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Bloody Times: Sudan’s Counter-Revolutionary War

11 min read.

Despite its foreign allies and legitimizers, the military has failed to crush the new self-organized peoples’ committees. The popular revolutionary forces have held power in the streets for more than 1000 days and the resistance cannot be easily broken.



Bloody Times: Sudan’s Counter-Revolutionary War
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In April 2019, an alliance of civilian forces in Sudan finally removed Omar al-Bashir’s genocidal militaro-Islamist regime. After years of continuous rebellions, the alliance of workers, students, progressive women, youths, small farmers, and cultural workers created resistance committees to direct energies at fully disrupting the military’s chokehold over the society. From December 2018 to April 2019 the tempo of the demonstrations and rebellions forced sections of the military to oust Bashir. After the overthrow of Omar al-Bashir’s government, there was a power sharing agreement between the military and civilians. The Constitutional Declaration of August 2019 created the Transitional Sovereignty Council where the emphasis was on the transitional arrangements, underlining the commitment for the military to hand over power by April 2022.

General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan became the chairman of the Sovereignty Council. General Burhan had also served as a regional army commander in Darfur, in western Sudan, when approximately 300,000 people were killed, and millions of others displaced in fighting from 2003 to 2008. This genocidal violence was widely publicized in Africa, with loud calls for Bashir and his generals to be held accountable for the killings in Darfur. General Burhan had acted pre-emptively when the popular demonstrations exposed the atrocities of the military. Thus, in spite of the fact that al-Burhan had been closely aligned with Bashir, he manoeuvred to take control of the military and the transition by removing Lt. Gen. Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Auf. Al-Burhan presented himself as an opponent of Bashir by pretending to side with the protesting masses who were calling for the removal of the military and the dismantling of militias.

Al-Burhan’s deputy in this moment of Machiavellian machinations was Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemedti. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo had achieved international notoriety as a commander of the notorious Janjaweed militias responsible for the genocidal violence in Darfur. His paramilitary forces, organized within the faction called Rapid Support Forces (RSF), were Bashir’s shock troops whose government became a mercenary force fighting for the Saudis and Emiratis in Yemen, and for General Khalifa Haftar’s war in Libya. After 2015, there were up to 15,000 Sudanese military and paramilitary deployed by the Saudis to fight the Houthis. Flush with resources from the alliance with Russia in the gold mining and export sector, the RSF had in a short period amassed millions of dollars. General Burhan had tolerated the alliance with Dagalo but had become increasingly concerned as Dagalo built up his militia forces to over 100,000.

It is these two factions from the Darfur mess that are at war with each other to decide which faction will prevail to crush the Sudanese people. The clash between the two had intensified following the 2021 military coup that ended the civilian role in the transition, and broke out in open warfare on the weekend of 15 April 2023. The alliance between al-Burhan and Dagalo had been a marriage of convenience as neither faction supported the breaking of the economic power of the military and the militias. A genuine transition away from militaristic oppression and the cheapening of human life demanded breaking the economic power of the military in state and commercial institutions.

Organized in a manner similar to the military capitalists in Egypt, through the military and intelligence services, top generals were involved in more than 400 of the major state enterprises, including agricultural conglomerates, banks, telecommunications, medical equipment import companies, gold mining, transport, and real estate. With this economic supremacy, the military refused to hand over power. As the date for the handover of control to civilians became closer, al-Burhan staged a coup d’état on 25 October 2021 with the support of Dagalo, ousting the civilian government led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.

The alliance between al-Burhan and Dagalo had been a marriage of convenience as neither faction supported the breaking of the economic power of the military and the militias.

The 2021 removal of the civilian prime minister came in the wake of efforts to give teeth to the “Commission for Dismantling the June 30, 1989 Regime, Removal of Empowerment and Corruption, and Recovering Public Funds.”  The civilian minister and the civilian bureaucrats were not only exposing and uprooting the network of companies owned by the Islamists forced out of power in 2019, but also the tentacles of the commercial empires owned by senior generals. The civilian leadership wanted access to the vast sums available to the generals. Hamdok had become increasingly outspoken in his criticism of the military’s entanglement in the economy and both generals felt threatened by the objective to dismantle the military’s economic stranglehold.

April 2019 to April 2023: From uprising to revolution

The 2019 uprisings in Sudan brought together all the forces fighting for social change. Organized under the umbrella of the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) the alliance brought together workers, students, progressive intellectuals, cultural artists, farmers, and professionals in a loose, but democratic network. The Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) created a new political force in Sudan. But the FFC included the traditional political careerists who had sold out the Sudanese people on numerous occasions since independence in 1956. The FFC was itself being challenged by more progressive elements in Sudan. The base of this opposition to compromise with the military were the youth and mobilized progressive women. Resistance committees emerged in all parts of the country to organize the uprisings, oppose the military, and hold the FFC accountable. When the FFC dithered in declaring their complete opposition to militarism, the progressive women and youths pushed the demands for change beyond elections and power sharing. It was within the struggles between the resistance committees and the military that the uprisings evolved from protests to a revolutionary situation.

