How Sudan's resistance committees are mobilising for peace
Amid the ongoing military violence in Sudan, the resistance committees have remained the backbone of Sudanese society, providing vital resources such as medicine, food, and water to those in need, as well as evacuating vulnerable civilians.
And at the core of the military conflict between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Special Forces (RSF) is the international community’s failure to recognise the vital role the resistance committees have played in Sudan’s democratic transition since the 2018-19 revolution against former dictator Omar al-Bashir.
Operating across the entire country, these grassroots civilian-led groups have been at the forefront of efforts to promote peace and democracy in Sudan, and their efforts have highlighted the urgent need for resistance committees and civil society to play a central role in shaping Sudan's political future.
"The resistance committees in Sudan have taken proactive steps to aid civilians during the ongoing conflict. They have established an emergency team that provides essential services such as medical care, food supplies, and transportation to those in need and announced safe routes for travel in and out of the cities,” Tamer Ibrahim, a resistance committee member, told The New Arab.
"Despite resistance committees being marginalised in Sudan's transitional government, they have captured the hearts and minds of Sudanese people whose immediate concern is safety"
“The committee also plays a vital role in raising awareness about how to cope with the challenges posed by the conflict. In addition, they have been involved in evacuating foreign missions, diplomats, and foreigners,” he added.
Resistance committee groups have also taken to social media to call for medical supplies and food to offer to those in need.
“We started with non-violence, and we will continue with it to achieve our goals against all parties to the war now taking place in the streets of our country,” read a joint statement from the resistance committees of Khartoum.
Other civil society groups have peacefully protested and called for an end to the military violence and attacks on civilians across the country.
“Some of the stranded youth in the market are doing a great job, such as closing the shops that were broken and looted by the RSF and evacuating the last stranded people, including the elderly,” said one resistance committee member on Twitter.
A succession of ceasefires have failed, including one on Eid Al-Fitr which marked the end of Ramadan. Most analysts say the casualties are far higher than the 420 deaths, including 264 civilians, and 3,700 injured that local and international NGOs have reported since the violence erupted on 15 April.
The violence has led to an internet blackout, which has impeded the ability of Sudanese citizens and activists to report the situation on the ground to the world.
“In the short term, the primary objective is to end the conflict and establish a civilian government. The military must undergo reform to ensure that there is only one army that refrains from practising politics,” said Ibrahim.
“The resistance committees aspire to a future that is characterised by a peaceful and democratically governed country. The road to achieving this objective begins with the cessation of hostilities and the establishment of a civilian government."
“A lot of the resistance committees were against the legitimising of Hemedti and the army. But they were criticised for being too ‘idealistic’,” Dallia, a Sudanese activist, told The New Arab. “But they are currently the fabric of Sudanese society, and they are working like a charm,” she added.
“They are the ones who are helping and evacuating stranded people, elderly people who can’t leave their homes, and foreign expats who are caught up in the conflict. They know the roads well and know where to get medicine, even when pharmacies are shut,” she explained.
"Empowering resistance committees and civil society is essential if Sudan is to move towards peace and democracy"
“Even if there’s a ceasefire, it will take a long while to get the city up and running again after the destruction,” Dallia added. “But they are using their underground systems. We owe them a lot, and they are doing it selflessly and for the love of their country. That’s something that no politician or army general would understand.”
Empowering resistance committees and civil society is essential if Sudan is to move towards peace and democracy. These organisations have a deep understanding of the local context and can play a critical role in mediating conflicts, promoting dialogue, and building trust between different groups. They can also provide vital support to marginalised communities and ensure that their voices are heard in any peace negotiations.
“When push comes to shove, resistance committees alongside other groups such as doctors, are the ones who mobilise and bear the burden of providing support, help and care to their communities,” Mohamed Osman, a researcher in Human Rights Watch's Africa Division, told The New Arab, adding that the military has been determined to suppress them throughout the democratic transition since 2019.
“The official recognition of these groups would be important, and what they stand for should guide the world’s response to the war and the possibility of a peaceful future.”
While establishing a lasting ceasefire and helping those in need are the immediate priorities, there are widespread calls to put civil society at the centre of Sudan’s future political discourse.
“The failure to amplify the legitimate forces of civil society in the post-revolution’s democratic framework while leaving the negotiations’ outcome in the hands of the army and RSF – with only a narrow segment of civil society, has led to this conflict,” Dr Khalid Mustafa Medani, associate professor of political science and Islamic studies at McGill University, told The New Arab.
“The resistance committees have raised awareness of how Sudan’s transition has been hijacked. They’ve said it’s not just a fight between two generals [Al-Burhan and Hemedti] but have also pointed to remnants of al-Bashir’s regime that were still represented in the transition, namely the National Congress Party,” he explained.
During the transition, those responsible for violations were not held to account, such as Hemedti, whose RSF forces massacred peaceful demonstrators staging a sit-in against military rule on 3 June 2019, prior to a transitional government being formed.
Dr Medani also highlighted that the international community’s attempts to work with the military generals and try to ‘liberalise’ them were a grave miscalculation and misreading of Sudan’s situation. He added that this has backfired and undermined their own concerns for stability in the region and in the Red Sea.
“There needs to be an understanding that there is still hope for Sudan,” he said. “The crisis has revealed the failure of military rule and that there can’t be any stability in Sudan without democracy,” he added.
“The military should return to the barracks and they should not be part of civilian policy. The only hope that remains in Sudan is that of civil society,” he concluded.
Jonathan Fenton-Harvey is a journalist and researcher who focuses on conflict, geopolitics, and humanitarian issues in the Middle East and North Africa.
Follow him on Twitter: @jfentonharvey