A nationwide civil disobedience strike ended Tuesday afternoon to allow citizens access to markets and international mediation with the country’s military leaders to continue. The opposition umbrella group, the Freedom and Change coalition, originally announced the strike last Sunday in response to the security forces devastating 3 June attack and dismantlement of the movement’s sit-in protest site where security forces killed over 100 civilians.
The strike was a reaction to one of the bloodiest crackdowns on civilians in Khartoum with the Central Doctor’s Committee estimating around 118 people killed to date since the military’s attack on the protestor’s sit-in on 3 June along with 784 wounded. “I was one of the first people who saw the attack of the RSF (Rapid Support Forces, pro-government militia) on the sit-in, I saw them coming from Nile Street, they systematically fired on the protestors, raiding the barricades and attacked us on the track of the railways,” said protestor Hussein Saddam. Besides directly shooting civilians, Saddam said he “saw them beat and flog girls, lashing everyone while they [also] looted money and mobile phones.”
The sit-in protest site outside the army headquarters was the opposition’s main tool of protest against the military. After this was dismantled on 3 June, the Freedom and Change coalition returned to using nationwide strikes and intermittent barricades designed to block security forces’ movements as their only bargaining chips in negotiations with the Transitional Military Council (TMC) to call for political reform.
Security forces such as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), whose members are largely drawn from the Janjaweed, a militia charged with crimes against humanity for their role in the Darfur war, continued to patrol and terrorise civilians in Khartoum during the strike, eyewitnesses told Ayin. “The RSF is now robbing people,” said Ahmed Suleiman*, “they wear uniforms during the day, doing Janjaweed acts, at night they dress like civilians and stop people…they operate like gangs.”
RSF forces also retaliated against the civil disobedience by arresting several airport workers who participated in the strike, the SPA said, some of whose whereabouts are still unknown. On Sunday, security forces also raided a state-owned health agency in the capital that supplies medications for patients across the country, the Sudan Pharmacists Central Committee reported.
TMC’s Security Committee Head Major-General Gamal Omer accused the Freedom and Change coalition in a statement of breaking the law and religious custom by encouraging protestors to continue building barricades in the roads. On the first day of the strike, the major-general also accused the opposition of using “criminal gangs” to help ensure people remained at home and contributed to the “success” of the civil disobedience campaign.
Despite these challenges, the industrial and civic action froze life in Khartoum’s central business district and in strategic markets across the country –including the coastal economic city, Port Sudan. According to a statement by the opposition, the strike was adhered to by about 80% of the population, including key areas such as the banking and flight sectors. By Tuesday, however, there were signs the campaign was easing, as informal traders restarted activities and some shops reopened.
The Sudan Professionals Association (SPA), a civil society group who have organized and led the opposition protests, claimed the strike was a success but found it necessary to call off the strike to allow Sudan’s citizens to return to work. According to the association’s spokesman, Mohamed Yousif Ahmed, the strike has been temporarily suspended to allow people, especially those in the informal sector with limited income, to earn much-needed revenue. The suspension also acts as a measure of good faith to allow mediation between the opposition and Transitional Military Council to continue, he said.
Strike strikes up high prices
Across the capital, Khartoum people can be seen joining long trailing queues for basic necessities such as fuel and bread. In the neighborhood of Jebra, southern Khartoum, supermarket owner Mohammed al-Tom claims the customer demands over the past few days of the strike has been immense. Protestors have organized for bulk purchases of supplies to help sustain fellow protestors through the strike, he said. In other cases, vehicles that normally supply his supermarket are not working leaving his shelves empty of commodities. “Since Saturday the trucks that used to bring flour, sugar, oil and other basic commodities have not come. When we call the companies meant to supply the commodities, it turns out the main employees are not working and adhering to the Freedom and Change coalition’s call for a nationwide strike.”
According to market sellers in the few functioning vegetable markets found in Khartoum, the prices of commodities escalated during the strike period. A kilogram of tomatoes now costs around US$ 4, the sellers said. While such a price may not seem exorbitant, it represents roughly 8 percent of a typical blue-collar workers’ monthly salary in Sudan. Similarly, the price of meat rose from roughly US$ 8.75 per kilo to US$ 12.50, according to a butcher working in the Al-Sahafa area of Khartoum.
Strikes and bread lines across Sudan
Other towns across the country took part in the strike and also felt the fiscal pinch. With the main ports and sources of revenue closed for the Red Sea trading city, Port Sudan, residents resorted to eating “very basic, traditional” meals, said local resident Sayed Tayeb. “Port Sudan has lived in complete paralysis over the past few days,” Tayeb added, “it has now started to return to life but not yet the levels it was before the disobedience.” In the northern town of Atbara, bread and fuel lines were reaching untenable levels. “We stand for hours in front of bakeries and even then many times we do not get a sufficient portion of bread,” Ahmed Ibrahim told Ayin. Possibly worse than the bread supplies, petrol and cooking gas had virtually run out for the entire town, Ibrahim added.
Market prices and accessibility to commodities remain strained in cross-line markets between government and rebel-held territories in South Kordofan and Blue Nile States, the international Food Security Monitoring Unit (FSMU) reported. The internally displaced persons in the rebel-controlled areas of South Kordofan and Jebel Marra, Darfur, are also expected to face severe food shortages in August and September.
Back to the drawing board
Negotiations between the Transitional Military Council and the Freedom and Change association are expected to resume with the mediation of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. The TMC rejected the Ethiopian premier’s suggestion to move the negotiations to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, but are willing to release political prisoners as a confidence-building measure for the talks to resume, according to news reports and Ethiopian mediator Mahmoud Drir.
* The name has been changed for security purposes