Shortly after the military coup was launched in Sudan on the October 25, 2021, Resistance Committees (RCs) started engaging in a participatory grassroots dialogue process to produce political charters that would outline a comprehensive vision for the way forward and for the country’s democratic transition in general. The need had emerged after months of scattered constellation of civilian groups. Also, RCs felt strongly about counteracting the problems that were created by the 2019 Constitutional Charter, particularly in terms of retaining the military at the center of government, allowing it to stall key priorities of the transition.
Following a couple of months of extensive deliberations and consultations, the first drafts of the charters were circulated in March 2022. Two key charters have gained traction: the Revolutionary Charter for People’s Power (RCPP) that was signed by RCs in some 15 states across Sudan, and the Charter for the Establishment of the People’s Authority (CEPA) that was issued by the coordination committee of Khartoum state RCs. The substantive content of these charters is of high significance and demonstrates the caliber of the respective RCs. However, the aim of this analytical piece is to rather investigate the process that led to the production of these charters. Bottom-up political processes are known to be complex and time-consuming, substantially more in the context of a military coup aftermath. Looking into the experience of the RCs in Sudan would highlight some valuable lessons for civil resistance movements in the region and across the globe.
Unpacking the drafting process
On top of their civil resistance and mobilization mandate, RCs across Sudan have sensed a pressing need to consolidate their political views, to expand their resistance roles into solid political roles. They embarked on the process of drafting these charters to look into the root causes of Sudan’s problems and to put an end to cosmetic solutions that are often offered by Sudanese elites. Furthermore, there were strong calls for RCs around the country to be united, but they had no clear political agenda to gather around aside from overthrowing the military coup. RCs produced these charters to eventually unify RCs and other revolutionary forces that believe in the need for radical changes in the political economy of Sudan. Additionally, RCs were keen on providing a different modality for conducting politics in a more transparent and participatory way, given that their organic nature is against the closed-room negotiations and top-down leadership that have defined politics in Sudan for decades. Also, it is worth mentioning that these efforts have taken place while RCs were organizing anti-coup protests almost on a daily basis.
RCs in different states established technical committees to produce preliminary drafts of the charters, which were then sent to their constituencies to review and provide comments. However, the level of organization, in terms of going down to the grassroots, had varied depending on to what extent different RCs were structurally and institutionally organized. Some RCs had still not held their local elections to ensure they are systematically representative of their respective neighborhoods. Nevertheless, in most cases, at least some level of consultation was conducted. Technical committees then incorporated comments coming from the neighborhoods in the drafts and circulated them via social media platforms for wider consultation. Some of these drafts were also uploaded on digital platforms with feedback forms for people to provide comments and suggestions.
The first draft of the RCPP was a result of merging the political charters of Mayinrno RCs in Sennar state (Southern Sudan) and Madani RCs in Al-Gezira state (Central Sudan) and had been in circulation before the CEPA draft of Khartoum RCs; defying a history of Khartoum-centric political processes. Communication between different states about the RCPP draft started virtually, as many states RCs members knew each other from capacity building workshops they had attended together. Eventually it was signed by RCs from 15 states across Sudan, though in many cases, it was only signed by RCs of a few localities within the state, so they were not representative of the entire state. On the other hand, Khartoum RCs had a central committee liaising between different RCs across in the state, and the CEPA draft was signed by all RCs in Khartoum state. Following the signing of both drafts, RCs have welcomed critiques and commentaries that came from different civil society groups in an open and transparent way.
Challenging the narratives around RCs
The perception of RCs in Sudan has been clouded by the narrative of some of the country’s political elites and international community, attempting to stereotype RCs as a grassroots movement that is merely good at mobilizing people and organizing protests. This narrative suggests that RCs lack the political vision and savviness to engage in advanced processes that aim to shape the politics and future of Sudan. This is generally supported by the fact that most of the RCs’ members are of young age, have no prior experience in practicing politics, and are not members of any traditional political groups.
On the contrary, the charters produced by RCs have demonstrated that they are highly competent and are able to engage in complex discourses around governance and development issues in Sudan. RCs’ members argue that this did not come out of nowhere. Ever since the sit-in in front of the military headquarters back in 2019, they have engaged in in-depth discussions about the political economy of Sudan and have attended various capacity building workshops that were organized by the RCs and other national organizations, as well as self-learning initiatives.
