat to support the peasants who were overburdened by taxation and exploitation.

The dissolution of the Turkish Ottoman Empire in 1918 and the deposing of the Khalif had a great impact on Muslims across the world. In India radical Muslim leaders organised the Khilafat movement to demand the restoration of the Khalif by the British government which had been involved in the defeat of Turkey and the partition of its Empire under UN mandate with France.

When Gandhi supported the Khilafat movement, these two non-cooperation movements brought to together millions of Hindus and Muslims to fight against British colonial rule.  The main aims of this movement were to: boycott foreign goods, denounce titles awarded by the British, boycott elections to the legislative assemblies dictated and dominated by the colonisers, refuse to pay taxes, promote local production of clothing, salt and other items, promote religious harmony amongst locals, form local panchayets (Village Councils), and protest against price rises in staple foods.

The Montagu–Chelmsford Reforms enacted by the colonial government set out a gradual path to self-government. The franchise was extended, and increased authority was given to central and provincial legislative councils, but the viceroy had all executive powers delegated by London.  The reforms did not satisfy any party in the Indian independence movement.

To suppress the rising tide of resistance and nationalism, in March 1919 the British viceroy rushed through a draconian law – the Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act of 1919, popularly known as the Rowlatt Act. The act labelled any political resistance against colonial rule as ‘terrorist’ and effectively authorized the colonial government to imprison any person suspected of terrorism for up to two years.

It gave the police powers to arrest without warrant and detain indefinitely without a fair trial. Those accused of proscribed acts faced a three-judge special court without a jury which allowed secret evidence whereby the accused were denied the right to know the evidence used in the trial. The act established stricter control of the press. Those convicted were required to deposit securities upon release, and were prohibited from taking part in any political, educational, or religious activities.

This repression intensified the struggle against the colonial government.   It was the Rowlatt Act which brought Gandhi to the mainstream of the Indian struggle for independence and ushered in the Gandhian era of Indian politics. Demonstrations, political marches, mobilization of the populace, educating and spreading the ideals of the movements and such other activities became widespread. The Jallianwala Bagh massacre was part of bitter harvest of the shoot-to-kill policies to attack demonstrators.

Almost a century ago, in 1922, Salanga was one of the biggest centres of trade and commerce in East Bengal. Its river port and adjacent market place were the regional hub of cattle and agricultural produce trade. On every Monday and Friday, countless farmers, traders and artisans gathered at Salanga to market their produce.

However, burdened with high taxes by the local zamindars (landlords) and due to the overwhelming dominance of British goods in the local market, the local growers made little profit. According to the village elders of Salanga, the Hindu zamindars had imposed a special tax on the cattle trade, which is still one of the most significant sources of income for Salanga farmers. Evasion of this tax was punished with eviction from the village and merciless beating.

On the other hand, the colonial administration used to force locals to purchase clothes and salt manufactured by the British companies at a higher price, although the district of Sirajganj was famous for weaving industry. In a Muslim-majority area, two liquor shops were set up, which led to further discontent among the conservative local populace.

On Friday 27th January 1923, the market place had thousands of people. A crowd had gathered in front of the Congress office to listen to speakers.  A young radical leader of the Khilafat Movement, Abdur Rashid, addressed the gathering about the about importance of the non-cooperation and Khilafat movement. He exhorted the necessity of boycotting British-made goods (especially cloths and salt) and concentrating on the production of items locally to strengthen India’s economy to counter the plunder by the colonisers.

A group of 40 armed police led by the Superintendent of Police, the District Magistrate and Senior District Officer arrived and arrested him. He was dragged to a corner of the bazaar and beaten with rifle butts and stabbed with bayonets. He recorded this this experience in his rare account titled Shadhinota Shangramer Rakta Shiri Salanga (Salanga: The Blood-Stained Step to the Struggle for Independence) which was discovered in the late 20th century.

As the police took him into custody and carried him while he was almost unconscious and profusely bleeding, rumours spread that he might have been killed. The crowd grew agitated. He came from a well known pir (Muslim saint) family and there were many followers (murids) who venerated his family in the crowd.

By that time, thousands of people had surrounded the police from three sides to rescue Abdul Rashid.  In this melee, someone hit the police superintendent with a bamboo stick. His head started to bleed.

The police lined up a defensive position in front of the liquor shops with their rifles aimed at the crowd.  On receiving orders, they opened fired repeatedly and indiscriminately into the crowd. Some were killed and others injured by the bullets. Terrified, the crowd stampeded, leading to more deaths.

 According to Abdur Rashid, the death figure was close to 4,000. Many of the dead bodies were thrown into the river. Many others were buried in mass graves in nearby neighbourhoods.  Several hundred people were left to die in different areas; many died after going to their homes but the family members of the victims never came forward fearing harassment by the British police, so the actual figure of causalities cannot be definite.

Today investigators have not been able to find any families in Salanga whose forefathers were killed or injured in the carnage. Due to floods and river erosion, many of the families have shifted to other areas. Many of the victims who had come to trade in the market were from different places. Probably their dead bodies were buried in mass graves as nobody could come to claim their bodies. The victims remain unnamed. 

Abdur Rashid was jailed for six months and on his release, he travelled across India to study in Islamic institutions which earned him the title of maulana (revered Muslim scholar).  Then he proceeded to Lahore to study Logic and Philosophy at Ehsanul Islam College. After winning a famous debate there, he was given the title of tarkabagish (master of reasoning).

Maulana Abdur Rashid Tarkabagish dedicated his life to politics for more than 60 years, always fighting for freedom and justice. Beginning with the anti-colonial movement to independence which led to partition, he won many elections to serve as member of the Bengal Legislative Assembly. He supported the Bengali language movement under Pakistani rule and was an inspirational leader of Bangladesh’s liberation war in 1971. He opposed the military rule that followed the assassination of the first president of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in August 1975.

Although the Salanga massacre was as horrific as Jallianwala Bagh, it did not receive as much publicity as the Punjab incident. Among the reasons were the remoteness of Salanga, its low status as a market town compared to cities like Amritsar and the press censorship exercised by the colonial authorities. The association of the incident with the Khilafat movement which waned by 1925 may have been factor. The convulsion of the partition of Bengal overshadowed the independence struggles that took place in East Bengal.

In the 1960s the Maulana Abdur Rashid Tarkabagish Memorial Library was established to keep alive the memory of the sacrifice of local people in Salanga. But unfortunately it has remained in a poor state for lack of investment by the local government. Unfortunately it seems that the national government has made no effort to memorialise the tragedy.

Far from the myth of the British Empire being a civilising mission, it left behind a legacy of violence through its existence. Caroline Elkins has revealed how an evolutionary and racialised doctrine espoused the use of unrelenting systemic violence to secure and preserve British imperial interests. To the boast coined in the 19th Century that “the sun never set on the British Empire” the Chartist Ernest Jones aptly replied “and the blood never dried.” Historians of the left such as Richard Gott and John Newsinger have also documented the extent of this violence.

Salanga and its victims need to remembered. This is not only a local task but a national and international one. History is always silenced unless it is reproduced through archives, monuments, exhibitions, museums, stories, books and films. As we mark this centenary, the Bangladeshi government, the universities, the schools, the press and periodicals should resolve to memorialise the Salanga massacre.


Ahmed Humayun Kabir Topu,  ‘The Salanga Massacre of 1922: History needs to be preserved’The Daily Star (Dhaka, Bangladesh),  29th January 2021.

Caroline Elkins, Legacy of Violence- A History of the British Empire, Bodley Head, UK, 2022.

John Newsinger, The Blood Never Dried: A People’s History of the British Empire, ‎ Bookmarks Publications, 2006

Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past- Power and the Production of History, Beacon Press, Boston, 1995

Pradip Kumar Dutta  ‘An almost forgotten part of our glorious past’Daily Asian Age (Delhi) 22nd July 2020,

Richard Gott ‘The blood never dries‘ Red Pepper,19th August 2021.

Shahnawaz Khan Chandan ‘The Salanga Massacre of 1922: Bangladesh’s forgotten bloodbath‘ The Daily Star (Dhaka, Bangladesh), 25th January 2019.

Tim Cornwell, ‘‘Shameful scar’: Centenary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre marked in New Delhi exhibition‘, The Arts Newsletter, 12 April 2019.

Wikipedia, ‘Indian Army during World War I’. Wikipedia, ‘Salanga massacre

Image: British imperial India in the early 20th century. Source: Licence: Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).

First published in Labour Hub on 27 January 1923

Remembering the Marikana massacre – demanding justice and accountability

Image: Marikana” by is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

On 16th August 2012, heavily armed South African police officers cordoned hundreds of striking miners at a koppie (small hill) not far from the platinum mine they worked in and the informal settlement of Nkageng where many lived. The miners were meeting, as they did usually during the strike, to discuss progress and plans for action. The police ordered them to disperse but the mineworkers refused to leave and demanded a meeting with their employers.

Realising that they were trapped, the mine workers tried to move off the koppie and make way to Nkageng. The police opened fire without warning killing 17 and pursued fleeing miners, killing a further 17 and leaving 78 injured. Furthermore, 270 mineworkers were unlawfully arrested and charged under common purpose law, accusing them of causing the deaths of their colleagues.  

On 10th August, nearly 3,000 workers had walked off from their job at the Marikana platinum mine operated by Lonmin (short for London Mining) in the Rustenburg municipality of North West province after managers refused to meet them. The mineworkers were not only protesting against low wages but also against poor working and living conditions – the informal settlements where many of them lived in shacks without basic necessities of water, sanitation and electricity.

Tensions were running high in the area following the strike. There was a series of violent clashes resulting in fatalities involving Lonmin security guards, the police, members of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) on one side, and the striking miners who had joined the emerging Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU).

There is ample evidence that the violent attack by the police on the Marikana miners was well planned. There was collusion between the police commanders, the Lonmin management and South African government ministers. The day before the assault, the police ordered 4,000 rounds of live ammunition for R5 assault rifles and four mortuary vans. The police also called in the Tactical Response Team, a specialised unit for dealing with extremely volatile incidents.

Cyril Ramaphosa, now president, was a shareholder and a non-executive director in Lonmin at that time. As a senior ANC leader and a member of its National Executive Committee, he had immense political influence. Instead of calling for fair and peaceful negotiations securing a better deal for the miners, he labelled the strikers as criminals and urged strong police action. The ANC government wanted to assure the mining conglomerates that their profits were safe and they would bring any strikes for better wages under control.

Following the massacre, the ANC government ran a slick public relations campaign to deflect any criticism by blaming the striking miners for the violence. The official narrative was that the armed men advanced on the police lines rapidly, posing a serious threat and leaving the police no choice but to shoot in self-defence. The deaths were described as an unintended  ‘tragedy’ as opposed to a ‘massacre’.

President Zuma commissioned an inquiry led by retired judge Ian Farlam with the task to “investigate matters of public, national and international concern arising out of the tragic incidents at the Lonmin Mine in Marikana.” The Farlam Commission sat for 300 days beginning on 1st October at the Rustenberg Civic Centre, listening to testimony from widows, victims, police, company officials and other parties. The official report sanitised state violence and offered only vague accounts of the killings of the mineworkers – attacks on the police received more detailed attention – and made generalised recommendations for investigation and prosecution by other state bodies.

This was the most lethal use of force by South African police officers against protestors since the Sharpeville massacre in 1960 and Soweto students in 1976. In these cases, the protestors were challenging the apartheid regime against the pass laws in the first instance and the imposition of Afrikaans as the main language of instruction in the second.

The Marikana massacre attested that the non-racial democratic transformation brought about under the leadership of Nelson Mandela had never broken the link between the state and the corporations that benefited from the exploitation of cheap black labour. The shock and betrayal felt by the mineworkers after witnessing the murder of their comrades destroyed the somewhat paternalistic relationship that had come to exist between the bulk of the working class, the co-opted trade unions and the state in post-apartheid South Africa.

