Sudan's ministry of interior acknowledged on 26 September the death of twenty nine people in the wave of demonstrations gripping the capital Khartoum. Medical sources put the death toll since the outbreak of protests on Monday in Wad Medani, the capital of Gezira state in central Sudan, at one hundred and eleven. By Friday 27 September, another forty had been added to the tally. In preparation for the lift of fuel subsidies, enforced at the beginning of the week, the finance minister met with senior opposition politicians, president Bashir rallied support for the measure within the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and briefed senior officers of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) on the issue while the police said it was ready to counter any potential protests. President Bashir held a press conference on Sunday 22 September where he delivered the government’s arguments for the economic measures. The event was aired live. The president attempted to persuade but convinced only his own; evidence has been stacking against him for too long, and no words could cushion the blow the government was determined to deliver to fragile livelihoods. As the president spoke, the security authorities pre-empted the day after with a charge of arrests targeting the usual suspects. Senior functionaries of the Communist Party, almost all members of a committee formed by the opposition National Consensus Forces (NCF) to mobilise against the lift of subsidies and a number of prominent younger activists were rounded up before the break of dawn.
In his press conference, president Bashir said society was divided into a rich minority with extravagant consumption habits and the majority struggling to make a living. By the official measure even the undersecretary of a ministry would count as poor, he said jokingly. In Wad Medani, protests had already broken out by then. Experience had primed the security authorities to expect trouble from university campuses, and police contingents were deployed to keep the students at bay. The government judged the mainstream opposition organisationally incapable of investing in the popular discontent and thought the nightly raid sufficient to stifle the initiative of newer associations of activists styled after Egyptian models. The security apparatus was unprepared however for the eventuality that Bashir spelled out but could not comprehend: class riots. True to the presidential proclamation, the spread of demonstrations in Khartoum since Monday maps materially to the class divide, the geography of impoverishment that encircles the capital. Omdurman’s Um Badda, al-Samrab in Khartoum North and al-Kalakla in Khartoum, to name examples from the three towns that make up the Sudanese capital, flared up in a show of anger that is by all measures the greatest urban challenge to the regime since its inception. In the same press conference, president Bashir, now in silent mode, revealed that sixty percent of the country’s police force had deserted the service because of law wages.
No political organisation in the country can claim authorship of the demonstrations, whether the mainstream opposition or the newer protest movements with a youth tag. The leadership expected of the political class was restricted to surprise, the routine condemnation of state violence, and calls for refrain from ‘sabotage’, the accusation grabbed by the government to demonise the protesters. In Omdurman’s Um Badda, an angry crowd set ablaze the headquarters of the ruling NCP, a multi-storey building with air-conditioners sticking out of its walls, and looted its furniture. Gas stations around the capital were set on fire as were Mr al-Khidir’s green buses, over-priced public transport vehicles owned by Khartoum state and identified with its governor, Abd al-Rahman al-Khidir. Activists said thugs employed by the security authorities were to blame for the mayhem as part of plot to criminalise the protestors. The government’s misinformation campaign did not step here. The information minister accused operatives of the rebel Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) of involvement as did the governor of Gezira state who claimed the demonstrators were foreign to Wad Medani and had smuggled into the state capital in the dark of night. To explain the killing of protestors by gunfire in the town, the governor offered a scene out of a Western. The doors of a white car passing by flung open and unidentified gunmen opened fire killing a twenty three year old man, he stated, promising an investigation into the incident. To the governor’s credit, he told the truth. Only, he missed to mention that the gunmen were operatives of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) acting with absolute impunity. Looking for answers to its crisis the government had only the shock and awe tactics of counter-insurgency to draw on, it’s primary expertise. Unmarked white cars manned by death squads raced by protestors wherever they amassed in Khartoum’s rebellious neighbourhoods leaving a trail of blood behind. The minister of interior said in a statement on Friday that six hundred people had been arrested over the five days before. Meanwhile, a game of numbers kicked off. Government officials admitted the death of tens, including policemen, and opposition sources said the death toll was already in the hundreds. For families and friends, the number equals infinity.
The same neighbourhoods had before delivered young men and women to the service of the “project”, as Sudan’s Islamists refer to their long season in power, to be sacrificed in Sudan’s unrelenting peripheral wars. Today, the altar is set at the doorstep as it were. President Bashir, tucked away in the safety of his harem, probably thinks this a passing storm that he will survive as he did many a challenge. The paradox is, as he bleeds Um Badda and al-Kalakla he is cutting off his own life support.