Nonviolent Guerrilla Cartographers

During the Sudanese uprising, Khartoum became a carefully re-mapped city where only the revolutionaries knew its paths, writes Amar Jamal.

A Sudanese sprays a revolutionary slogan at a wall, Jan. 25, 2019. (Mohamed Gamal, Flickr, Wikimedia Commons)

By Amar Jamal
Africa is a Country

Since its emergence in December 2018, and during its impressive course, the Sudanese revolution resembles in my mind Gilles Deleuze’s description of Michel Foucault: “A new cartographer.”

Sudanese revolutionaries created a new, metaphorical space that allowed the revolution to take root. They rejoiced in the space, reconfigured, redefined, and re-demarcated it, closing it off partially or completely according to what these space poets saw fit.

The first exultation with space came on Dec. 19, 2018, via viral videos transmitted on social media. These videos were effectively a livestream of the ruling party’s headquarters set ablaze in the working-class city of Atbara, turning it into pure creosote in Sudan’s nervous system, expelling fear and instilling hope for restructuring solidarity after 30 years of national mass depression. Signs flooded the space and the revolution began to rediscover a power that connected action to a collective existence.

Alaa Salah, a Sudanese student, standing on a car in the 2018–19 protests. The image went viral as a symbol of the protests.(Wikimedia Commons)

To achieve a sense of solidarity, the Sudanese re-discovered traditional tactics in the form of guerilla urban warfare and attrition maneuvers, but all under the banner of a nonviolent revolution. It was difficult, if not impossible, to directly confront a regime that had in the September 2013 uprising killed hundreds and locked up thousands in its notorious prisons well known for their torture methods.

Still the events of September 2013 were an opportunity to lay the foundations of the Sudanese Resistance Committees, which came to be known later as the Neighborhood Committees, playing a leading role in the #Tasgot_Bas (Just Fall) revolution six years later.

In their pamphlet book “Declaration”, the Marxists, Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, drew the common features and characteristics of the 2011 cycle of struggle that began in Tunisia and then Egypt, and eventually spread to the squares of Western metropolises:

“These movements do, of course, share a series of characteristics, the most obvious of which is the strategy of encampment or occupation. A decade ago the alter globalization movements were nomadic. They migrated from one summit meeting to the next, illuminating the injustices and antidemocratic nature of a series of key institutions of the global power system: The World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the G8 national leaders, among others. The cycle of struggles that began in 2011, in contrast, is sedentary. Instead of roaming according to the calendar of the summit meetings, these movements stay put and, in fact, refuse to move. Their immobility is partly due to the fact that they are so deeply rooted in local and national social issues.”

Since its inception, the #Tasgot_Bas (#Just_Fall) revolution has had its own unique style, stemming from the Sudanese youth’s long experience of resisting Omar al-Bashir regime with its repressive Islamic ideology. But at the same time, it is an experimental albeit pragmatic, open-ended style that can be expressed in one phrase: a routing table.

For those who are unfamiliar with the term, a routing table is inside a computer network host: it lists the routes to particular network destinations. It is essentially a map with an infinite number of possibilities radiating outwards from its core.

Anti-Omar al-Bashir revolutionary street stencil in Khartoum. (Obai Alsadig, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

On Dec. 25, 2018, a signed statement by the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) (a banned independent trade union umbrella) called on people to march in their millions towards Sudan’s Presidential Palace in Khartoum while calling on the president to step down and to hand over power to a civilian government.

Even if the procession failed to achieve its goal, it laid the foundation for a poetic valorization between SPA and the revolutionaries. And because the identity of the SPA members was concealed from all, including the forces of the regime and its repressive militias, the link between the power of action and the collective existence was made only through statements and declarations.

A published statement on the SPA’s social media page specifying times and routes was enough to mobilize tens of thousands who poured out in a given time and space. This collective action of a mass mobilization broke through fear, but more importantly, new assemblages begun to form in its wake.