The repressive state structures of the police, the intelligence services and the army had remained in place to exercise state violence against the black working class. The South African extractive economy was deeply integrated into the world market and the new rising black elite eased into the neo-colonial relationship with the established economic power. The ownership of land, factories, mines remained unchanged leaving the majority of the black communities in poverty. The legacy of social inequality and violence continued as before.

After ten years, not a single officer has been charged for the killings nor has the South African Police Service been held to account. The 34 families of those who died received some compensation for loss of income but their claims of constitutional violations and general damages specific to each family’s circumstance have stalled.

The state has not paid any compensation to the 78 mineworkers who were injured and their case will be heard in the Pretoria High Court from late July to August. All the mineworkers who were arrested unlawfully have received compensation. The injured and arrested mineworkers have also launched a court application to hold President Cyril Ramaphosa and Sibanye-Stillwater, which bought Lonmin’s Marikana operations in 2019, liable.

The conditions of the families who live in the shacks have changed little over the ten years. They still do not have their basic necessities of water and electricity. The Marikana mines are highly profitable, yet the owners have not taken action to improve the living conditions of these communities.

On 16th August 2022, on the tenth anniversary of the Marikana massacre, thousands of miners will gather at the koppie to remember their 34 colleagues who were brutally killed as they have done every year, Widows, families, fellow workers, union leaders, politicians and church leaders will demand those responsible  be prosecuted and jailed.

The City of London is deeply embedded in the extractive mining industry in South Africa over decades in financing the operations of the Anglo-American corporations which are highly profitable and provide rich dividends to the investors. British imperialism which supported the Apartheid regime still wields enormous power over the economy and politics of South Africa. 

International solidarity is all the more critical to ensure that the Marikana massacre is not erased from history and that there is justice and accountability. In the UK, the Marikana Solidarity Collective has organised two key events to remember the Marikana massacre

Firstly, there will be three film screenings on Sunday 24th July at the British Film Institute (BFI) with discussions led by panels to reflect on the tragic 2012 massacre of mineworkers in Marikana, South Africa and their ramifications.

12 noon ‘Winnie’,  DirectorPascale Lamche.An account of the life and struggle of Winnie Mandela, the extraordinary anti-apartheid activist at the key moment of transition.

2pm ‘Miners Shot Down’,  DirectorRehad Desai.An acclaimed and compelling documentary about the Marikana massacre.

3.45 pm Panel Q&A Discussion with Asanda Benya, University of Cape Town researcher, on the women miners’ perspective in Marikana; Andy Higginbottom on the London connection.

4.30 pm ‘Blue Notes and Exiled Voices’ DirectorImruh Bakari.An affectionate portrait of exiled South African musicians in London: Louis Moholo, Pinise Saul and Hugh Masekela.

The events will be co-chaired from Marikana Solidarity by Amanda Latimer (Kingston University) and Cecil Gutzmore (retired activist and academic).

Tickets £10 for all or part of the day

A handful of complimentary tickets are available, speak to a Collective member or email Marikana Solidarity Collective, email:

Refreshment: You can purchase drinks / sandwiches and eat in the venue. With BFI’s agreement you are welcome to bring your own refreshments to consume.

Secondly, on Tuesday 16th August at 4.30 p.m. there will be a vigil to mark the 10th anniversary of the Marikana massacre outside the South Africa House on the east side of Trafalgar Square. Everyone is welcome to join in solidarity.

Sources and further readings

Andy Higginbottom (March 2018) ‘The Marikana Massacre in South Africa: the Results of Toxic Collusion’

Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR)  (June 27 2022) Report ‘Reparations for victims of the Marikana massacre’

Greg Marinovich (16 August 2021) ‘From the Archive | The women of Marikana’

Greg Nicolson Marikana – a massacre still without any criminal consequences 19 May 2022

Mail and Guardian (30 July 2014) ‘Toxic’ Lonmin-police collusion blamed for Marikana massacre’

Niren Tolsi and Paul Botes (13 August 2021) South Africa: ‘I Don’t Feel Like a Citizen of This Country’

Sarah Bruchhausen (16 August 2021) Mountains and massacres

SERI (2015) Commissioning ‘The Present: Marikana And Its Aftermath’
Tendai Marima (20 August 2015) ‘After Marikana, little has changed for miners’

Yvonne Erasmus (22 Aug 2021)  ‘Marikana and the many faces of justice’

First published in Labour Hub on July 13 2022

Why the Popular Resistance Must Break the Political Stalemate in Sudan

Image: March in Medani City, 31st May 2022. Source: Facebook Medani Resitance Committee

The Sudanese people marked the third anniversary of the horrific massacre during a peaceful sit-in on Friday 3rd June 2019. Hundreds of thousands came out to commemorate the lives lost. Parents of those young men who were slain joined protests with the intent of showing that their sons had not lost their lives in vain.

That tragic day was followed by a march of millions and a general strike on 30th June 2019. The general strike closed down all the economic sectors and put the army power elite on the defensive. It caved in to sign a transitional agreement with the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), an umbrella organisation of some 22 civil society groups on 17th July witnessed by the African Union, the UN, the US, the EU and League of Arab States. It was legally binding on all the parties.

A Sovereignty Council to rule Sudan was set up where power was equally shared between the Military Council (TMC) and the FFC for a period of 39 months with the military officer chairing for the first 21 months followed by a civilian for the remaining period. This was to be followed by national elections.

A constitutional charter was agreed, signed and sealed on 17th August 2019. This legally binding charter set out all aspects of the transitional to democracy asserting the primacy of law, respect for dignity, equality before the law, the powers of various bodies, the setting up of a legislative assembly, the setting up of commissions (judicial, electoral, etc) and provision for a bill of human rights amongst others. If adhered to, this would have led Sudan towards a liberal democracy peacefully.

A transitional government led by Abdullah Hamdok was installed in September 2019 with a civilian cabinet. The government immediately faced a persistent economic crisis. It turned to the US to lift sanctions. Trump did that in return for Sudan establishing relations with Israel.

The easing of sanctions and the opening up of a credit line through the IMF and World Bank came with the condition of imposing austerity. This aggravated endemic high inflation, further imposing hardship on the already impoverished population. The government has only 16 percent of the national budget under its control. The first attempt by the government to bring the massive commercial assets owned by the military under civilian control failed because of its failure to fully disclose the financial assets held by the military companies.

The continuing economic crisis also gave the military power elite to exploit the weaknesses in the transitional agreement. General Burhan acted as a de-facto Head of State. His deputy Hemeti controlled the economic committee. He also had a free hand in determining foreign policy by signing agreement with regional partners.

The coup by the military power elite on 25th October 2021, just before a civilian was supposed to take over the chairing of the Sovereignty Council, was a fatal blow to the transition to democracy. It annulled the constitutional charter and all agreements for a peaceful transition. The Prime Minister, ministers and civilian political leaders were arrested.

Massive resistance from below followed with millions coming out on the streets and marching. The military as usual responded with excessive violence. Even tear gas canisters for crowd control became lethal when fired directly at the protestors, leading to in some cases blindness. Since the coup there have been 101 deaths and over 4,500 injuries, with eight being paralysed and 35 losing limbs or organs. 

But the popular resistance is undeterred. Democracy has become a great cause, a collective ideal for the Sudanese. It is through this collective struggle that the Sudanese people are discovering who they are and who their enemies are. The trust, if there was any, between civil society and the military was irredeemably broken.

To allay public anger at the coup and the criticism from Western powers, the military released Hamdock on 21st November when both parties signed a 14 point agreement. There were widespread protest against this deal which was rejected by the civil society groups.

In view of the non-cooperation by civil society organisations, PM Hamdock failed to form a civilian government.  He resigned on 2nd January 2022, bringing the second attempt to form a civilian government facade for the military elite to an end.

General Burhan moved on to set up a new Sovereignty Council with self-selected military officers and civilians. He excluded leaders from the FFC, completely indicating his intention of not letting any radical civilian forces anywhere near power. He also set out to rule and divide the civilian opposition.

Of all the opposition forces, the Sudanese Professional Association was a leading force, both historically and in the first phase of the revolution. But the emergence of the Resistance Committees across Sudan since December 2018 has made them the leading force. They are unique neighbourhood grassroot organisations which co-ordinate a range of social activities besides co-ordinating protests in their local areas. They are democratic and non-hierarchical and decisions are arrived through consensus.  They combine together in larger units through representation across cities and states. The over 5,000 Resistance Committees across the whole state of Sudan have become a formidable political force.

The military power elite see the Resistance Committees as a major threat. Members of Resistance Committees across Sudan are being targeted by widespread surveillance. They are intimidated, their houses are raided, they are illegally detained and there have been reports of torture and disappearances. Up to now 1,600 resistance committee members have been locked up.

The United Nations and African Union missions are mediating between the civil society organisations and the military power elite to resolve the situation peacefully. But these missions fail to take into account the realities of power on the ground. The SPA and Resistance Committees have boycotted this mediation, fearful of betraying their revolutionary goals.

Given the betrayal of the military power elite, its use of excessive violence and the sacrifices made by the people, the popular resistance has taken a position that they will not share power with the military. The rallying cry from them is “No negotiations, No partnership, No compromise”. They want the military to be held accountable for the deaths, injuries and rapes. They want reparative justice and the military out of politics and confined to the barracks.

The regional powers Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt are backing the military power elite to the hilt without any reservations. These authoritarian regimes have no wish to see popular democracy in Sudan.

The United States as a hegemon in the region has immense financial leverage over Sudan. Although it pays lip service to democracy, its record of supporting democracy in Africa is abysmal. At best, it has supported managed democracies where parties which are subservient to it get into power. Together with European countries, the US wishes to see a peaceful resolution through the UN mission.

Thus we have a political stalemate in Sudan. The deeply entrenched, parasitic military power elite which stands above society, ruling through clientelist patronage and its monopoly of violence, is faced a popular resistance which wants the military elite to be removed from political power and its wealth being taken into public hands.

The military power elite’s counter-revolution has failed thus far. But it is not inactive politically in seeking ways in which to retain power. It has recently released the bureaucrats of the al-Bashir era who have returned to their posts in key ministries, the judiciary and the media.

It had also started to rehabilitate al-Bashir’s banned National Congress Party (NCP) which had been the Islamic front for the dictatorship and had political committees controlling localities over 30 years. There is talk of it building a ‘broad Islamic front’ rooted in the Arab Islamic identity that has been politically fought for over decades. NCP supporters especially women were allowed to demonstrate during the emergency without hindrance.

The apparent calculation seems to be that the military power elite would call and manage the next election around July 2023. Can there be any doubt that the military, with its control of the media and ballot boxes, will not ensure that its cronies win legislative power? Such an outcome would be a disaster for the popular resistance forces.

Recently, the Resistance Committees have put forward proposals for the formation of a ‘People’s Authority’ which are out for consultation for a final agreement. This agreement seeks to address all the issues about how Sudan will be governed and managed democratically.

However, it not clear how the ‘People’s Authority’ will be formed and through what mechanism.  There seems little doubt in my mind that the popular resistance needs to call a nationwide Constituenty Assembly which will be represent all the civil society organisations.

The aim would be to elect such a ‘People’s Authority’ and to set up commissions for the constitution, elections, transitional justice, etc. Such a Constituent Assembly would unite Sudan politically.

Furthermore, the independent electoral commission the Constituent Assembly sets up should request funding and support from the UN, AU, US and EU for the conduct of free and fair elections. It would decisively put to the test their resolve to support democracy in Sudan beyond diplomatic manoeuvres. 

The ball would then be in the court of the military power elite. If it moves to block the convening of such a democratic Constituent Assembly, it would further lose its moral legitimacy for suppressing a democratic process and open up the possibility of an indefinite general strike from trade unions and resistance forces.

The popular resistance forces will be strengthened by this legitimate democratic move to break the stalemate.  It is time for the popular resistance to act without delay.

First published in Labour Hub on June 18 2022

Sudan’s masses defiantly ramp up the resistance against intensifying military repression

Revolutionaries cut down the security forces, armoured trucks, c/o Sudanese Workers Association for the Restoration of Trade Unions

Monday 17th January turned out to be a bloody day in Sudan when seven innocent protestors were killed and about 100 injured during the March of Millions called by Resistance Committees and civil society organisations. 