Furthermore, RCs have competent experts in various fields within their membership. They have also managed to leverage expertise from external resources to develop their visions and sharpen their charters. Different RCs have established connections with non-partisan experts in Sudan and in the diaspora, academia, national NGOs, and even some international NGOs. Moreover, they have benefited of commentaries and critiques they received on their charters and have accommodated some of these feedback after discussing it.
The future of RCs charters
RCs behind both the CEPA and RCPP have stated that their charters were not final, and they are open for coordination with others. However, these discussions around the charter will be exclusively limited to revolutionary political groups that share the same principles and values and are keen to address the root causes of the Sudanese political crisis, as described in the General Provisions section of the charters. Yet, they feel that the traditional political actors are not genuinely seeking radical changes in politics. There is also a sense that they do not take RCs seriously enough and do not see them as equal peers. This stems from the fact that none of the political parties have provided any formal feedbacks on the charters, nor have they adequately referred to the charters in their statements.
There are ongoing efforts to consolidate the CEPA and RCPP drafts, in order to have a unified vision that bring all RCs in Sudan together. These coordination efforts have started as soon as both drafts were in circulation back in March, but it had not come to fruition back in time. In the second half of June, a technical committee was established to merge the RCCP and the CEPA drafts into a unified RCs charter. The technical committee has released statements outlining the mechanism they are using and the timeline for the consolidation task, with a promise of releasing daily updates and unified draft by June 29, ahead of the nationwide demonstrations of June 30. This deadline was not met due to some disagreements on various issues, including the consolidation methodology which they have been publicly speaking about in a transparent and democratic spirit. Some of the RCs have suggested the consolidation is being done in closed rooms, with no clear mechanism for the consultations. They also stated that many RCs across Sudan have not signed on either of the charters yet, and they should be brought onboard before trying to merge the charters.
However, political analysts and observants have criticized the charters consolidation process and suggested that rushing it, to catch-up with the dynamic political developments, might compromise the inclusivity and participatory elements of the process. Furthermore, the coordination efforts have been focusing on consolidating the RCs charters, with no vision for how to join forces with other key actors like political parties and trade unions. Also, it is suggested that pre-conditions set by the charters for other political actors to sign them, were somewhat too difficult. The charters suggest that political actors, who have been part of the revolution but had taken part in the negotiations with the military that led to the 2019 charter, could not sign the charter before making a public apology to the Sudanese nation on the role they played. Many actors felt uneasy about this condition, as it implies that RCs are the only guardians of the revolution.
A transformative process
The drafting process of the RCs charters is quite inspiring, but it is not all a rosy picture. The production of such political documents in a participatory way is painful and complicated by nature. These difficulties are exacerbated by the dynamics dominating the Sudanese political spheres; in terms of mistrust, divisions, and infiltration attempts by some political actors. Despite their efforts to operate outside the “old political club” paradigm, RCs often fall in the trap of these inherited issues that are difficult to unlearn. Furthermore, technically and procedurally, it will be very difficult to build wider consensus around these charters, given how detailed they are and how some parts include particular rhetoric and ideologies that represents the far left, but not the broader political spectrum. Also, the lack of institutionalism within some of the RCs and coordination bodies involved suggest that their constituencies might have not been consulted in a systematic way.
All in all, the process that has resulted in these draft charters might not be perfect, but it is still impressive. It has certainly elevated and decentralized the political discourse across the country. There is a lot for RCs to enhance, particularly in terms of coordination and building their institutional capacities. RCs have been learning from their mistakes and evolving every day, more than any other political actor in Sudan. The process that they are undergoing, to build structures and mechanisms for participatory and inclusive governance, is remarkably transformative. They are effectively writing a new chapter in Sudan’s political history and offering an innovative and novel governance model that deserves invigorating. The very least that actors in Sudan and from the international community can do is to take their charters and demands seriously.
Following the mass demonstrations of June 30 and the military’s questionable offer to step aside from the political talks, RCs have shown more openness to work with other political actors. While the efforts on unifying the charters continue, efforts are also being made to establish a unified revolutionary front against the military coup, which indicates that the political deadlock in Sudan could come to an end sooner rather than later.
Hamid Khalafallah is a Nonresident Fellow at TIMEP focusing on inclusive governance and mobilization in Sudan.