Ana Vilenica and Lucilla Lepratti continue their conversation with Ahmed Isamaldin from SudanUprising Germany, the first part of which you can find here.
This conversation was recorded on 2 July 2023 to explore the work of SudanUprising Germany in raising awareness about the Sudanese revolution and the ongoing war. Ana and Lucilla are part of collectives that signed the group’s petition and shared a statement in solidarity with the people of Sudan, shortly after the eruption of the war on 15 April 2023. With this conversation we would like not only to gain deeper insights into the Sudanese revolution and its dynamics, but to nurture stronger international bonds among revolutionary struggles worldwide, placing special emphasis on solidarity between the Sudanese and LeftEast movements. The interview has been edited to preserve its conversational form.
Part 2: Farming and Revolutionary Organizing
Ana and Lucilla:
What is the land ownership structure in Sudan? Who does the land belong to in this rural area where people are trying to organize now?
There are many areas where conflict over land exists. Addressing this issue was also part of the revolution’s demands. The main agricultural scheme in Sudan is very well known; it’s called the Gezira scheme. The British developed an irrigation system that provides water from the Blue Nile to vast territories, and left it in place. Later on, it turned into private ownership through the privatization process. Until its privatization, it was centrally planned, and the farmers had many rights and a percentage of ownership through something called the Agricultural Bank. That privatization process was actually reversed again in 1985, after the revolution of that year. But then these farmers transformed from workers into a local petty bourgeoisie or something like farm owners. This led to a lot of political conflicts in the past and the farmers of the Gezira scheme have always been a strong political force. And now you have these middle-class farmers that own the farms, often bigger farms with a lot of workers coming there to work, mostly from marginalized places in Sudan.
There’s the political problem of racism against workers coming from South Sudan to work as farm workers. And until now they don’t have political agency – basically they don’t have political representation, political parties, etc. But this is my hope for the Resistance Committees coming to the rural area and creating this coalition with the farmers. Most farmers in the Gezira scheme now are leftists, and they are open to working with the Resistance Committees. But they are also problematic in terms of their system of work inside the farm and which kind of workers they hire in their farms. It is complex, but I think for now, also just to be pragmatic, what we can accomplish is creating coalitions with those farmers. And then later we can develop a model of political transformation that accommodates everybody or kind of opens up for more social justice; an expanded social justice. We must expand it in a way because those farmers are part of the revolutionary effort, and we need their successful agricultural season because otherwise everybody is going to die from famine. It’s a very basic thing; everybody needs to eat.
We also have the land problems in Darfur which are the result of Bashir’s infrastructures I mentioned earlier. We call them hawaikeir, which literally means lands. Another issue is when land ownership conflicts with the ownership of the pastoralists; farmers against herders, people with many cows and camels passing through farming land. Historically, militias come from an ethnic group whose members are mostly herders: we call them bagara, which means cow men. They are the cowboys, basically. And they are always going around Sudan with their cows. During the environmental crisis in Northern Darfur they all migrated to the South, i.e. to Western and Central Darfur, and most of the South was made up of agricultural land. This led to years of conflict and those years of conflict turned them into fighters and warriors. Later on, they were co-opted by the central regime and turned into unorganized armies working on the borders. Then they were turned to organized armies and used to brutalize the margins, the rural areas. As you see this is complex: the land is connected to both identity and environmental issues in Sudan. Land conflicts which also bleed into questions of identity and marginalization are actually deepening the Sudanese political crisis. The Resistance Committees have been trying to raise awareness about these processes within their distinct neighborhoods, and they try to tackle this issue gradually through political demands.
The Role of Sudan’s Diaspora
Ana and Lucilla:
You mentioned most of the people are becoming internally displaced, but there is also a diaspora that you belong to. What is the history of this diaspora and what is the structure of its organizing now?
When you have a dictatorship for a long time, you have an ever-growing diaspora. I think this is an experience that you know very well, right? I think you probably had a big diaspora during Milosevic’s time, right? In Sudan, we had several dictatorships that stayed in power for a long time. But the last dictatorship that was toppled by the 2018 revolution was the longest, and its ideological base was Islamist, patriotic and very fundamentalist, leading to emigration from every left and liberal stronghold in the country. In Sudan in the 1990s, if you were a leftist or an artist, or a liberal or an atheist, or if you just wanted to drink alcohol, you had two places to go: you either left the country or you went to prison. The only other option was to lay low, stop acting like any of those things basically, like my father.