The Central Committee of Sudan Doctors (CCSD) named the seven protestors who were killed.  Osman El Shareef (40) was shot in the pelvis and right thigh, Hasan Ibrahim (in his twenties) sustained bullet wounds to the pelvis and abdomen. Ishag Haroun (31), Seraj Abdallah (24) and Mohamed Nour (22) were hit in the pelvis, and El Haj Malik (21) and Mudawi Diaeldin (19). This indicates the use of snipers targeting protestors with intent to kill.

Looking at the photos of some of the revolutionaries killed, their smiling faces when alive, I felt deep anger that the generals had exacted their blood price from the Sudanese people to keep their control of the wealth of the country. For the Sudanese, these are the ‘martyrs’ of their revolution, each with a different story and all bound by the cause of Sudan’s freedom from military oppression. Hasan Ibrahim became politically active in 2013 and was a flag bearer for the South Khartoum Resistance Committee. He had a vision of an inclusive Sudan with a civilian democracy free of religious sectarianism, ethnic conflicts and tribalism.

These killings brought the death toll since the coup to 71. All were innocent people cut down by the military in their prime, shattering the lives of their families. Those injured which number nearly 2,000, will carry the handicaps for the rest of their life restricting their ability in every way to live a full life.

Immediately, the Khartoum State Resistance Coordination Committee which is composed of delegates from neighbourhood-based committees issued a call for mass civil disobedience and a general strike for Tuesday 18th and Wednesday 19th January.

There was an overwhelming response to the call. The Sudanese Workers Union for the Restoration of Trade Unions (SWAFRTU) listed 15 unions supporting the general strike.  The Sudan Rail Workers Unions also issued a call for workers to support the general strike. The Forces for Freedom and Change alliance of opposition parties, the Sudanese Professionals Association and more than 20 professionals’ associations in various sectors (health, education, banking, engineering, services, commerce and industry), affirmed their support for the nationwide strike.

On Tuesday, road blocks, protests and strikes spread across Sudan. Activists set up stone and brick barricades across the major roads in Khartoum and the adjoining cities of Khartoum North (Bahri) and Omdurman on Tuesday. Most of the public transport was suspended, leading to a near-complete paralysis of Khartoum.  Protestors set fire to car tyres in some places. Highways and roads from Khartoum connecting it to the periphery, to the east to El Obeid, to the South East to Madani, and to the north to the Egyptian border were all blocked by resistance committees.

In Khartoum, many shops and pharmacies were closed. The outlets in Khartoum’s sprawling El-Sajana market were all closed to mourn the shooting of merchant Osman El-Shareef.  Protestors took to the street in cities and towns across the country to condemn the 17th January massacre in defiance of the state of emergency. The demonstrators carried pictures of the seven “martyrs”. Secondary school students in Bahri also went out on demonstrations.

Lecturers in universities across the country suspended teaching and all activities for two days. In some universities, the administration suspended all studies. Legal advisors employed by the Ministry of Justice suspended all legal services to state agencies and demanded the immediate lifting of the State of Emergency and nullification of all measures implemented since the coup. 

Protests resumed after the two days of nationwide general strike and civil disobedience. On Friday 21st January, Resistance Committees called for a “day for the martyrs” to honour the 71 who have been killed since the coup on 25th October 2021. Thousands of people protested across Sudan, setting up barricades and blocking highways. Rallies were held calling for accountability for those who were killed and punishment for the perpetrators. After Friday Muslim prayers, in certain localities people marched to the homes of the bereaved families to pay their respects.

On Sunday 30th January, mass demonstrations erupted beyond Khartoum across 20 cities in Sudan from East, South to North in response to a call by Resistance Committees.  Barricades and road blocks were set up. Marches took place with the demand that full civilian rule must replace the military coup junta. The military did everything to impede the demonstrations, blocking bridges and the internet. Its tear gas canisters, rubber bullets, stun guns and bullets caused 180 serious injuries and killed Mohamed Yousef Ismail (27) who died after being wounded in the chest.  The death toll since the coup has now risen to 79.

Nearly 100 days have passed since the 25th October coup and the Sudanese people have fought back bravely against the military repression. The coup junta has used all kinds of tactics to suppress the protests and resistance. It continued its massive detention campaign against activists, members of Resistance Committees, lawyers and human rights defenders. Towards the end of January, activists recorded more than 65 detentions in Khartoum, most without due legal procedures.  Across Sudan people are disappearing and reports of torture are emerging. By 10th February, the number had risen to more than 88 (Twitter hash tag #88plus), and marches took place throughout Sudan to demanding the release of detainees. 

Women who have always been at the forefront of resistance have not escaped the claws of the Junta.  A leading veteran feminist  Amira Osman, who is partially paralysed, was arrested by 30 masked men, who raided her home and broke into her bathroom, and taken to an unknown destination.  Other women reportedly arrested include Eiman Mohamed and Dr Zeinab Alamin who was removed from the Royal Care hospital to the security forces’ investigations centre in North Khartoum.

Sudanese people confront a military with the elite generals holding the state captive. They command the technical means of violence and soldiers. On top of this they have built a commercial empire through coercion and plundering from which they derive a stream of wealth shared through clientelism and cronyism. Their corruption rivals anything of this kind managed elsewhere by military parasitism.

The generals are calculating that the people will be intimidated and exhausted after three years. But so far the resistance has not caved in.  They are deploying the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) against civilians fully through surveillance, arrests, interrogations and torture. They are also planning to use counter-terrorism tactics against activists with the intent to label any resistance fighter as “terrorist”.

Simultaneously, they are pursuing the diplomatic track do blunt the impetus of the democratic revolution. Here they have the support of the US, UK and their allies, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt who are no friends of democracy.  The US envoys have visited the generals and also talked to the civilian groups.

Another track of using the UN as a broker has opened up recently.  The hope of the generals is also to divide the civilian movement. The Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) are participating in the UN-mediated process whilst the SPA has rejected participation unless the perpetrators of the coup are excluded from the process. 

However, the chasm between the generals and the civilian organisations is wide. The generals want to ensure that they erect a democratic facade behind which they can supervise the government and wield executive power. The civilian organisations demand that the generals abandon political power to a civilian government, that the military be accountable to the civilian government and the military commercial empire be dismantled.

The emergence of the Resistance Committees as the drivers of democratic revolution is significant. They are a grassroots horizontal network of activists. Ann Alexander’s seminal investigation has identified 5000 or so Resistance Committees across Sudan.  Led by young organisers, they convene open meetings regularly – in tea shops, under trees, in dusty fields and squares. These meetings plan protests and rallies, discuss catering arrangements for their neighbourhoods for provisions, clean-ups, garbage collections, health and education issues, economic policy and draw up political manifestos.

Abdi Latif Dahir, the East African correspondent for the New York Times witnessed the Resistance Committee meeting in the north neighbourhood of Khartoum. In a bare dusty field, about a hundred people – grey-haired in white robes and turbans, mothers with their children, young women and women in jeans and T-shirts – debated for six hours over sweet milky tea and doughnuts how to dislodge the military junta and install democracy.

The Resistance Committees are a new form of social power which enjoy greater social legitimacy than the military state apparatus. They have the potential to be self-governing and coordinating organs which can ‘out-administer’ the state by meeting the needs of their neighbourhoods under the impact of the economic crisis. They have shown the courage to turn away from old formulas and invent a new future

The Resistance Committees are a harbinger for social revolution in Africa and perhaps the rest of the world. They bring to mind Sivanandan’s arguments for building ‘Communities of Resistance’ in Britain against coercive state power and neo-liberalism.  Some Sudanese are making connections with the developments in Rojava, South East Kurdistan, where communities have set up grassroots,  direct democracy with gender equality and ecology at their heart following the vision of the Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan.

The military junta has tried persistently to isolate Sudanese resistance from the world by curtailing access to the press and interrupting internet services to break online communication and social media. To break this isolation, the Sudanese resistance is calling for worldwide solidarity for their struggle for democracy, freedom, peace and justice.

What you can do:

  • Follow independent news from Sudan from Radio Dabanga.
  • Join the MENA Solidarity Network for actions to support the resistance.
  • Follow twitter to get up to date information #KeepEyesonSudan; #SudanCoup
  • Send MENA Solidarity’s model letter calling for the detainees’ immediate release and for those responsible for disappearances, torture and abuse to face justice, to the Sudanese embassy. Copy and paste this text into the contact form or use your own wording: “Dear Ambassador, I am writing to urge the Sudanese authorities to immediately release Amira Osman, Eiman Mohamed, Dr Zeinab AlAmin, Ali Mohamed Adam, Mohamed al-Fateh and all other political detainees. I am deeply concerned to read reports that some of the detainees have been subject to forced disappearance and tortured while in custody. Those responsible must be brought to trial. Yours faithfully” [Please add details of your union branch or organisational affiliation]
  • Call on the British government to stop legitimising the military coup leaders 
  • Pass a resolution in your union branch. A model motion is here.
  • Invite a Sudanese activist to address your union branch meeting. Email with details of the meeting.

First published on the Labour Hub 14 February 2022

Sudan’s democratic revolution stands at a critical juncture

Image: Revolution in Sudan. Author: Esam Idris, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

The resignation of Prime Minister Hamdock on Sunday 2nd January has removed the proverbial fig leaf of the military behind which it could control the democratic transition.  At last, we have two forces now contending for power, the unarmed people and the armed generals.

The 14 point agreement signed by Hamdock and the generals on 21st November 2021 after his release from house arrest received a firm rejection by the political parties and the civil society organisations, the doctors committee and Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) and the Resistance Committees. Such was the angry civic opposition that Hamdock could not form a civilian cabinet. 

The transitional framework since 2020 under Hamdock was favoured by all the foreign powers – the US, United Kingdom, European Union, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt. It was also supported by the United Nations Secretary General, the African Union, the IMF and the World Bank.

But the transitional agreement, the constitutional declaration and the Hamdock agreement were all deeply flawed because they did not address the issue of executive control by the military, its control of key ministerial posts and foreign policy, the accountability of the generals to civilian government for the violence unleashed and the military control of the economy.

There have been daily mass demonstrations and the last march of the millions on Thursday 6th January was one of the more than ten major nationwide protests since the coup on 25th October 2021. The message from the demonstrations could not be clearer. They want the generals out of political power and returned to the barracks. They want no compromise and no negotiations with the military. They want a civilian government.

The military response is fairly standard now. Swamp the protestors with tear gas. Often fire the projectiles directly at protestors deliberately causing death and injuries. Use live fire when under pressure. Shut all the bridges across the Nile connecting Khartoum with other cities. Shut down the internet and social media. But this has not stopped the protests.

But that is not all. In many neighbourhoods, the generals are using “more than excessive force” by deploying the entire security apparatus to suppress the protests: the army, security forces, police, anti-riot police, paramilitaries of Rapid Support Forces, the Central Reserve Police and the General Intelligences Services.

Under the state of emergency, the plain clothes General Intelligence Services has been raiding homes, arresting activists of the resistance committees to prevent them from organising. We still have no idea about how many arrested, at what locations they have been detained, under what conditions people are kept – whether they are kept in solitary confinement or being tortured.

Joint security forces are also reported to have raided hospitals, pursued injured people to detain them and hence prevent them from getting medical care. On 6th January they stormed into Al Arbaeen Hospital the second time assaulting patients and staff. The Emergency Department of Khartoum Teaching Hospital was also raided and gas canisters thrown into the building. 

It is quite common in the media to have a death count after the coup of 25th October. This stands at 62 on Sunday 9th January. But that is to ignore the nearly 700 injuries recoded within a month after the coup. This figure would be much higher after nearly three months.  Also forgotten are casualties of at least 246 deaths and more than 1,350 injuries by mid-July 2019. This incomplete record is unprecedented in Sudan’s history of uprisings since independence, with a handful of casualties in 1985 and around a score in 1964’s uprisings. 

