For our first episode of 2021 we return to the 2018-19 Sudanese Revolution that overthrew Omar al-Bashir and his National Congress Party. Joined by Dinan Alasad and Aida Abbashar, the conversation highlights the course of the revolution, the importance of international attention and the mobilising and uprising of Sudan’s youth. Our guests identify both the power of social media movements such as #BlueForSudan and #BlueForMattar as well as reminding us that, in areas like women’s rights, the story is far from complete.
Both Aida and Dinan have devoted huge amounts of time to both educating themselves on the history and politics of their home country and raising awareness of issues in Sudan that persist to this day. They herald the removal of Omar al-Bashir in April 2019 as a monumental event in Sudanese history that can represent a watershed moment for the nation. In particular, they seek to highlight the role of young Sudanese citizens who refused to accept the growing apathy of older generations and strove to bring about meaningful change. It is to this resilience that they attribute the success of the revolution.
“…everything I do is driven by my passion for Sudanese politics”
Beginning outside Khartoum, the revolution gained momentum in 2018 as the inequalities between life in the capital and the rest of Sudan became impossible to ignore. Dinan speaks of the lack of funding for schools resulting in children having to get on boats, with many drowning in the waters of the Nile as they tried to access their education. With the tripling of the price of bread and doubling of the price of school meals towards the end of 2018, marches and protests flared up across the country. The National Congress Party (NCP) headquarters were set alight in Atbara and Dongola and protestors began to converge on Khartoum.
Our guests emphasise the role social media, in particular Twitter and WhatsApp, played both in the early days of the revolution and throughout its enactment. WhatsApp groups emerged in many Sudanese neighbourhoods, used both for the organising of marches and instances of civil disobedience as well as the communicating of military positions and actions. Dinan also highlights how, when marches were planned, those more affluent members of the neighbourhood would ensure arrangements were made to cover the losses daily-wage workers would incur. Through these communities the revolution could maintain its momentum and mobilise on a large scale. Indeed, as Aida notes, even during the internet blackout imposed upon Sudan by the al-Bashir regime, connections could not be severed, with those involved in the revolution able to use the existing connections they had made on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.
Social media remained critical in the mobilising and maintaining of support amongst the Sudanese diaspora. Our guests discuss with Muna how Twitter hashtags like #BlueForSudan and #BlueForMattar both helped to decrease the impact of the internet blackout in Sudan, perpetuating the momentum of the movement from outside the country and brought further pressure to bear on the al-Bashir regime. Both Aida and Dinan agree the power of online activism was an undeniable factor in the revolutionary events, engaging wider audiences, acting as a highly effective organisational tool and bringing first-hand experiences and stories to the fore that would otherwise have gone unheard.
“We’re living in a reality where 30 years of violent, oppressive rule has to be uprooted”
Nevertheless, whilst the achievements of the revolution are to be celebrated, we are reminded that in light of the current transitional government now is no time for complacency. Despite their heavy involvement in the revolution itself, both Aida and Dinan agree that women are noticeably underrepresented in the current transitional government. Such links tightly to the institutionalised and ingrained misogyny of Sudanese society, exacerbated by the previous regime. Although our guests do mention improvements in the treatment of Sudanese women – naming the protection now granted to tea ladies in the Sudanese Professional Association as one example – work is still to be done. Under al-Bashir, police were empowered to launch misogynistic campaigns across the country, challenging, arresting and beating women who they deemed to be dressed inappropriately. For Sudan to progress, Aida believes a lot of unlearning must commence, with Sudanese men and women alike challenging the strictures of Sharia law and the coercive and misogynistic policies under which they lived for so long. The comradery cultivated during the revolution must be a tool for further change in Sudan.