A spectre is haunting the world- the spectre of Austerity. Deficit-cutting measures now haunt populations across the world and it is the poorest and most vulnerable that are being hit the hardest. Guy Standing in his latest book has termed this class of people The Precariat those in vulnerable and unprotected work, with students and women making up a large percentage of this demographic. In Sudan, it is exactly these people who have sparked the recent uprising. So to rework another old phrase, it is perhaps no longer Lenin’s question of What is to be done? but instead who is going to do it?
If we identify the Precariat as a significant and consistent feature of modern capitalism, then it must be – and indeed is – this class that spearheads the resistance to austerity. In Jorge Luis Borges’ Labrinyth, he depicts two kings who devise mazes to outwit and outdo each other. The first devises an infinitely complex maze that puzzles and misleads the navigator, yet there are rules and routes to learn and master. In response, the second King devises his own maze to trump his fellow, so his maze is a sparse, featureless desert with no logic or route to learn. The hopelessness of the desert represents vividly how our struggle against capitalist domination today is plagued by an overriding sense of gloom and despair. The Cold War period of complex yet decipherable resistance to capitalism shifted during the neo-liberal era into a complex post-modernist nightmare of seemingly no hope or coordinates that we can cling onto. Conversely, the uprising seen in Sudan may teach us some valuable lessons in how to create an anti-capitalist agenda for the 21st century.
As austerity spreads to Sudan, with anti-austerity resistance in tow, many Sudanese people are speaking of this as their Third Great Revolution. The first being in 1964 when Ahmad al-Qurashi, a young student in Khartoum, was assassinated by the security forces which sparked a mass non-violent movement of students who eventually overthrew General Abood. The second being a military coup in 1985 that toppled President Gaafar al-Nimeiry. Today, students are again at the centre of the uprising. It began in Khartoum on June 16th when a group of female students demonstrated against the Bashir regime’s huge hikes in the price of student housing, along with tax rises and an increase in the price of fuel. ‘Licking Your Elbow’ has become the adopted slogan of the emerging movement, a popular Sudanese metaphor meaning to achieve the impossible, translating as an end of austerity and to bring down Bashir. ‘Achieving the impossible’ may well be a useful slogan for us all to adopt in the Age of Austerity.
Despite the overzealous incorporation, by some observers, of the uprisings in Sudan into the Arab Spring chain of events, the protests have taken on a different character to those that rocked the squares of North Africa and the Arab world. There are tempting parallels in terms of the role of social media in the protests, as tweeters such as Usamah Mohd (@simsimt) tweet tactics and activist tips on how to get organised and get around the government security forces. One tweet calls on protestors to protest at nighttime to keep the security forces up all night and day, as they are not equipped to deal with such prolonged protest.
Yet whilst the Arab Spring may have filled squares and streets, it has struggled to uproot the ruling classes’ stranglehold on power, and elections in Tunisia and Egypt have brought to power a band of conservative Islamists, who seem to ride on the revolutionary wave, albeit on the Right wing of the coattails of the revolution. In Sudan, it is the Islamists that already hold power – a more secular opposition is waiting in anticipation for when the masses topple Bashir. However, the Sudanese ‘Girifna’ movement, an umbrella movement of youth activist movements, represents a brighter path forward for post-despot life and suggests that the ‘Sudanese spring’ may not have to be the replacement of the current regime with a mongrel, tweaked version.
Solidarity has been an important component to the Sudanese protests. The Al-Manaseer community in Northern Sudan has been protesting the lack of government compensation after the construction of the government-funded Merowe Dam destroyed large swathes of community property. This inspired a solidarity sit-in at the University of Khartoum as students occupied a space on their campus in solidarity with the Al-Manaseer community, which in turn led to the arrest of prominent activist student leader, Taj Elsir Jafaar, by the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS). The recent #HAQforum which brought together those from the Girifna movement and the Movement of New Democratic Forces (HAQ), put forward ‘solidarity’ as key to the future of the anti-Bashir movement, and is learning from the failures of the masses in the Arab world to follow through on their early revolutionary promise, only to be overtaken by the conservative strains of the uprisings.
The uprisings raise important questions surrounding Sudan’s Arab-African makeup, an issue that is rearing its head across Africa- in Northern Nigeria, in relations between Tanzania and Zanzibar, in the independence claims of Mombasa, and in the attempts to build an Azawadian state in Mali. The recent independence of South Sudan has done little to dampen the Arab-African hostility, as since independence the North has lost around 75% of Sudanese crude oil production, leaving Khartoum with a lack of revenue, sharpened by rising inflation, due to the incapability of Khartoum and Juba to agree on a deal concerning how much South Sudan should pay to use the North’s oil infrastructure. Sporadic fighting between North and South has meant that the main Heglig oil field has been damaged and been forced to shut down. This along with the easing of fuel subsidies means that vulnerable Sudanese communities have been hit the hardest. Political independence of the South may have forged a temporary peace, but both countries are intricately linked economically and politically, and thus any protests in Sudan are felt both North and South.
The government reaction to the protests has been predictable- the state media has said that “Zionist institutions inside the United States and elsewhere are exploiting the latest economic decisions to destabilize the security and political situation”, and blamed the independence of South Sudan. Yet as the protests grow and resistance embeds itself in communities across Sudan, such claims will be harder to justify.
Whether the struggle against Capitalist hegemony in the 21st century is a maze or a desert, it is clear that a small, educated, urban elite cannot carry the torch. The organisation of the informal economy is key, as the majority of the populations in developing countries are engaged in precarious and vulnerable work. Whilst the students occupying their campuses from Quebec to Khartoum are provocative blemishes on government’s reputations, it will be the protest of those who are really being hit by austerity, the street sellers in Khartoum or the daladala bus workers in Tanzania working for daily survival, who will find the solutions buried deep in the desert of capitalist misery.