Women have been at the forefront of the Sudanese democratic revolution. At any protest you can see them in groups raising the victory sign. So ‘patriotic’ soldiers of Sudan sexually abused women to drive them away from the protests. On Sunday 19th December, 13 girls and women were alleged to have been raped.   This aroused memories of 70 women who were raped during the 3rd June sit in which resulted in the Khartoum massacre by the Rapid Support Forces. Women have come out publicly protesting against sexual violence. No soldiers have been held to account for these infamies. 

The violence that was perpetrated in Darfur has now come home to Khartoum and Omdurman. The Sudanese people are not prepared to forget and forgive these atrocities. They want the army to be held to account.

Strikes have been a weapon to defy the military since the inception of the December Revolution in 2018.  Recently, important struggles have developed in some workplaces. Thousands of court workers went on strike between 2nd and 6th January, demanding a rise in their bonuses to cope with the escalating cost of living. Workers in the Bank of Khartoum have been demanding pay rises for the same reason. The bank was privatised in 2010 with 70 percent of its shares held by the UAE Bank of Abu Dhabi, with money flowing into the pockets of privateers. To clamp down on the mobilisations of bank workers, the management has sacked 200 workers and 500 more are at risk. These struggles have sparked off solidarity campaigns to bring together the strikers and the activists of Resistance Committees. The Sudanese Workers Association for the Restoration of Trade Unions (SWAFRTU) is reviving a united independent working class movement away from the grips of the establishment.

The Sovereignty Council formula was adopted for the transition after the fall of al-Bashir following the tradition established after the October 1964 revolution, which brought down the government of Major-General Abboud, and the 1985 military coup against President Nimeiry. Given the failure of all the transitions after the overthrow of a military dictator, this approach is flawed because it leaves with the generals the executive control of the Sudanese state.

Since 2019, this executive power of the generals has been on display. When it was on the defensive just after 2019, they were ready to sign a power sharing agreement to give them time. When a civilian was to assume the chairmanship of the Sovereignty Council, then the Prime Minister and ministers were arrested and the civilian government dissolved. Then the Prime Minister was reinstated with a new agreement. Al-Burhan and behind him the military council had total executive power.

The generals are continuing a long tradition of 52 years of military rule during which they have captured the state power.  They are a military capitalist stratum with a monopoly over the economy as well as of violence. Their declamations are ‘security’  ‘no chaos’, ‘stability’ ‘public order’, all uttered to preserve the existing order. The rich Sudanese with landed property, real estate, businesses would support the generals. The elite officer class has deep links with the oligarchy.

They want a government of technocrats which they can supervise.  Now the generals want a caretaker civilian government which can take decisions during the transition to the elections to be held sometime in 2023. Until then they do not want to transfer all executive power to a civilian government.

The generals are making calculations as to how to resolve the crisis. They could play long with the mediation efforts till the civil society gets tired of coming out on the streets. If all this fails, they​could unleash terror on civil society.  The government that emerged under al-Bashir after the 1985 uprising used brutal measures against civic society. When the Doctors Union went on their second strike, Mamoun Mohamed Hussein, its president, was executed. Meanwhile, all professional unions were dissolved and government-controlled replacements created. Activists were sent to infamous ‘ghost houses’ to be tortured, and over 70,000 government employees were dismissed.  He silenced civil society for three decades using the National Congress Party and the Islamic movement.

Here is the dilemma for civil society. How is the civilian government to be formed? Through what political mechanism? Who will assure that such a government would represent the people? How would political and economic power be wrested from the generals?

Hamdock when departing, suggested a round table conference bringing all the parties together to resolve the disputes and find a solution. Recently a committee of several university directors are integrating eight proposals from civil society organisations to end the political stalemate.  The UN has just launched a mediation process to bring all the parties to the table.

There are legitimate concerns that such mediations are there to undermine the democratic revolution.  There is an option not yet on the agenda: the election of a constituent assembly to represent the people of Sudan. Such an assembly would take power on behalf of the people. It would elect a representative civilian government, set up committees to formulate a new constitution, budgetary control, other issues such as accountability of the army and the economic control exercised by the army.  The demand for a constituent assembly would be revolutionary. It could galvanise Sudan and address the crisis of representation.

Such is the challenge faced by civil society against the military’s state capture. Political agitation and mobilisation should relentlessly highlight the corruption by the military, the economic strangulation of the nation, the economic stagnation of the country, on how developmental needs of the people in terms of health, education and jobs have been sacrificed to feed the bloated military.

The opposition needs to ensure that the military loses its moral legitimacy in the eyes of the majority of the Sudanese workers and peasants and lower middle classes. The urban movement has to connect with rural movement. All sectarian tendencies will need to be eschewed. The lessons from the previous uprisings in 1965 and 1985 need to be learnt to avoid the pitfalls. If they unite, organise and fight, the people of Sudan will win their fight for democracy.

Take action now:

First published on Labour Hub 12 January 2021

Three years on, the Sudanese people are determined to fight for democracy

Why we must oppose the subversion of the Sudanese democratic revolution by the military and foreign powers.

Sudanese women protest against President Omer Al Bashi in 2019. Author: Ola A .Alsheikh, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

On Sunday 19th December, the Sudanese people marked the third anniversary of their revolution for democracy by tens of thousands coming out on the streets in cities across the country.  The revolution shook Sudan politically, drawing in millions to fight to change the stultified political and economic order dominated by the Sudanese military.

As usual, the police and the military blocked bridges to prevent free movement of the protestors, especially in Khartoum, so that protestors in north Khartoum and Omdurman could not join the march to the presidential palace. Nonetheless many protestors from Omdurman forced their way across one of the bridges and others bussed in from the countryside. Needless to say, the internet and social media were blocked to stop people from organising.

As they moved to the presidential palace to occupy it, the protestors were met with a relentless barrage of tear gas canisters and grenades and beaten back. It is easy to assume that such non-lethal weapons are safe for the civilians. Unfortunately this is not the case.

Robust field reports with verification from the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors reveal that from the 25th October coup to 30th November, there have been 698 injuries. While there were 186 injuries caused by live fire resulting in 42 deaths, the largest number of injuries (330) were caused by tear gas. A significant number of these (193) caused trauma due to direct impact of blunt projectiles on protestors. Of these, 33 impacted on victims’ heads and four caused injuries to the eyes, one of which led to the loss of an eye. This indicates that the Sudanese security forces have often fired tear gas canisters and grenades directly at protestors to cause injuries.

The report by Sunday’s Observer highlighted the case of Amani Galal who lost her right eye to a canister fired by the security forces as they tried to break up a demonstration in 2019.  In spite of the life-changing injury, she has never missed a demonstration or a single protest over the last three years. After having fitted a prosthetic eye in Russia, she started an NGO with the aim of getting treatment for the injured overseas. There are 457 people on her list just from Khartoum with injuries from live bullets.

Such determination from activists is admirable and reflects their courage. They are not prepared to forget the deaths, injuries, rapes, imprisonments and trauma inflicted by the army on innocent unarmed civilians. Their sufferings and struggle are a testimony to their long struggle to wrest power from the military and to hold it to account for the terrible violence over decades.

Over the three years, the Sudanese people have taken to the streets in protests continually. Workers, doctors, teachers, university students, school students, and women have become politically active.  There has been a massive resistance from below organised by the Resistance Committees which has been met by bloody repression.

On one side is the unarmed power of the people whose demand is that the military should be removed from political power and a civilian government take over. On the other are the generals of the Sudanese military who want keep the status quo in whatever guise. How is this contradiction to be resolved? This resolution will decide the future of Sudan for decades to come.

A review of the developments following the December Revolution in 2018 which toppled the 30 year dictatorship of al-Bashir attests that the generals had pulled all the tricks available to them to undermine the transition to democracy. When on the defensive in 2019, the generals signed up to the transitional agreement and the draft constitutional document paving the way to a democracy. But just when a civilian chair was take over the Sovereignty Council they carried out the coup in October 2015.

General al-Burhan dissolved the Transitional Council and appointed self-selected persons and organisations excluding the civil society organisations represented by the Forces for Freedom and Change. This move was clearly to sideline social forces that were fighting for change and wanted to hold the military to account. His deputy, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (aka -Hemeti) openly stated that the coup was the best way forward. With his violent militia Rapid Support Forces now integrated in the army, he is the greatest threat to Sudanese democracy.

The Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdock who took over in September 2019 was arrested with all the cabinet members and political activists. After successive massive public protests, he was reinstalled as the Prime Minister on 21st November with a brief to lead a technocratic government which will, no doubt, be supervised by the military. What is the aim here? To take politics out of government, to neuter it. It will not be a government which will have a broad representation of different social forces of Sudanese society.

The UN secretary-general has urged the Sudanese people to support reinstated Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok so the country can have “a peaceful transition towards a true democracy.” The African Union which has mediated the power-sharing agreement has also backed the deal. The regional powers Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt have backed the military during the crisis and are fountainheads of counter-revolution in the region.

The US has developed considerable leverage on Sudan since the December Revolution. With the World Bank and IMF, it has suspended all aid to Sudan following the coup. Hamdock, a technocrat, has been the centrepiece of the US policy in Sudan with whom an austerity reform programme was agreed, tied to aid. It has yet to make a decision to fully back Hamdock now that he has been reinstated. Given its record of supporting the military dictatorship in Egypt and anti-democratic palace power system in Saudi Arabia and the  UAE, one has to be wary.

This does not bode well for the democratic revolution in Sudan. All calls for stability and security of Sudan lead to the status quo, with the facade of a technocratic government behind which the generals will maintain their stranglehold. The military has been entrenched in power for 52 years since Sudan’s independence in 1956. It has a vast economic empire. It drains most of the wealth of the nation at the expense of the welfare of the people. It is deeply corrupt. Its rule has been a disaster for the people of Sudan politically, socially and economically.

The Resistance Committees consider the position of the international community a betrayal of their democratic revolution. They have urged the US to withhold financial aid which could end up in the pockets of the military. They reject the deal agreed between the generals and Hamdock. Through their suffering and struggle, their vision for a democratic Sudan has solidified.

We must say no this subversion of the Sudanese democratic revolution and offer international solidarity for the resistance movement.

What you can do:

  • Join the hundreds of participants at the recent conference in solidarity with the Sudanese Revolution by adding your name to a statement condemning the military coup and supporting the revolution. Add your name here:
  • Invite a Sudanese speaker to your union branch meeting – contact for details.
  • Pass a resolution in solidarity with the Sudanese uprising in your trade union branch, calling on the British government to end all forms of cooperation with the Sudanese military and to work towards bringing those responsible for the killing of protesters to justice.

First published on The Labour Hub on December 27 2021

The Sudanese Revolution continues

Yet again, the military in Sudan is attempting to crush a transition to democracy

The coup

On Monday 25th October, the Transitional Military Council (TMC) shredded the transitional agreement signed on 17th July 2019 which was to usher Sudan towards a democracy led by a civilian government over a period of 39 months. It swept away the Constitutional Charter signed by the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) and the TMC agreed in August.

General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of the TMC dissolved the power-sharing Sovereignty Council, dismissed the transitional government and the regional governors and declared a state of emergency.

The December revolution

From the beginning in 2018 and through 2019, the military was on the defensive. Waves of protest erupted across the country in January 2018 against the rise in bread and fuel prices. They continued to grow and peaked in December, demanding an end to poverty, corruption and unemployment. In this December Revolution, calls for President al-Bashir, who ruled for 30 years, to step down became louder.

In February 2019, al-Bashir declared a state of emergency and sacked the cabinet and regional governors in a bid to end weeks of protests against his rule, in which up to 80 people died.

Talks between the generals and protest leaders broke down. Sudan’s military removed al-Bashir from power, suspended the country’s constitution and closed its borders and airspace.

The TMC took over but thousands of protesters camped in front of the army headquarters, demanding civilian rule.  A three-month state of emergency was also imposed.  The Military Council began talks with opposition on the transition to democracy.