A lot of people left and they went to different countries. The majority of migrants from Sudan, at all times, as with every colonial or post-colonial country, went to “the country that made them”, as we say. They all directed their eyes to England, London, because Sudan used to be a British colony. This is still in the mentality and the consciousness of the middle class. The majority of migrants in the 1990s went there, and later on they went to the US, Germany, and France.
Then we also had wars, wars in the margins, wars in the rural areas. The war in South Sudan that led to a lot of migration to the US. There was the war in the Blue Nile that led to a lot of migration to England, France, Germany and Europe in general. And then you have the wars in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile region, which were created by the old regime to suppress the rural areas.
The Sudanese liberal middle class migrated in the 1990s. They wanted freedom; life in Khartoum had become tough for them under the new Islamist military regime that suspended freedom and closed bars and made political expression difficult. Communists, leftists, the middle class, and liberals left the country during that time. After the 2000s, the wars created by the regime in the margins led to the emigration of the people of marginalized Sudan. This led to a very differentiated diaspora. The people from the center, the middle class, are together: they speak the same language, they have the same cultural history, they listen to the same songs. And then you have the people who emigrated after the wars in Sudan. They mostly come from a culture that the center doesn’t know. Inhabitants of the urban center lived a consumerist lifestyle without being aware of the violence and brutality in rural Sudan that enabled this lifestyle. This is also because the center thinks of itself as representing the real Sudan, they have historically wanted to call themselves the oldest, the real, Sudanese. They want to suppress other cultural representations. This is part of the problem.
However, during the 2018 revolution, the diaspora came together in a way that was very emotional for me: basically those different Sudans finally began to speak to each other. They thought about this revolution as the safety vest, the boat that is going to take the country out of war, because people understand that this disfranchisement, this disintegration of society, this separation, are all part of the problem. We must sit together and discuss critically even if we have to argue; we need to talk to each other.
Creating SudanUprising Germany
I remember the first meeting we had for what later became the SudanUprising Germany group. It was just a meeting after the first demonstration in Sudan. We had called for a demonstration in front of the embassy and people came from all over Germany. I call it the ‘salad demo’ because everybody looked different. You could see that culturally they looked different. And so were the slogans that were coming from their mouths, and the accents. Even when people would shout the same slogans in different accents, you could hear the differences. We called for a meeting after that day, and the meeting was big, and many more people joined later on too.
Many people, migrants, workers, couldn’t continue the political work with the group. But that meeting shows you that the 2018/2019 revolution created hope for many people from the margins and from the center. The issues of marginalization was central in the revolution’s discourse. The first slogan “Hurriya, Salam, Adala” (‘freedom, peace and justice’) was not developed in the center. It emerged from the forces in the margins, from the students who came from there, from the Blue Nile region, the area of the war. They came to the university [in Khartoum] and they created a political organization and started teaching people about what was happening in the margins. Later on, an antiracist discourse started to emerge, which brought the diaspora together. But after the transitional period, as the model of sharing power between civilian classical political parties and the army supported by the European Union and by the international community was out in place, the diaspora returned back to fragmentation.
SudanUprising Germany focuses on leftist solidarity with the Resistance Committees and on being an extension of them. But we haven’t been able to maintain the same community that we had back in 2018/2019. This is my experience in Germany, and I also hear of a similar experience in England and France – that this solidarity has crumbled after the transitional period, because people in the margins felt that they were being betrayed. There was also something else going on at this time; the people in the political parties leading the transitional government were being replaced with leaders of armed forces from the center. During the transitional period a lot happened that led to this disentanglement again and the redivision between the margins and the center. But now, again, because of the latest war breaking out on 15 April, it has impacted the whole community, the whole Sudanese community. We have this open social space in which we don’t really separate the organizations from the community. Every time we call a meeting, probably some people that showed up before are not showing up now, or there are people showing up now that didn’t before. We reach out to them through community channels, Sudanese community channels in Germany, through our friends, and so on.
Ana and Lucilla:
How do you organize within this group? What kind of actions have you done? How are you organizing in Germany considering its specificities?
