Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Sudanese ‘Resistance’ Activists Mobilize Amid Escalating Crisis


When conflict broke out in Sudan on April 15, resistance committees mobilized to establish committees of medics, nurses, and engineers across the country. These committees have spearheaded Sudan’s pro-democracy movement since 2019 and have worked to provide shelter to the displaced, rehabilitate hospitals, and save lives amid shelling, gunfire, and bombing.

Ahmed Ismat, the spokesperson for one of the groups from south Khartoum, said that every coordination committee did a scan of working hospitals. Even the hospitals that were not working before the war were made to operate by bringing doctors, fuel, and electricity. However, the groups lack supplies from drugs to first aid kits and gauze.

Since the violent power struggle exploded into an armed conflict between the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), at least 413 people have been killed, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The violence has prompted aid groups to suspend operations, yet resistance committees have worked to fill the void by mobilizing informal networks that were once used to organize anti-government protests.

Beyond medical care, they have coordinated evacuations for besieged civilians and spread anti-war messaging. Their efforts have boosted their support among the population, according to analysts. Kholood Khair, founding director of Confluence Advisory, a think tank in Khartoum, said that “the resistance committees maintain their legitimacy because they do something differently than political elites in this country, and that is service provision. They have always centered all their political work around service and they are doing that much more now during the war.”

Fighting has rocked the urban quarters of Khartoum, putting many civilians in a dilemma. Over social media, hundreds of people say it is too unsafe to leave their homes to seek refuge elsewhere, yet staying put is also impossible due to shortages of water, food, and electricity. Still, those desperate to move are relying on resistance committees to procure fuel for cars and motorbikes. A number of WhatsApp groups, as well as social media pages and hashtags, have also been created to coordinate the humanitarian response.

Many use the hashtag #NotoWar and publish updated information about which roads and side streets are safe to escape heavy clashes. In the first couple of days of the conflict, these pages informed families to head southwards to Gezira state, an area that is relatively distant from the ongoing clashes. Later, resistance committees from the city of Madani warned people not to travel down the Khartoum-Madani road after clashes suddenly broke out there.

Resistance committees also play a role in maintaining the social cohesion of their neighborhoods. Activists have urged their communities not to side with either the RSF or the army since both parties could weaponize ethnic rhetoric to recruit more fighters. Hamid Murtada, a Sudanese analyst and member of a resistance committee, said that “neighborhood resistance committees can play a huge role in making sure that … the narratives of the army and RSF … doesn’t lead to communities getting divided.”

Despite the heroic efforts, Khair says resistance committees have received little support from the Forces for Freedom of Change – Central Command (FFC-CC), a bloc of political parties that shared power with the army in a transitional government before the October 2021 military coup. The RSF and the army have also not provided any support as they terrorize civilians.

Khair told Al Jazeera that with much of Sudan depending on resistance committees, the international community should effectively engage with them too. However, she predicts that Western officials will still favor political elites and generals when it comes to political decision-making. “When you have independent and robust organizations that can carry out momentum for change and you still don’t find ways to engage with it. Well, that is almost criminal.”

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