On May 28th and 29th 2019, workers launched a countrywide political strike against the military regime, with the strikers and protesters demanding civilian rule, undeterred by military threats.

Bloody repression

But the military crackdown continued unabated. It reached its high point with the massacre in Khartoum when the feared paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) launched an assault on the sit-in in front of the military HQ using tear gas and heavy live fire on 3rd June.

An estimated 120 were killed and hundreds of unarmed civilians were injured, with hundreds of unarmed citizens arrested and many families terrorised in their homes across Sudan.

By mid-July 2019 there were at least 246 deaths and more than 1,350 injuries, an unprecedented historical record compared to other similar uprisings in the country.

On 30th June thousands of people protested across Sudan in a day of mass marches and protests in response to the call by the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA)  and the FFC for a “miliyoniya” – a millions-strong protest to demand the handover of power to a civilian authority.


The military caved in under internal and international pressure to agree to the power-sharing structure by signing the transitional agreement and the draft Constitutional Charter setting a road map whereby the new government would ostensibly bring Sudan’s economy back from the brink of collapse, achieve peace, build new institutions capable of combatting corruption and delivering justice, and pave the way for a new, permanent constitution and credible elections.

The transitional government under Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok took power in September 2019.His cabinet inherited the economic crisis. The economy had been battered by years of US sanctions, after the US designation of Sudan as a supporter of terrorism in 1993, and was heavily indebted. It was also dominated by a small class of al-Bashir’s cronies. The spread of COVID-19 compounded the difficulties.

In December 2020, President Trump removed Sudan from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list in return for Sudan normalising its relationship with Israel.  The United States further enabled $50 bn debt relief and $ 2.4 bn funding by June 2021 through the IMF and World Bank.

In return theHamdok administration implemented the agreed economic austerity reforms which included cutting back on subsidies and balancing the budget. Inflation went through the roof and by July 2021 stood at over 400%, increasing the hardship in the living conditions of many Sudanese, which were already dire.

These problems gave the military an opportunity to stir public discontent. It tried its utmost to stall economic reforms since it controlled the key sectors. Hamdok expressed his frustration that only 18% of the state’s resources were in the hands of the government. The generals publicly decried the ineptitude of the civilian administration.

During the 20 months with al-Burhan as the chair of the Sovereignty Council, the TMC took full advantage of the weaknesses in the transitional agreement.  Al-Burhan began acting as de facto head of state. His deputy, Hemeti, headed the civilian government’s Economic Committee, and also became chief peace negotiator with rebel factions. The generals even ventured into foreign policymaking, including involvement in foreign wars and pacts, and, most controversially, agreeing to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, without the knowledge of the civilian cabinet.

Planning for the coup

By July 2021, the generals were emboldened. When al-Burhan was just about to hand over the chairmanship of the Sovereignty council to civilian leadership, he went on the offensive. The generals had used this period to prepare a restoration.

Its allies mobilised the Beja tribe in eastern Sudan to blockade the main highway linking the main commercial seaport Port Sudan on the Red Sea and the rest of the nation. This caused severe bread shortages. The military refused to dismantle the blockade when the civilian government asked it do so.

On 21st September the authorities announced that there had been a coup attempt which had been averted. Shrewd political analysts thought that this seemed to be a ‘trial balloon’ set up by the military to gauge the public response to the ratcheting of tensions between the military and the civilian transitional government.

On 16th October security forces allowed several thousand demonstrators to be bused into Khartoum, as far as the gates of the presidential palace, where they openly called for a military takeover and the overthrow of the Hamdok administration.

In response to this, pro-democracy forces organised a mass protest on 21st October. Thousands of supporters of Sudan’s transitional government took to the streets of the capital, Khartoum, and other cities.

Arrests of civilian government officials

The security forces arrested Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and members of the transitional government, officials and political leaders. 

Al-Burhan, announced that he had taken this action because he wanted to avoid a civil war because of civilian factionalism. He promised to hold elections in July 2023 and hand over power to an elected civilian government then. He alter went on to claim that there was no coup and that the Sudanese army had not killed any protestors.

Behind him stands his deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (aka Hemeti). He has been at the head of the Rapid Support Group (RSG), the Janjaweed tribal militia that carried out massacres in Darfur during Bashir’s reign. His group has been integrated into the army as a militia within the military. The RSG was responsible for the massacre at the sit-in on 3rdJune.  He has a close alliance with the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. He projects himself in a high-profile foreign policy role and is regarded by some in Sudan as the country’s strongman.

Resistance from below

The announcement of the coup brought thousands of people out onto the streets of Khartoum spontaneously to demand the release of the political leaders.  Protestors opposed to the military takeover carried the national flag and burned tyres across the city. Youths barricaded streets. Soldiers stationed on the streets of the city to restrict movement clashed with protestors. A large number of protestors were arrested.   By the next day, at least seven anti-coup protesters were killed and 140 injured due to excessive force used by the country’s security forces.  The main opposition coalition, Forces of Freedom and Change, called for peaceful actions in the streets to overthrow the military takeover

Massive organised resistance from below was to follow. The call for a million to march on 30th October saw around four million people protest in nearly 30 cities across Sudan. Workers went on strike to shut down transport, oil fields, banking and most public institutions. Many women joined the street demonstrations. Teachers, university and school students also walked out.

The real drivers of the resistance are the Sudanese Professional Association which unites workers’ professional associations and unions and the neighbourhood Resistance Committees

The SPA emerged by stages during the 2010s from the struggles of professional groups: in turn, doctors, journalists, lawyers, veterinary surgeons, engineers, and school and university teachers. 

Neighbourhood Resistance Committees emerged as a leading force in 2018, mobilising millions of young people using this network-based form of self-organisation independent of political parties. They have been formed in major cities and rural communities, bringing together a broad coalition of activists drawing in the previously unorganised.  For example, Bahri (North Khartoum) is thought to have nearly 80 resistance committees, each with several hundred members. These grassroots committees have established local coordination committees; they reject any kind of centralisation and are keen to preserve their autonomy. They not only organise street protests but also provided food distribution, medical services and much more in some areas.

As usual the main bridges in Khartoum were closed by the military and there was an internet blackout to prevent the opposition from organising. Meanwhile the military used the state TV and social media to control the narrative.

For months, al-Burhan has been advocating the need for a technocratic government. Hamdok is a technocrat who has worked for many years for the UN, most recently as deputy executive secretary of its Economic Commission for Africa. Many are advocating he should serve as a neutral figure and lead such a government.

Sabotaging civilian rule

However, the real intention of the generals is to ensure that there is compliant neutral government that does its bidding and avoids accountability. They want to take politics out of policy decisions especially financial matters. They want to de-radicalise the new resistance forces, to divide and sideline them.

This is what they exactly did on 11thNovember, by appointing a new Sovereign Council with self-selected members of the military and civilians including ex-rebel leaders. Al-Burhan would lead the council with Hemeti as his deputy. The FFC representatives were totally excluded.

Divisions have also appeared in the FFC about strategy, tactics and inclusion of different political currents. It came under criticism for delaying the creation of a Transitional Legislative Council by more than two years.

Protests broke out across the country and on Saturday 13th November, another ‘million-people march’ saw huge protests across the country despite the military using live fire which resulted in fatalities. Protestors have been undeterred by this repression and have continued to make demands by being on the streets. The rallying cry now is “No negotiation, no partnership, no compromise.”

On 21st November, Hamdok was released and he signed a 14 point agreement with al-Burhan restoring him as the Prime Minister to lead a technocratic government. The calculation the generals are making is making that they would still be in control of the transition Sovereignty Council behind the facade of the technocratic government.

On the face of it, this may seem a retreat but is more likely a tactic to allay the street protests, influence public opinion and relieve international pressures.  The agreement has been angrily rejected by major networks of Resistance Committees, who have stated, “This agreement means nothing, we continue to hold to our position: no negotiations, no participation, no settlement.”  The Resistance Committees stand by the radical demands agreed by their gathering on 22nd October.  The SPA has also stuck by similar demands agreed on 30th October.  Both are in no mood to compromise – they want the overthrow of the military regime, full power to a civilian government and accountability of the military for killings and war crimes.

On Thursday 25th November, thousands of protestors were out on the streets across Sudan to pay tribute to the 42 people killed, according to medics, in the crackdown against anti-coup demonstrators. Demonstrators in Khartoum chanted slogans such as, “The people want the downfall of the regime”, while in the capital’s twin city of Omdurman others shouted, “Power to the people, a civilian government is the people’s choice.”

On 26th November, in an exclusive interview with Al-Jazeera, Hemeti said that Hamdok was aware of last month’s military takeover before it happened and was “completely agreeable” to it. This suggests that all the orchestrated manoeuvres to arrest Hamdok and then to release him, reappoint him as the Prime Minister were to give him legitimacy for independence.

Many Sudanese activists foresaw this as a part of process to “manufacturing consent”  to secure public opinion in favour of a return to peace and stability from the turmoil of the last two years.

The deep military state

If there is a secret ‘deep state’ in Sudan then the army is at its heart.  The military, trained by British colonial authorities, has ruled Sudan for 52 of the 64 years since independence from the British in 1956. The military generals have ruled the country intermittently for significant periods – Abboud (six years) Nimeiry (16 years), al-Bashir (30 years), each time overthrowing transient civilian governments. 

Besides having the technical armed power, the military stratum exerts immense political influence on national life in Sudan. Over a long time, this stratum is politically and organisationally centralised. Despite the factions within this stratum, the army has become the fundamental institution, just as in Egypt and Algeria.  Military supervision of government is the keystone of the ‘system’ that ‘the people want to bring down’ (a common slogan of popular uprisings in the region). As a part of the ruling class, it could not have done this without a compact with the landowners, business classes, industrialists, bureaucrats, etc.

The military economic empire

At stake is the military’s control of the economy beyond its massive call on public spending at the expense of public spending. Over 60% of state spending goes on military and security spending, according to IMF and World Bank estimates. Official budgetary allocations put security spending at five times the level of health spending and 35 times the budget for education.

The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) amassed extensive commercial holdings under al-Bashir. The crown jewel of the military’s commercial empire is the Defence Industrial System (DIS). It was launched as the Military Industrial Corporation in 1993, to safeguard against potential disruptions of weapons supplies from Western governments by developing arms manufacturing capabilities.  Over the past several decades it diversified and expanded significantly without any transparency about its holdings, operations and revenues.

Today military and security services are running a network of companies with billions of dollars in assets. These military enterprises are involved in the production and sale of gold and other minerals – marble, leather, cattle, and gum arabic. They control 60% of the wheat market.

This commercial empire stretches across key sectors such as construction, real estate development, contracting, water supply, banking, transportation, aviation, tourist facilities telecommunications and the manufacture of household appliances, pipes, pharmaceuticals, detergents and textiles.

Even the RSF with Hemeti at the helm have built up secret independent sources of wealth. They have captured a large part of the country’s gold industry through a linked company, but the leaked bank data and corporate documents show their use of front companies and banks based in Sudan and the UAE. It has also earned significant sums from hiring out troops to fight alongside Emirati- and Saudi-backed forces in Yemen (as has the SAF) and Libya. Its contribution of just over $1 billion to the Central Bank of Sudan to support essential imports in 2019 gave a sense of the volume of the RSF’s reserves.

Besides all this, all the companies held by the SAF and RSF are exempt from paying tax and operate without transparency about their holdings and revenues.

Moves towards military divestment

It was at this time critical that the U.S. Sudan Democratic Transition, Accountability, and Fiscal Transparency Act (SDTAFTA) came into force on 1stJanuary 2021. This required that the Sudanese authorities establish civilian control over the finances and assets of the security (encompassing the military) and intelligence agencies.

An agreement was reached in March 2021 between the government and the armed forces for a gradual divestment of the army from the economic field and transfer of military companies to civilian state authorities.  The stumbling block has been full financial disclosure and civilian capacity to take over. No steps in this direction have taken place in the face of the army’s refusal.