The three elements that Vladimir Lenin recognized as central to the revolutionary situation were now apparent in Sudan: (i) When it is impossible for the ruling classes to maintain their rule without any change; when there is a crisis, in one form or another, among the “upper classes”, a crisis in the policy of the ruling class, leading to a fissure through which the discontent and indignation of the oppressed classes burst forth. For a revolution to take place, it is usually insufficient for “the lower classes not to want” to live in the old way; it is also necessary that “the upper classes should be unable” to rule in the old way; (ii) when the suffering and want of the oppressed classes have grown more acute than usual; (iii) when, as a consequence of the above causes, there is a considerable increase in the activity of the masses, who uncomplainingly allow themselves to be robbed in “peace time”, but in turbulent times are drawn both by all the circumstances of the crisis and by the “upper classes” themselves into independent historical action.

All of these three elements of the revolutionary situation had emerged in Sudan when the upper classes were unable to rule in the old ways. Incessant negotiations between the military and their supporters in Washington, Paris, Riyadh, Dubai and Moscow failed to weaken the protracted popular struggles. The military proceeded to shoot down the people in the streets. With every demonstration and neighbourhood confrontation, the militant resistance committees matured to become a defensive front against militarism, exploitation, divisions, and manipulation. Young Sudanese women emerged as the vanguard force pushing the ideas of revolutionary change and opposing the Arabist/Islamist consciousness that had been unleashed to divide this multi-ethnic, multi-racial and multi-religious society. The traditional middle strata and their bureaucrats who were looking to London, Washington, and Dubai could not keep abreast with the changing resistance on the ground. These were the forces led by Hamdok that were swept aside on 25 October 2021, leaving the confrontation between the military and their imperial backers on one side and the organized resistance of the mobilized popular forces on the other.

Objective alliance between Washington and Moscow in Sudan

After the removal of Omar al-Bashir, the United States and the European Union worked hand in glove with the United Nations to orchestrate a transition process that would disempower the people. Western embassies in Khartoum organized numerous meetings to feel out the depth of the popular mobilization. The United States worked with Israel to build new relations between the genocidal generals of Sudan by bringing the generals into the so-called Abraham Accords. The generals under Bashir had fought for France and the US in Libya to remove Gaddafi, had fought in Chad, and were fighting in Yemen. As an inducement to collaborate with Israel and Saudi Arabia, Sudan was removed from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism.

This collaboration between Israel and the generals formed part of the regional strategy by a section of global capital to isolate Iran. The regional alignment against Iran included Egypt, Israel, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. The European Union created its own alliance with the militarists by pledging hundreds of millions of euros for the “Khartoum Process”, a multinational effort to empower the Hemedti militia forces to manage migration from the Horn of Africa to Europe. This opened a new front for human trafficking by the RSF.

The United States and the European Union worked hand in glove with the United Nations to orchestrate a transition process that would disempower the people.

Objectively, Russia was part of this grouping with the Western oppressive forces in the Sudan. Of the two military factions, the Russians were in a firm alliance with the gold traders and hustlers through the Wagner private security group. Both factions of the military were and are highly dependent on Russia for military capital. China was a silent partner in this unprincipled array of forces. The Chinese capitalists worked with all sides in the region: Israel, Iran, Qatar and the Wahabist conservative religious forces. As the crisis of capitalism intensified, the Russians had gained a foothold in the mining and export of gold from Sudan.

This alliance between the Emiratis, Saudis, Sudanese, and Israeli forces in the plunder of the gold fields came to international attention as the Western propaganda organs identified the Wagner Group as the prime beneficiary of the plunder of the gold fields in the Darfur region. The Wagner group of paramilitary capitalists from Russia built a formidable alliance with the RSF forces to the point where the capital resources of the RSF placed them in a position to challenge the established military that were involved in accumulation through the state.

The lucrative gold mining and trading operations of the RSF gave confidence to the faction of the military under Hemedti. The alliance started to crumble when the older “professional military forces” sought to dismantle the RSF and militia forces. Under the terms of the transition to democratic rule in the Sudan, the military had sought immunity from the National Security Service (NSC) for the criminal activities unleashed since the Bashir pogroms. After the 2021 coup d’état, the progressive forces had coalesced into a more coherent force to oppose the military. These forces placed the three Nos on the table: No negotiation, No partnership, No foreign military intervention.

The generals under Bashir had fought for France and the US in Libya to remove Gaddafi, had fought in Chad, and were fighting in Yemen.

