How Sudan Created the Blueprint For the 21st Century Revolution
June 30th marked the day Sudanese people rewrote their history.
On the thirtieth anniversary of the coup installing dictator Omar al-Bashir, Sudanese activists renewed their calls for a civilian-led government. An estimated hundreds of thousands of protesters marched through the country, demonstrating that--despite internet blackouts and violent crackdowns, Sudan will not be silenced.
“June 30th reaffirmed all I personally know and believe about this revolution,” Sudanese humanist Dimah Mahmoud said to Her Culture. “It’s emboldened why I believe in this revolution more than anything else in this life.”
Many Sudanese gathered in what they called a “Millions March” to demand a transfer of power from the current ruler—the Transitional Military Council (TMC)—to the civilians. This followed a successful coup that deposed al-Bashir in April and left military rule in his place. It was the first large-scale protest since the violent massacre of the opposition that occurred on June 3, which left over 118 dead.
“June 30 was [and] is the amplifier to our resilience showing how we, in the most effective and beautiful way, activated the human agent and fought their Internet blackout by word of mouth, met their torture with healing memories of peace, and faced their live ammunition with open arms,” Mahmoud said. “Not to welcome the bullets, but [to] welcome the only two options we know we have at this point: freedom or joining our martyrs.”
Seven were reported killed and over 180 wounded in the Millions March protest.
Sudan has been under a total internet blackout for over a month now, but still managed to organize the march without use of social media, which has been a crucial tool in propelling the uprising. Sudanese abroad used social media to organize global protests in solidarity and raised awareness with the hashtag #WatchSudanOnJune30.
It’s clear that the world should have watched Sudan before June 30, and there are several reasons it should still hold our attention: it is a revolution led by women in a country that enforces laws limiting their agency. It is a revolution led by young working professionals, who, in many cases, have known nothing but al-Bashir’s rule. It marks the toppling of one of Africa’s most notorious dictators, who has been charged by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes, human rights violations, and genocide in the Darfur region. But mostly because in weaponizing social media, uniting under a common message, and holding their government accountable through peaceful protest, Sudan has created a blueprint for the modern revolution.
“There has been a miracle happening on our soil and within our diaspora since December in the name of freedom, peace, and justice,” Mahmoud said. “There has been pure magic coming out of our nonviolent resistance, millions getting on the streets, and people around the world have no idea. Why? Because who really cares about Africa? Because politics trumps people and interest overshadows right.”
The Sudanese broadcasted much of their revolution to a scant audience while Western media cycled news about Donald Trump, the race for the 2020 U.S. presidency, and continued progress for Brexit.
“For the last 6 months, almost every single day of the Sudanese uprising has been meticulously documented on social media,” Sudanese writer Sara Elhassan said in an article she penned for Okay Africa, “We made sure of it--more so for the world, we did it for ourselves, and for the millions of Sudanese scattered across the globe thanks to this regime.”
The country’s unrest first began in December of 2018 after Bashir’s government imposed austerity measures in an attempt to avoid economic collapse. Declining living standards and cuts to bread and fuel subsidies resulted in protests that began in the east and quickly spread to the capital city, Khartoum. As four months of protests gained traction, the demands of the people expanded to the removal of al-Bashir’s government and an end to his 30-year reign.
Their common message was that they wanted freedom, peace and justice—a message that reached all Sudanese, regardless of their ethnic background. In an attempt to create division among the protesters, the Sudanese government initially accused Darfurian student activists of inciting violence.
“Sudanese protesters rejected that claim in what they saw as an age-old method to use ethnicity to deflect attention from real problems,” The Atlantic reported. “‘You Arrogant Racist, We Are All Darfur!’ became a rallying cry in the capital, Khartoum, a city whose residents had long looked down on people from the conflict-wracked region.”
Sudanese also took note from their country’s history of successful civic resistance, with civilian-led movements in 1964 and 1985 ending military rule. Strikes have been cornerstones of today’s protests, bringing the country to an economic standstill as people have heeded the WhatsApp messages and widespread calls to demonstrate in the street.
SKY News correspondent Stuart Ramsey recently reflected on his time in Sudan. For his team and for him, it wasn’t an issue of audience disinterest that hindered the delivery of the news. It was instead the difficulty in gaining access to the country while the uprising was occurring.