In April 2020,  a committee, established under the transitional charter to recover ill-gotten gains from former senior officials with close ties with al-Bashir, secured into public hands 20 million square meters of residential land, more than one million acres of agricultural land and dozens of businesses.  All of this is very limited compared to the massive resources of the country’s military, security services, and militias. This example rattled those in the military with vested interests.

Disasters of Military rule

Military rule has been a disaster for the Sudanese people. The economy stagnated for three decades since 1970 with a GDP mostly around $10 bn and saw growth after the discovery of oil, leading petroleum exports after 2000, to peak between 2010 and 2017 at around $60 bn. Since then it has seen a steep decline particularly after the secession of South Sudan where most of the oil reserves are. 

Sudan’s poverty rate in 2021 stands around 46%. Hunger is a serious issue particularly affecting children with a high proportion of undernourishment and stunting. It has one of the lowest human development rates taking in account life expectancy, education and per capita income.

The stakes for the country’s public finances and economy are equally high. Sudan is deemed to be “in debt distress,” with a foreign debt of $60 billion and total public debt reaching 202 percent of GDP in 2019. This makes it one of the IMF’s Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC).

Neither has military rule brought peace and stability to Sudan. Like most Muslim-majority countries across the Middle East and North Africa in the 1980s, the turn towards Islamist politics engrossed Sudan. The historical memory of the nationalist revolt led by the Mahdi in 1885 against British colonisation to create an Islamic polity has been carried forward in the al-Ansar movement. Today the National Umma Party claims to be the descendant of this movement.

In September 1983, Nimeiry issued several decrees, known as the September Laws, which made Islamicsharia the law of the land.  Secular Muslims and the predominantly non-Muslim Southerners strongly opposed the imposition of Islamic law.  John Garang, the leader of the Sudan People’s_Liberation_Movement (SPLM) defected from the government and begun to organize Southern opposition.  A civil war between the North and South followed which extended to the control of oil resources in the South. Strict sharia law was imposed under President Omar al-Bashir, during which time Islam became the religion of the state.

Osama bin Laden was in Sudan from 1991 to 1996 before he became America’s arch-enemy. As the originator of Al-Qaeda with its drive towards establishing an Islamic State through Jihad (Holy War), it is inconceivable that he would not have had influence on the Islamist currents in Sudan.

The second civil war was internationalised and lasted about 21 years and ended with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005, laying the basis for an autonomous South which seceded through a referendum in 2011.

The short sightedness of the military elite and politicians imposing Islamic laws in a multi-faith, multi-ethnic and multi-lingual country, and its failure to establish a secular, pluralistic and united society based on consensus and sharing of resources broke up Sudan with dire consequences for both South Sudan and Sudan. Sudan still faces an economic crisis due to the loss of two-thirds of its oil revenues with the secession of South Sudan which erupted into a destructive civil war.

The Darfur conflict in western Sudan has been costly. Rebels launched an insurrection in 2003 to protest against the disregard for the needs of the non-Arab population. The government responded by setting up and equipping Janjaweed Arab militias which terrorised the civilian population.  The conflict resulted in a humanitarian crisis that left hundreds of thousands dead and two million displaced. In July 2008 an International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor alleged that al-Bashir, as president of Sudan, bore criminal responsibility for the crisis in Darfur.

Since independence, Sudan had faced other insurgencies on the periphery because many communities have grievances to do with identity, marginalization, the relationship between religion and state, governance, resource-sharing, land issues, social justice, and equality at the national level. The military had failed to address these issues for decades and used military force to resolve them unsuccessfully.

Within a matter of months, the transitional government led by Prime Minister Hamdok was able to negotiate the Juba Peace Agreement. This was signed on 31st August 2020, in Juba, with the Sudanese Revolutionary Front, which includes the five main Sudanese rebel groups, and at the head the Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudan Liberation Movement, both from the Darfur region in the west, and the Sudan People’s_Liberation_Movement-North , which is leading a rebellion against the Sudanese government in South Kordofan and Blue Nile.  Some groups such as Sudan People’s Liberation Movement–North and the Sudan Liberation Movement have not joined the agreement.

Geopolitics at play

Sudan is in a strategic location straddling North Africa, the Sahel and Ethiopia and sharing borders with nine other states. Its geopolitical importance is growing with its long coast line along the Red Sea where rival powers are jostling for control. Islamic militancy across the Sahel, the escalating war in Ethiopia and the strife within its border put it at the centre of regional stability.

Sudan has always been a locus of competition between regional powers and subject to the pressures of realignments in regional politics. Patronage and financial leverage often determined who would retain power in the country.

Al-Bashir with links to the Muslim Brotherhood enjoyed a privileged relationship with Qatar and Turkey, two backers of the Muslim Brotherhood. He also maintained an alliance with Iran.

The revolutionary uprising in 2018-19 provided UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt an opportunity to bring Sudan into their axis. In December 2018, Qatar reportedly cut off fuel shipments. Facing crushing debt, a crippling deficit and an acute foreign exchange shortage, al-Bashir cut subsidies for bread and fuel, triggering the first demonstrations which would grow into the December Revolution. In the coming months the crisis left al-Bashir with no allies or foreign backers, precipitating his downfall.

The Arab troika backed the TMC to the hilt, enabling it to launch the bloody repression, stalling revolutionary demands for civilian rule and enabling the emergence of a power-sharing agreement in which the generals would retain substantial executive powers. In the guise of ‘national stability’ they supported military and paramilitary figures and co-opted elements of the FFC to forestall any radical moves.

Closer links between Saudi Arabia and UAE were forged when Sudan deployed 30,000 infantry troops to fight in the Arab coalition against the Houthis in Yemen. Sudan received the payment of soldiers’ salaries, direct deposits to the Sudanese state’s coffers, and subsidies on basic commodities. By 2018, UAE officials estimated that they had injected about $7 billion into Sudan’s economy.

As an imperial hegemon in the entire region and indeed Africa as a whole, the US has kept Sudan on its radar for decades. It designated Sudan as a state supporter of terrorism in 1993 and imposed sanctions which strangled the Sudanese economically, cutting of financial support from international institutions.

President Clinton ordered the bombing of the Al-Shifa factory in Khartoum which was reduced to a heap of twisted metal by fourteen cruise missiles. It produced 90% of the major pharmaceutical products and was the sole producer of TB drugs for nearly 100,000 patients. The human costs were far greater than the damage to property.

The December Revolution provided the US with a new opportunity to bring Sudan within its fold in coordination with Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt. As mentioned earlier, as soon as the US removed Sudan from its state supporter of terrorism list, both the IMF and the World Bank provided debt relief. The US also offered a credit line of $700 million. This provided the US with significant leverage over Sudanese state.

The US has been disappointed with the coup. Its envoy Jeffery Feltman  had frantic meetings with al-Burhan to stop the coup and to reverse it once it took place. The Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in touch with Hamdok during his arrest, further indicating the US engagement in Sudan at the highest level. All major donors and financial institutions have suspended economic support, including the US, World Bank, IMF, France, Germany, and the UK.

The question is what is the calculation the US is making in wanting a democratic transition in Sudan? Can it be trusted to safeguard democracy in Sudan? The way in which the counter-revolution was engineered in Egypt after the 2011 Arab Spring, with the election of Morsi after the first ever democratic vote being swiftly reversed, ushering in the military dictatorship of Sisi points to the contrary.

Historically the US has undermined the independence of African governments and overthrown governments that it considered against its interests by the CIA engineering coups, for example in Congo in 1961 and Ghana 1966.

From the 1950s to 1970s the US installed many neo-fascist military dictatorships across three continents. After the Iranian revolution its policy shifted to installing controlled electoral democracies generally in the global south.

Distorted politics of Sudan

Sudan’s current impasse cannot be fully understood without grasping the underlying politics over decades. Politics has never been absent whether it took a religious, secular or nationalistic form.

Sudan had experienced two historic and much celebrated political uprisings – the October Revolution of 1964, which overthrew the first military regime of General Abboud and ushered in a four year period of parliamentary democracy and the 1985 April Intifada which overthrew the country’s second military overlord, General Nimeiry. 

During both these upheavals, the urban professional activists, the Doctor’s Union, Bar Association, Khartoum University Teacher and Student Unions were the engines behind the call for strikes and the overthrow of the military dictatorship.

After 1964, there followed government by unstable parliamentary coalitions, hardly lasting a year. The Islamic Umma party and the Democratic Union Party were coalition partners. There were tensions between the secular “modern forces” and the Umma Party. When the Umma-dominated parliamentary regime outlawed the Sudanese Communist Party, a section of the ‘modern forces’ retaliated by facilitating Nimeiry’s military coup in 1969.

In 1989, Hassan-al-Turabi, the ideologue of the National Islamic Front (NIF) collaborated with Umar al-Bashir, to overthrow the Umma Party government led by Sadiq-al-Mahdi since 1985, thus ending the third parliamentary democracy. The NIF was fretting about the potential failure of its project of restoring sharia law. 

Through the different phases of Sudan’s history, the competition for dominance between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic Movement in various guises, both in Parliament and the military was decisive.

Instead of tethering it, the politicians rode the military tiger, only to be thrown off and sidelined. They failed to fulfil the primary requirement of democratic politics -keeping the military stratum under control. Their unprincipled opportunism, their horse-trading and their lack of vision for the future of the Sudanese people made them use the army generals to achieve their short term partisan aims -only to entrench military rule in Sudan for decades.

Once any military strongman took power, politics was repressed, civil society was demoralised, corruption prevailed, internal wars continued, and a vast amount of funds were wasted, inevitably distorting Sudanese society and its future development.

The struggle for self-determination

The military has become a parasitic stratum feeding on the national wealth in Sudan. It has a monopoly of violence. Revolutions can have many meanings. Any change that can shake up Sudanese society from the stranglehold of the military would be revolutionary and open up new possibilities.

The situation remains extremely fluid.  The generals have made well planned moves to solidify the coup.  The neighbourhood Resistance Committees can provide a basis for a decentralised federalist democratic power structure. But as new organisations and alternatives continue to emerge through the struggles, there is an urgent need to build their capacity to link up, build unity amongst the different classes and ethnic groups and present a radically egalitarian vision of governance in Sudan.

Although the revolutionary movement is confident, it needs to solidify fairly quickly to present an alternative to the Sudanese people. It must expose the failures and the corruption of the military relentlessly. Constant vigilance and change of tactics by the revolutionary forces to win over the majority of Sudanese to the necessity of change for further social advancement will be vital.

This is the third time in Sudanese history since independence that the explosive contradiction between the military stratum and civil society has come to the fore. Repeating the feats of the previous revolutions, activists need to be aware that by overthrowing an autocratic regime will not guarantee the emergence of a more democratic system. The revolutionaries will need to reconcile the centre and the periphery, and religion and secularism that previous uprising failed to do.

International Solidarity

The coverage about Sudan in the corporate media is cursory, superficial and ahistorical.  Sudan is a country far off whose fate matters little and garners interest only when Western interests are threatened or if terrorism in the form of an Islamic State insurgency shows up.

To support the civil society resistance in Sudan and the struggle for democracy, subscribe to MENA Solidarity Network which has up to date information on news, demonstrations, petitions and motions for trade union branches which can also be adapted for party branches.

The calls for international solidarity matters and should be heeded. The most important thing that we can do for the Sudanese revolution is hold the British government to account for its intervention with the US and the Arab Troika to push back the revolutionary tide. After all, the British government ruled Sudan for nearly seven decades after invasion, trained its army and supported conservative political forces in Sudan.

Secondly, activists need to put in real effort to track and shut down the sources of RSF and military revenues which are funding the counter-revolution.  This can only be done at multinational level, given that the commercial enterprises of the military are integrated with western capitalist economies dominated by banks and corporations.

Thirdly, international solidarity should focus on exerting pressure on the military to release detainees, compensate for death and injuries, hold all those responsible for these to account, refrain from using deadly force at protesting civilians, respect the rights to protest, restore telecommunications and the internet and to lift bans on trade unions and other associations.