We were lucky that Germany put its nose into Sudanese politics very early on during the revolution; it made our group’s work important. We decided from the beginning that we are only extensions for what is happening in Sudan, and we have written this down as our main principle. We are not creating the actions, but are rather supporting people on the ground, supporting peoples’ discourse, simplifying the discourse and challenging every kind of international power that wants to attack them. Germany is the country that hosted the meeting of what they called “Friends of Sudan”, which is the biggest international coalition that enabled the power-sharing agreement.
Germany is very complicit in Sudan, and its complicity is multilayered. For a long time, the Germans – especially the SPD (Social Democratic Party of Germany) – supported the model of sharing power between the military and civilians. They never thought that Sudanese civilians could govern the country without the support of the military. And they supported a very deformed model that is quite strange in a pro-democractic sense – to still advocate for giving political power to the military. We also found out Germany had been trying to mediate what we call the soft landing of the old regime. They helped the old regime, with all its atrocities and what it did, the brutality; they helped that regime sustain its power. German think tanks worked on drafting the 2005 constitution for Bashir and also drafting the constitutional documents that led to the power-sharing model that we had in the recent transitional period.
What we try to do as an initiative in Germany, is to find out the truth behind Germany’s role. We use the privilege of being here and having access to a lot of resources to confirm it and to look for evidence.
The Relationship between Europe’s Border Regime and the Counterrevolution
Ana and Lucilla:
In 2020 and 2021, you organized a campaign against border militia. Can you tell us something about that?
In 2013, the RSF – the militia that I talked about earlier – was created by Bashir. This militia had multiple economic resources: from the plunder of the rural areas and the extraction of gold, to getting money from the state itself in return for their support of the regime. Bashir also used them as border police. This was in 2015 and 2016. This is the economy of Germany and Europe outside Europe, the economy of border control. They supported anybody, regardless of their background, they could support Pablo Escobar (of the Colombian drug cartel) – they don’t give a shit – they will work with anyone, even notoriously ruthless drug cartels just to stop migrants from coming over to Europe. And that money, put towards external border control, went through different apparatuses. Germany knew well in 2015 that if they supported the Sudanese National Security that it was likely also supporting the RSF; a militia that doesn’t have any legal framework. They gave them a lot of resources through something called the Khartoum process that deals with Sudan as a transit country for migration. And that’s not just Germany, that’s the entire European Union. But when you talk about money in the European Union, you go to Germany, the belly of the beast. So Germany went to Europe, and pursued the Khartoum process dealing with Sudan.
Sudan is a country to which people immigrate from East Africa: from Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, Kenya and even Chad. They use Sudan as a station to move on to North Africa and Europe, through Libya or Egypt. This made Sudan an ideal country to create an anti-migration force and imprison migrants in what they call camps. But these are prisons. The EU supported the RSF and they have grown very strong in Sudan. Their weaponry systems have also gotten stronger, allowing them to become a giant militia that was important in brutalizing the protesters, and is now a significant part of the war in its quest for gaining power. Our campaign in 2021 called End Janjaweed addresses this relationship between Germany and the RSF in Sudan.
Germany supported the government in a way that actually made the civilian part of it weaker. We tried to criticize that in a very big document examining the power-sharing contract and its problematic aspects. In this document we tried explaining this contract to the German public in order to shift the political narrative and to put pressure on Germany not to contribute to the suppression of the revolution.
These days we are mostly working to support the Emergency Response Rooms, also through trying to affect the discourses of funding and the politics of funding. Germany is a big funder. We are afraid of EER getting co-opted by the humanitarian funding system. We don’t want that. We want to rely on community funding, but because they are doing big operations we argue that those humanitarians need to support the EER, these are the structures that we think are valid and very revolutionary. We’re trying to place pressure on funding organizations to acknowledge and finance the Emergency Response Rooms. We are also working on collecting community funding here from leftist comrades and coalitions to support the Emergency Response Room operations in Sudan. Basically, we work on both getting noninstitutional solidarity funding and humanitarian funding from donors, but on the revolutionaries’ own terms.
Ana and Lucilla:
There are connections between no-border groups in Germany and Europe and your movement. Why are these connections important to you?