“Every moment that we had almost got [SIC] visas to go to the country, security would intervene and to [SIC] say no,” Ramsey said. “The best you could hope for was social media.”
Though the government blocked most major social media sites within the country in hopes of extinguishing the protests, citizens were able to circumvent that measure by use of virtual private networks (VPNs). By February, Buzzfeed News reported that women who once used Facebook as a way to discuss their crushes were now using it to dox national security officers who beat activists.
“Changing the government can’t be achieved by using WhatsApp or Facebook,” al-Bashir told his supporters in a televised conference.
He was ousted in a military-led coup three months later.
And while al-Bashir’s arrest in April marked a milestone for the pro-democracy opposition, their cause was not fully realized. The TMC, which took control after al-Bashir was arrested, delayed its transfer of power to civilians, leading to renewed protests and increased pressure from the opposition. This culminated in a large-scale sit-in in Khartoum during Ramadan.
But on the morning of June 3, their sit-in and chants for civilian rule were met with a hail of bullets.
According to residents, the attack on the protesters that left over a hundred dead and nearly 400 wounded was carried out by the paramilitary group, Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in conjunction with the TMC. Amnesty International notes that the RSF is a rebranded version of Janjaweed, the same militia that committed genocidal atrocities in Darfur.
“The RSF raped and gang raped women, men, young, old, dead and alive. No one was or is safe,” Mahmoud said. “They’ve dumped over 118 bodies into the Nile so we don’t know how many of us they killed. They weighed the bodies down with cement blocks. They’ve burned homes, hearts and souls. They’ve painted over our murals of the Sudan we want and those honoring our martyrs. Then, [they] cut off the internet saying, it was a national security threat. The threat, of course, is that the world knows and that humanity wakes up and banishes them into oblivion.”
The U.S. and the United Kingdom both condemned the attack officially. And instead of silencing the protesters, the RSF’s crackdown amplified their message. Sudanese abroad in the diaspora demanded accountability, urging their followers to pay attention and spread the word with the hashtags #IAmTheSudanRevolution. Campaigns like #BlueForSudan permeated social media. News reached celebrities like Rihanna, George Clooney, and Demi Lovato, who used their platforms to raise awareness for the revolution.
“I’d say this is the point in our revolution that woke humanity up and it resented and rejected any effort to silence it, to silence its pain and silence its truth in being violated,” Mahmoud said. “Social media is proving that our revolution isn’t just waking Africa up; it’s waking up humanity itself. There is a thirst for knowledge and people have started asking questions.”
“Those people [the RSF] should not be negotiated with, only overthrown,” Sudanese artist and illustrator Alaa Satir wrote for Vogue UK, “At first, we were thinking that the government would have a mix of military and civilian representation, but now we just want to take our country back. We want a government that represents us without military representation, and we want to see them prosecuted.”
Elhassan notes in her Okay Africa piece that there is a danger in something as fragile and complex as a country’s revolution “going viral.” Social media loans itself mostly to surface-level stories and clickbait, leaving little room for political context and the deep understanding needed to relay a clear, correct narrative.
“Worldwide, celebrities, activists and people from all walks of life were raising awareness about Sudan,” Elhassan wrote. “But without much of an understanding of Sudan, awareness turned into misinformation. For most people, the June 3rd attack was not only the focal point, it was the only point of reference. Just like a great game of telephone, the story morphed from ‘massacre’ to ‘humanitarian crisis’ to ‘feed the children of Sudan,’ and what started off as an opportunity for the revolution to gain global recognition and worldwide support quickly devolved into a scramble to keep the narrative of the movement from derailing completely (and keep clout chasers from hijacking the wave—@sudanmealproject is a scam).”
Though Sudan’s revolution seems far from over, the TMC and the opposition alliance reached a power-sharing agreement on July 5 that will put into place a sovereign council for three years composed of 5 military leaders and 5 civilian leaders and one civilian-elected leader who will be agreed upon by both sides.
Still, for all the yet-to-be answered questions about the political future of the country, there seems to be a constant: the spirit of the resilience and revolution hums through the Sudanese soil.
“I have never in my life been prouder to say I am Sudanese and my connection, my culture and my purpose is that #IAmTheSudanRevolution,” Mahmoud said. “This revolution will not be silenced and will not rest and will not stop. This is the revolution that keeps going and we are the people that will wake up everyday for the rest of our lives saying #IAmTheSudanRevolution.”