Image: Sudanese soldeirs stand guard around armoured military vehicles as demonstrators continue their protest against the regime near the army headquarters in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, April 11th 2019. Source: Author: Agence France-Presse, made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

First published on the Labour Hub 29 November 2021

The horror of a US drone strike killing ten members of the same family including seven children in Kabul

On Monday 30th August reports began to emerge that a drone strike in Kabul had killed a family.  The reports were fragmentary and there was uncertainty about the numbers. The earliest report was a brief one from CNN at 8.50pm Eastern Time. I picked this up when John Pilger tweeted saying that there were unconfirmed reports of nine members of one Afghan family including six children killed. Someone had taken a screen shot of the CNN report and tweeted it. 

Later the CNN journalists filed a detailed report with photos of eight of the ten who were killed.  If you have a look at these photos, they cease to be abstract numbers and names. Here are beautiful children and men in their prime whose lives were cut short. The New York Times also reported the details. The Los Angeles Times had a comprehensive report showing the photos, the incinerated husk of the family car with relatives gathering around it, the grieving relatives and the funerals. 

The two LA Times journalists who visited the site observed a hole where a projectile had punched through passenger side of the car.  The car was a heap of metal, melted plastic and scraps of what seemed to be human flesh and a tooth. There were metal fragments consistent with some kind of missile. The outside walls of the Ahmadis’ home were spattered with bloodstains that had begun to turn brown.

By complete chance, I watched the BBC news at 11pm on Monday which featured a BBC World Service Newsday report on this drone strike in detail, interviewing a relative who cried at the end. The air strike killed ten of his relatives including six children. The presenter was Yalda Hakim. There was a clip showing relatives combing through the remains in the burnt out car.  Ramin Yousufi, a relative of the victims, said, “It’s wrong, it’s a brutal attack, and it’s happened based on wrong information.”

Lyse Doucet, the BBC’s veteran correspondent who was in Kabul, when asked about the incident, made a general comment that this was one of the tragedies of the war. Yalda Hakim, instead of interviewing any US national security officials about the incident, went on to interview the Pakistani ambassador in the US about Pakistan’s relationship with the Taliban.

The BBC news at 10 o’clock, presented by Mishal Hussain, had a more detailed segment. It showed BBC correspondent Sikender Karman at the Ahmadi family home near the incinerated car and the family member combing through the wreckage for remains of the dead. Someone picked up a burnt finger. He interviewed a family member and described the episode as an awful human tragedy.  Again there was a failure to question any US official.

The reports in the US media were detailed and graphic compared to what was published in the British media. As one would expect, the tabloids completely ignored the story. The next day on Tuesday 31st, some British newspapers carried a few photos of the dead on their front pages.

Using these reports, it was possible for me to piece together what had happened. After a day of work on Sunday, at about 4.30pm Zemari Ahmadi pulled into the narrow street where he lived with his extended family, with three brothers (Ajmal, Ramal and Emal) and their families in Khwaja Burgha, a working-class neighbourhood a few miles west of Kabul’s airport.  Seeing his white Toyota Corolla, the children ran outside to greet him. Some clambered aboard in the street, other family members gathered around as he pulled the car into the courtyard of their home.

His son Farzad, aged 12, asked if he could park the car. Zemari moved to the passenger side and allowed him to get into the driving seat. This is when a missile from a drone that was buzzing in the sky above the neighbourhood struck the car and instantly killed all those in and around the car. Mr. Ahmadi and some of the children were killed inside his car; others were fatally wounded in adjacent rooms, family members said.

Those killed by the strike were Aya, 11, Malika, 2, Sumaya, 2, Binyamen, 3, Armin, 4, Farzad, 10, Faisal, 16,  Zamir, 20,  Naseer, 30  and Zemari, 40.  Zamir, Faisal, and Farzad were the sons of Zemari. Aya, Binyamen and Armin were the children of Zamir’s brother Ramal. Sumaya was the daughter of his brother Emal. Naseer was his nephew. The loss of these loved family members to the surviving members must have left them all heartbroken and inconsolable. That fatal drone strike changed their lives forever. Their dreams and hopes were shattered.

For the last 16 years, Zemari had worked with the US charity Nutrition & Education International (NEI), based in Pasadena as a technical engineer. In an email to the New York Times Steven Kwon, the president of NEI, said of Mr. Ahmadi: “He was well respected by his colleagues and compassionate towards the poor and needy,” and recently he “prepared and delivered soy-based meals to hungry women and children at local refugee camps in Kabul.”

Naseer had worked with US special forces in the western Afghan city of Herat, and had also served as a guard for the US Consulate there before joining the Afghan National Army, family members said. He had arrived in Kabul to pursue his application for a special immigration visa for the US. He was about to be married to Zemari’s sister, Samia whose photo showing her grieving appeared in New York Times.  

In response to the killing of innocent children, US national security officials resorted to familiar justifications.  Firstly, they had targeted an individual planning suicide attacks on Hamid Karzai Airport in a defensive operation based on actionable intelligence. Secondly, they said there were secondary explosions, with the vehicle carrying substantive explosive material that killed people. This line was a well prepared public relations spin.

The Pentagon press conference fronted by a general and press secretary was equally revealing. There were two anodyne questions about the drone strike killings. Most questions were about the five rockets that were fired towards the airport, three of which never reached the airport and two of which were intercepted by the US defence system. When referring to the drone strike, everyone refrained from mentioning the children – they talked about civilian deaths. The party line was repeated without reservations. There was a promise of an investigation, but there is unlikely to be any transparency or accountability, as findings have never been released in previous drone killings.

Again, the gross failure to hold the Pentagon officials to account stood out. This moral blindness is the result of the underlying racism that accepts without reservation US attacks on civilians as legitimate and looks away from the deaths of civilians who are non-white. The same ranking applies to innocent children and the sympathies they evoke. There is a ranking system for deaths, with the deaths of US and allied soldiers leading the rank and Afghan deaths at the bottom.

The media coverage on Afghanistan in Britain was a classic inversion of truth and reality. Instead of holding the elites in the US, the UK and their allies to account for 20 years of war on one of the poorest countries in the world and their failure to bring freedom and democracy, the entire focus was on the bestiality of the Taliban who now had to be accountable to the so called ‘international community’. The savagery of the Afghanistan war was re-written in pictures showing soldiers rescuing children and dogs. 

Reports from all the journalists who interviewed the family members and also people in the neighbourhood clearly show that this was an errant strike. The US military was on alert after the suicide bombings at Kabul airport that claimed the lives of 13 US army personnel and over a hundred Afghans on Thursday August 26th. It had launched three strikes on what it believed to be IS-K (Islamic State-Khorasan).  Ground level intelligence is vital to avoid any collateral damage.

There was a failure of intelligence in the case of this drone strike. It lays bare the dangers of the Pentagon’s long term counterterrorism strategy of so-called over-the-horizon attacks.  Even when US troops were fully deployed in Afghanistan, with American special forces working alongside Afghan security forces, intelligence was often shoddy and led to mounting civilian casualties.

Secret drone strikes have been widely used in Afghanistan. Figures are extremely hard to pin down. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalists which maintains a database to map and count the drone strikes, between 2015 and now, 13,072 drone strikes were confirmed.  It estimates that anywhere between 4,126 to 10,076 people were killed and between 658 and 1,769 injured.

The horrific killing of members of the Ahmadi family as the US abandoned Afghanistan is symbolic of the total warfare on the Afghan people for two decades. Identifying the elusive terrorists among the Afghans made every Afghan a suspect.  Secret drone warfare portends the arrival of technological extermination for people on the periphery as the imperial powers attempt to subjugate and discipline them.

All people of conscience should speak out boldly and critically against these destructive wars based on the deception of bringing freedom and democracy. We must question the legitimacy of state terrorism which is hundreds of times more destructive than the terrorism of political groups or individuals. There are no military solutions to the political, economic and ecological issues that we confront across the world. Peace, dialogue and reconstruction are the way forward.

Image source

First published on the Labour Hub 9 September 2021

Israeli army’s lethal ‘shoot to kill’ actions cut down innocent Palestinian lives

IDF Soldiers Prepare Near Israeli-Syrian Border

Let us consider five episodes during which Palestinians were killed recently in the West Bank.

Friday July 23th  Israeli forces entered Nabi Saleh located northwest of Ramallah around 5 p.m. from the eastern area of the village. As they moved through the village, they encountered Palestinian residents. Confrontations followed with Palestinian youth throwing stones and Israeli soldiers firing tear gas, stun grenades, and live ammunitionIsraeli forces shot and killed a 17-year-old Palestinian boy Mohammad Munir Mohammad Tamimi. The bullet entered his back and exited out through his abdomen, tearing a large hole and exposing his intestines, according to information collected by Defence for Children International – Palestine. Mohammad was taken in a private car to a hospital in Salfit where he underwent four hours of surgery. He was stabilized and moved to the intensive care unit, but later succumbed to his injuries and was pronounced dead around midnight.

Tuesday July 27th 41-year-old Shadi Shurafi, a plumber went to check the village’s main water valve near the entrance of Beita (Nablus). He had a wrench in his hand. After finishing, he was heading home. He was shot dead by Israeli soldiers near the pumping station. He was alone and there were no other Palestinians around at that time.  He was a father of four – his son Leith aged 13 and three other younger children.

Wednesday July 28th  A 12-year-old Palestinian, Mohammed al-Alami was killed by IDF gunfire in the West Bank town of Beit Ummar’ north of Hebron.  He was subsequently rushed to hospital in Hebron and was later declared dead.  Mohammed’s father, Muayyad, was taking his children in the pickup for a picnic with 5-year-old Ahmed in front, 10-year-old Anan and 11-year-old Mohammed in the back.  They had shopped for snacks at the grocery store and were heading out of the village when Mohammed asked his father to turn back because they had forgotten some item. As he reversed near the hill which held Israeli soldiers, to head back to the village, the pickup was struck by 13 bullets fired by the soldiers. One of the bullets struck Mohammed in the chest. The others were just lucky to survive.

Thursday July 29th  A 20-year-old Palestinian man died hours after being shot by Israeli forces during the funeral of 12-year-old Mohammed al-Alami, who was killed the day before, also by Israeli military gunfire. He was one of the pallbearers carrying Mohammed’s body. He too was shot by soldiers, who opened fire during the funeral. According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, Shawkat Awad sustained gunshot wounds to his abdomen and head and was taken in a critical condition to a hospital in Hebron, where he died.

Friday Aug 6th  38-year-old Imad Duikat, a labourer, had been among hundreds of fellow villagers of Beita who gathered every Friday across from Evyatar, an illegal outpost whose settlers have left for the time being but the  dwellings are still there, intact. He was drinking water from a disposable cup when he was shot. It was about 2.30 p.m. when an IDF soldier took up his rifle and fired just one round – a .22 calibre “tutu” bullet – into Duikat’s chest. Blood spurted out of his mouth; the bullet did not exit. His infant son Ali, and his four sisters, will never see him again. 

These killings categorically show that the Israeli defence forces are operating a ‘shoot to kill’ policy. None of those killed endangered the soldiers who killed them. They were not terrorists but civilians. These five executions left behind grieving families, widowed women, orphaned children and distraught parents, shattering dreams and hopes. They were deliberately targeted by soldiers choosing shooting to kill as the preferred option. In all cases other options were available: arrests, aiming for the legs, not shooting, or simply letting the people be.

Gideon Levy rightly wrote, “All this can be called terror; there is no other definition. All this can be called the actions of death squads; there is no other description. It sounds horrible, but it really is horrific.”

According to the Israeli open-fire regulations, live ammunition may be fired in two situations only. First, shooting to kill is permitted when the lives of members of the security forces or other individuals are in danger. Even then, the use of firearms is only permitted if there is no other way to avert the danger, but only against the assailants themselves. Second, members of the security forces may only shoot at a person’s legs, as the last phase in an attempt to arrest the person in question, only after they have given warning and fired in the air, and only when no one else is in danger of getting hurt.