For four consecutive months until April 2019, day after day, the Sudanese marched in peaceful processions throughout the country. Processions were called for through SPA statements which included a scheduling of place, time, and slogan. The multitude observed schedules faithfully and betrayed them even more (betrayal is another name for freedom as Deleuze had warned us).

Treachery came from the most mysterious bodies, the Neighborhood Resistance Committees, which represented the microphysics of the peaceful movement. Whenever the schedule identified a neighborhood for an assembly, the other neighborhoods also organized marches in clear betrayal of the order.

Protesters on the train from Atbara to Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. (Osama Elfaki, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Ultimately, certain neighborhoods (Buri, for example) mobilized so often that they became a practice in devotion to betrayal. It must be mentioned here that these resistance committees were based on a traditional system of values rooted in participation, sheltering all and protecting the oppressed.

A system that often worked in the past as a false fantasy, before the revolution transformed it into a spirit of trust and solidarity. The revolution had moved into the most intimate of space, the homes, the family and the conscience of mothers and fathers.

It can be said that the vague, decentralized, and horizontal body of SPA was a product of the Resistance Committees “loyalty to betrayal”, fueled by a system of solidarity values in which everyone was involved. It is one of the rare moments of the revolutionary praxis maturity in human history.

They Redrew Their City

The cartographer revolutionaries redrew their city. Khartoum’s architecture is no longer what it was. A new city emerged with towering barricades, and murals painted with revolutionary graffiti (many of which resembled the drawings of children and madmen). Bridges linking the capital’s neighborhoods across the Nile and those linking the capital to the state and the states with others were closed off.

But we must emphasize here an interesting feature: Often times, the empty streets coincided with the continuation of the revolution. No sooner did the revolutionaries set fire to tires and build barricades in the narrow alleys of their neighborhoods, than security personnel and the police personnel invaded them with their mounted pickup trucks.

And so, revolutionaries retreated inside houses, climbing onto roofs to film the dullness and stupidity of their assailants, the police cars falling into the traps the people had set up for them. Sudanese rebels discovered, through pragmatic experimentation, the weakness of their opponent.

Masked regime militias were falling one after the other in the alleys of the new city, unknown to them. Whenever the security forces wore masks that concealed their faces, the city wore a new map, chanting, “Peaceful oh Khartoum.” In the background, these sound effects of children, women and revolutionaries echoed. Khartoum became a carefully re-mapped city, where only the revolutionaries knew its paths.

These peaceful guerrilla warriors carried out a revolution with a unique characteristic within the cycles of global struggle that began in the 21st century. But we have to be careful here. In a way, the Sudanese revolution is considered a continuation of a continuous and diverse process that had begun before; its causes stem from a localized tragedy of global capital’s greed and its entanglement with the repressive model of Western democracy, linked by a declaration of universal rights that is abstract in its conception of a human.

However, at the same time, reflection shows that the action-image of the #Tasgot_Bas revolution had a strategic uniqueness that moves away from the distinction of Negri and Hardt between the two tendencies of the revolution that marked the 21st century.

Sudan did not have a “nomadological” revolution like Porto Alegre, nor was it as sedentary as Tahrir Square. In its daily deterritorialization and reterritorialization with “strike and run” style, the Sudanese revolution resembles more the strategies of the mid-twentieth century liberation movements, the “barricades” of the guerrilla wars of the student and labor movements and drug cartels in the sixties, and the attrition tactic of Algerian war of liberation.

What collects these models and places them in the Sudanese case is the map, the routing table, that was re-configured and that now offers a number of possibilities moving into the future.

Amar Jamal is an Africa is a Country fellow.

This article is from Africa is a Country and is republished under a creative commons license. The Arabic version of this piece was published in the October issue of the Lebanese magazine Bidayat. The author would like to thank Professor Benoit Challand and Raga Makawi for their valuable comments regarding this English version.

The views expressed are solely those of the authors and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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1 comment for “Nonviolent Guerrilla Cartographers

  1. Pablo Diablo
    December 3, 2020 at 16:48


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