My work in 2021 was about showing the relationship between borders, police, guards and the RSF in public talks and sharing this information with organizations working on border control issues. We had a lot of people writing joint articles with migration-control.info, on border violence and externalization. An important thing about our group, SudanUprising Germany, is that its core since the beginning has been made up of Sudanese refugees (the majority, but not everybody). It’s a big coalition, but members understand the brutality of borders. They come from these anti-border politics. They were already part of the Oranienplatz movement in Berlin, the refugee movement that fought against borders and the control of migration. Some of them are still members in Sudanese refugee organizations. For example, SudanUprising has a partner organization, the Coalition of Sudanese Migrants and Refugees in Brandenburg, Berlin, that is working with a lot of organizations such as Flüchtlingsrat (refugee council). And also, beyond the borders of Germany, for example, [we collaborated on] the statement your collectives wrote and the event organized by FAC Palermo.
We are always open for working with Alarmphone and all people working on border issues through writing or theoretical work and also information exchange and campaigning. And we are campaigning now for Sudanese refugees. We actually made a joint statement with Flüchtlingsrat recently against deportations and for accelerating the asylum procedure for Sudanese refugees. Flüchtlingsrat suggested it and they asked us to improve it. And then what we did is we tried to work on it to include a Sudanese perspective.
With SudanUprising, we have taken the model of the Sudanese Resistance Committees. We are very decentralized, there are many people doing SudanUprising work in different cities beyond Berlin. Sometimes one person is doing a lot of work, but it looks like the work of a big group. We don’t have a central leadership. We just have main principles: that we support the revolution, we are an anticolonial group, we’re an anticapitalist group. We’re against neoliberalism and neo-imperialism. We have these principles based on which people join and then they start to do their activities. They use our slogans and logos and that’s it. And sometimes we also have more centralized actions, for example when we have a big event.
Ana and Lucilla:
Could you tell us what kind of support “LeftEast” movements can provide?
I very much believe that these revolutions are continuations of each other, they learn from each other and develop something new and add it to the coming revolutions. For me it’s not about being optimistic or pessimistic. I don’t know, we could be defeated the day after tomorrow. Or we could win. We don’t know. There could also be a kind of victory that we don’t agree with. A victory that could end up in fascism. We don’t know. That’s how revolutions go. But the model of organizing, this model of discussions and conversations developed already during revolutions in the Middle East before the Arab Spring, in Burkina Faso, and so on, the line goes back. Those revolutions are very connected and are learning from each other. I think what you are doing just now is important. And I think these new revolutions have developed a model that could be transformed and adapted to other places, that people can learn from and add some narrative emphasizing the voice of their distinct “committees”. Committees, in a figurative sense, meaning that revolutions can learn from each other by operating similarly to the resistance committees, which are based on their localities’ needs, but also communicate and contribute to an international struggle. Regardless of whether they were weakened or defeated, centering them in our conversations is important because revolutions in Africa, West Asia, etc., never receive this international exposure.
We would like this type of solidarity from comrades like us who do the grassroots work rather than getting it from state apparatuses. I think documenting the work of the Resistance Committees and publishing it and engaging with it critically in theoretical, political, and grassroots work, would be amazing. And this will be reflected somewhere in some country or region one day. I believe that we have a lot in common, the economic domination that happened through the process of mediating society in the socialist countries through international debt relations, which is the IMF’s work, and all of what happened through the capitalist international core countries economic mechanisms. We need to share information and use it towards developing models, not repeating the same mistakes. Sometimes it fails, it’s defeated, and then somewhere else people add something to it. These relationalities and the knowledges they produce could create a very complex model. That’s what we should be doing.
Ana and Lucilla:
Thank you so much, Ahmed, for sharing your analysis with us and giving us this opportunity to learn from the experience of the Sudanese Revolution.
Ahmed Isamaldin is a multi-disciplinary artist and researcher from Khartoum and a member of SudanUprising Germany, based in Berlin.
Lucilla Lepratti is involved in the Feminist Autonomous Centre for Research (FAC research) in Palermo and she currently lives between Palermo and Berlin.
Ana Vilenica is a member of the Radical Housing Journal Editorial collective, Feminist Autonomous Centre for Research (FAC research) and the Beyond Inhabitation Lab currently in Turin.
 Now they have more than 60% ownership rights, but the Agricultural Bank, along with the Ministry of Finance, chooses which crops to grow. This has changed many times throughout history. There are also private companies which own a lot of land.
 Labor exploitation of racialized farm workers.
 The terms ‘rural’ and ‘margins’ are sometimes used interchangeably here.