In using firearms in the Occupied Territories, Israel’s actions are also subject to the provisions of international humanitarian law. These allow security forces to open fire even under non-life-threatening situations. However, and most importantly, they restrict the actions of security forces so as to protect civilians who are not taking part in the fighting, and their property, as much as possible.

However these rules are entirely ignored by the Israeli armed forces despite claiming otherwise.   Soldiers have often fired indiscriminately, hitting passers-by; they targets civilians deliberately and they use firearms without ensuring sufficient distinction between armed groups and civilians.

In order to promote accountability, the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem regularly wrote to the Military Advocate General (MAG) Corps to conduct investigations for cases in which security forces harmed Palestinians.  But thousands of casualties have been largely ignored by the military law enforcement system. In most cases, no investigation was opened at all; in the rare cases that were investigated, no further action was taken. Other than a handful of cases, usually involving low-ranking soldiers, no one has been put on trial for harming Palestinians. Frustrated with this, B’Tselem ceased to demand investigations from MAG Corps in May 2016.

Shockingly, the day after the killing of  Mohammed al-Alami, Israeli soldiers raided the headquarters  of the Palestine branch of the Defence for Children International NGO  in El Bireh, and stole six desktop computers, two laptops, one external hard drive and a few binders. These contained all the evidence that the organisation had collected on the  killing.

More than 40 Palestinians have been killed there since the beginning of the year. The increase in the number of Palestinians killed this year – almost twice as many as in every other recent year – is due to a combination of circumstances such as the May uprisings against the Al-Aqsa intrusions, the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah and attacks on Gaza. According to United Nations, in the period covering July 13th to 26th, overall, Israeli forces injured 615 Palestinians across the West Bank, including 24 children, the youngest of whom is a three-month-old baby.

The responsibility for these shootings lies squarely with the head of Central Command, Maj. Gen. Tomer Yadai and Israel Defence Forces Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi. When he was appointed as Israel Defence Forces Chief of Staff two and a half years ago, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi said, “Our goal is fielding a lethal army.” He appointed Yadai who has now been removed because there was a call for his sacking because of the multiple incidents of killings of Palestinians. He was replaced by Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, the new head of Central Command, who still threatens Palestinians with the use of “trained lethal forces without hesitation.”

The Editorial in Haartez of August 4th 2021 said, “IDF soldiers’ quick trigger fingers are a badge of shame for the army and the lethal chief of staff who heads it. The IDF has proven to be a thug against people smaller and weaker than itself. Only utter contempt for Palestinian lives could explain such a bloody harvest.”

The whole of the Israeli media have just looked away and not reported on these killings, except for Haaretz. Their two veteran journalists Gideon Levy and Amira Hass have courageously investigated some of the incidents and have called for accountability.

To quote Gideon Levy, “It could be less horrific if the Israeli media bothered to report on it, possibly shocking Israelis. It could be much less horrific if IDF commanders took the necessary steps given their army’s murderous recklessness. But most of the media believed that the killing of a child interests no one or is unimportant, or both, so this shocking incident wasn’t reported on. If the soldiers had shot a dog – also a shocking act, of course – it would have attracted more attention. But a dead Palestinian child? What happened? Why should it interest anyone, why is it important?”

It would also be less horrific if the British and American media reported on the killing of innocent Palestinians. But they remain silent, discrediting their defence of human rights across the world.

Image: IDF soldiers. Source: IDF Soldiers Prepare Near Israeli-Syrian Border. Author: Israel Defense Forces, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

The crimes against indigenous children in Canada reveal the barbarism of the colonial system

The discovery of unmarked graves of indigenous children in Canada reveals the cruelty and inhumanity of the colonial system. In May, members of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation found 215 bodies at the Kamloops school in British Columbia. On 24th June, Cowessess First Nation announced the discovery of as many as 751 unmarked graves on the grounds of the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewanan. On 30th June, the Lower Kootenay Band community announced finding 182 unmarked graves of indigenous children between the ages of seven and 15 at St Eugene’s Mission School near Cranbrook, British Columbia.

The nearly 1,000 ‘virtual unearthings’ of the bodies were made by using a highly specialised ground penetrating radar which mapped the buried human remains. The initiatives were a persistent effort by the indigenous community groups, and not by the Canadian government or the perpetrators who had every reason to hide these remains forever. These revelations are a searing reminder of the sufferings of the indigenous communities.

Just imagine the trauma of a family whose child was abducted without notice, without consent. The accounts of survivors who lived through such abductions make harrowing reading.  Being loaded onto buses, trucks and trains without the opportunity to say goodbye to their parents and family, many cried all the way and were taken many hundreds of miles from home. The arrival at a residential school was equally traumatic. They were stripped of their clothing, their hair cut and given a school uniform. Brothers were separated from sisters, older brothers from younger and older sisters from younger.  They entered a world dominated by fear, loneliness and lack of affection.  The trauma is still fresh in the minds of some who experienced the abduction of their siblings.

To operate such a heartless system, the settler society dehumanised the indigenous communities. Institutional racism based on the supremacy of ‘white Christian’ culture was the driving force behind the policy of ‘aggressive assimilation’ that Canada copied from the United States. It was made mandatory for native children between the ages of seven and 16 to attend residential schools.

A partnership between the Canadian government and Roman Catholic, Anglican, United, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches administered the system. The system opened around 1883 and grew to about 150 schools across Canada. The government’s partnership with the churches remained in place until 1969, and, although most of the schools had closed by the 1980s, the last federally supported residential schools remained in operation until the late 1990s.

An estimated 150,000 indigenous children were forced into the residential schools. A landmark class action by the survivors of the system against the federal government in 2008 resulted in a court settlement.  The Canadian government apologised to the former students, and agreed to pay 1.9 billion Canadian dollars (about $1.85 billion) to surviving students and establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to document the experiences of children who attended the schools.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was set up immediately. It was led by Justice Murray Sinclair, an Ojibwa who was the first aboriginal judge in the province of Manitoba. Members of the Commission spent six years travelling to all parts of Canada to research and gather evidence.  Seven national events were held across the country between 2010 and 2015, marking the culmination of a process which saw the TRC hold 238 days of local hearings in 77 communities across the country.

In all, the TRC collected 6,750 statements from survivors, their families, and others directly affected by the schools. In 2015 it published a six volume, 4,000-plus-page report detailing the testimonies of survivors and historical documents from the time. By all accounts, this is an immense achievement reproducing the erased history of the indigenous communities for the first time.

The Commission could establish that 3,201 students died of malnourishment, tuberculosis and other diseases caused by poor living conditions. Many students also died from accidents, fires and during attempts to escape. Justice Murray Sinclair argued that this number is likely higher, perhaps five to ten times higher

The poor record-keeping by the schools of the children on their register and poor burial records made it impossible to establish a more accurate picture. The schools were left unregulated. The lack of a proper dietary standard meant students were undernourished, which increased their vulnerability to infectious diseases. 

It was known that the comparative mortality rate for indigenous children in these schools ranged between twice as high and five times higher than non-indigenous schoolchildren. The rates of infectious disease grew due to lack of regulation barring ill students from being admitted to the schools or being in class or dormitories, as well as overcrowding.

Furthermore, students were expected to grow crops or raise animals to provide themselves with food, to make and repair much of their clothing and to maintain the school building and grounds. This meant that the schools operated a “half-day system” with half the day spent in classes and the other half on institutionalised repetitive child labour in the guise of vocational training.

The residential schools were woefully underfunded compared to the schools for non-indigenous communities.  They were inadequately staffed with many staff being paid poorly on the grounds that they were carrying out missionary duties. During any economic recession the schools faced a financial crisis as well as health crisis because of cuts.

Many survivors recalled how their heavily regimented daily lives lacked privacy and dignity. At many of the schools, students were addressed by a number rather than a name, as if they were prisoners. Corporal punishment was administered if they were caught speaking their language. Children were forced to convert to Christianity. Such was the alienation of students that there were episodes when students tried to burn down their schools. At least 33 students died after running away, mostly from exposure to cold and drowning.

There were widespread bullying and beating involving both staff members and older students. Some former students testified before the Commission that priests at the schools had fathered infants with indigenous students, that the babies had been taken away from their young mothers and killed, and that in some cases their bodies were thrown into furnaces.  The commission found that the government had in effect blocked criminal investigations of some sexual predators employed at the schools.

The objective of separating children from their families was to prevent the transmission of cultural values and identity from one generation to next. Thus aboriginal parents were completely alienated from their children on the grounds that they were unfit to look after them. Parental visits were strictly limited by placing schools hundreds of miles from home. Parents who travelled a long way and camped outside the schools were denied the opportunity to see their children. Many parents resisted by keeping their children out of these schools at risk to being punished because they saw those schools as dangerous and harsh institutions. Students were also subjected to forced enfranchisement as ‘assimilated’ citizens that removed their legal identity as Indians.

The legacy of the regimented residential schools has left a lasting impact on indigenous communities. Disconnected from their families and culture and forced to speak English or French, students who attended the residential school system were often unable to fit into their communities but remained subject to racism in mainstream Canadian society. It has been linked to an increased prevalence of post-traumatic stress, alcoholism, substance abuse and suicides which persist within indigenous communities today.  A disproportionate number of indigenous people are imprisoned in Canada. Indigenous children account for a much larger part of the child welfare system’s caseload than their share of the population.

The TRC came to the conclusion that for over a century, the central goals of Canada’s aboriginal policy can best be described as “cultural genocide”. Aboriginal lands were simply occupied or seized. Often, negotiated treaties were seemingly legal but marked by fraud or coercion. Populations were forcibly transferred from agriculturally valuable or resource-rich lands to remote and economically marginal reserves. Their movement was restricted through ‘pass laws’. Aboriginal languages were banned. Spiritual leaders were persecuted, spiritual practices were forbidden and objects of spiritual value were confiscated and destroyed.

The TRC’s call for action included an apology from Pope Francis for the role the Catholic Church played in the residential schools system.  But the pope has not apologised but only expressed “pain”. Justin Trudeau, the Canadian Prime minister said that Canadians were “horrified and ashamed” of the policy of forced assimilation but stopped short of launching a national investigation on the deaths in residential schools.

The TRC set out an agenda for true reconciliation between the indigenous and other communities. The establishment of the of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation as an archival repository for all the material it collected laid the basis for the compilation of the complete history and legacy of the residential school system for future generations.

However five years after it issued its recommendations, the Yellowhead Institute, a First Nation led research centre found that the Canadian Government and the Catholic Church have implemented only nine of 94 recommendations.

The government’s reconciliation agenda, which is still based on assimilation, is facing increasing opposition from native people due to Ottawa’s manifest failure to address the horrific social conditions faced by the majority of Canada’s indigenous people, both on and off reserve.

On 1st July when Canada was supposed to have a national celebration marking its 154 years of independence, the celebrations were muted because indigenous groups had called for the cancellation of the celebration after the discovery of the unmarked graves.

Apologies and reconciliation should not be allowed to deflect from thorough accountability. The most basic of questions about missing children — who died? why did they die? where are they buried? — have never been addressed or comprehensively documented by the Canadian government.

The Independent UN human rights experts called on the Canadian authorities and the Holy See of the Catholic Church to conduct prompt “full-fledged investigations”. They called on the authorities to probe “the circumstances and responsibilities surrounding these deaths, including forensic examinations of the remains found, and to proceed to the identification and registration of the missing children.”

Furthermore, “the judiciary should conduct criminal investigations into all suspicious death and allegations of torture and sexual violence against children, hosted in residential schools, and prosecute and sanction the perpetrators and concealers who may still be alive.”

For the last three centuries, vast swathes of the world fell under direct imperial rule accompanied by the most brutal violence against indigenous peoples by states which see themselves as democracies today. The barbarism of colonialism that has been buried needs to be exhumed and a comprehensive indictment against the colonial system fully assembled. There has to be justice and reparations for the survivors.­

Image: Canada. License: Creative Commons 3 – CC BY-SA 3.0. Attribution Link: – link to – Original Author: Nick Youngson – link to – Original Image:

First published on the Labour Hub on 28th July 2021