The coalescing of the popular forces was manifest in the completion of the Revolutionary Charter For Establishing People’s Power (RCEPP). The Charter made explicit the position of the resistance committees that there would be “overall reform and restructuring of the armed forces, including review of its laws, tasks, responsibilities and force size, resulting in a unified and professional national army, capable of playing its main role of safeguarding the people, the constitution and the country’s borders.” This alliance of progressive forces opposed the Framework Agreement between one faction of the resistance and the military. The Framework Agreement signed on December 2022 retreated from the demands of the 1989 Regime: removal of empowerment and corruption, and recovery of public funds.  The pact outlining the Framework Agreement set no date for a final agreement or the appointment of a prime minister and there were differences on sensitive issues including the dismantling of the militias.

Due to the fact that the RCEPP had published its demands and the requirements for a genuine transition, those parties and militia forces that wanted to do deals with Washington to isolate the revolutionaries were themselves isolated. In their isolation, the two strong military factions began to attack each other.

Both factions would not heed the call of the people for accountability for the crimes of the Bashir regime. This call for accountability within the society was made explicit in the following statement:

“Accountability shall include individuals who organized and participated in war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocides and ethnic cleansings in Darfur, the Nuba Mountains, the southern Blue Nile, South Sudan, eastern Sudan, Khartoum, and other parts of the country. All individuals who participated in the crimes during and after the December Revolution shall be brought to trial inside Sudan and by the Sudanese, in accordance with the Interim Constitution, which shall stipulate for the legal process of the trials through establishing special immediate trials.”

Both factions of the military are opposed to the calls for accountability and for the new interim power forces to “combat all practices of corruption, recovery of looted public funds and assets, and restore privatized companies through a Commission of Combating Corruption and Recovery of Looted Public Funds and Assets”. Both factions are also opposed to the plans of the resistance committees to “place all state-owned enterprises (SOEs) as well as those owned by the military, intelligence and police services under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Finance”.

Changed regional situation

The global insecurity generated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine affected all parts of the world. Additionally, the weaponization of finance and the freezing of Russian assets created alarm in all parts of the world. If the US Treasury could freeze US$600 billion, then it could act against other countries. There was renewed interest in many countries to seek relations with the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) formation and the BRICS bank. In the midst of the global financial uncertainty generated by the US banking system, the Chinese brokered a de-escalation of tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Additionally, the Saudis had reduced oil production to push up prices, despite President Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia to plead for an increase in production to offset the challenges faced by Europe because of the sanctions against Russia.

The tiff between the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and the US threw the regional alliances into a predicament. When Chinese diplomatic efforts brought about a rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the future of the Sudanese mercenary forces fighting the Houthis was put in question; the Sudanese military would have to be withdrawn from Yemen. Secondly, the premises of the Abraham Accords that had brought about the alliance between the military and the Israelis were now in doubt. There could no longer be a focus on Iran when the right-wing anti-people government of Israel was unleashing violence and oppression inside and outside Israel. The Saudis, Egyptians, Sudanese and Moroccans who were willing to sacrifice the rights of the Palestinian peoples were now faced with a choice: join with Israel and the US against the Palestinians, or join with the Palestinians, the Egyptian and Sudanese masses to oppose militarism and fundamentalism. Russia was now faced with the question of how to move forward with its agreement with Israel in Syria. The contradictions within contradictions in Sudan and in the region broke out in the fighting between the RSF and the military. The two factions are fighting to decide which faction would emerge as the ally of Washington to crush the resistance committees.

Maturation of the revolutionary situation in the Sudan

The two military factions of the counter-revolution that are today fighting each other have for the past three years killed hundreds if not thousands of people who are agitating for a new political dispensation. Despite being shot down in the streets, the resistance committees have demonstrated another form of robust people’s power by their resistance and by forming the nucleus of a new state.

Despite its foreign allies and legitimizers, the military has failed to crush the new self-organized peoples’ committees. In the midst of the fighting between the two factions, the Sudanese Professional Association (SPA) and the resistance committees have called for the people to form neighbourhood peace committees:

“We call on the forces of the living revolution, including the resistance committees in the neighborhoods, trade union forces, and professional bodies, to take the initiative to protect neighborhoods in villages, towns and cities, through the formation of (community peace committees). We are fully aware of the absence of the state and its institutions, and we have no choice but to activate the role of our peaceful civil society and the forces of the living revolution that have been the capital of our local communities for a long time.”

The community peace committees will bring the Sudanese revolution into the phase of armed self-defence.

The name calling and fighting between the two factions of the military will continue to unleash death and destruction in the Sudan. But the accumulated experiences over the past three years have ensured that the resistance cannot be easily broken; the popular revolutionary forces have held power in the streets for more than 1000 days.

Those who have studied the rhythm of revolution and counter-revolution over the past 150 years will remember the writings of Karl Marx who had celebrated the fighters of the Paris Commune. In his communication to the First International, Marx commented positively on the communards surviving more than 71 days. Then, the communards were crushed by the invading German army.

When Chinese diplomatic efforts brought about a rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the future of the Sudanese mercenary forces fighting the Houthis was put in question.

There is no invading army to save either side in the current counter-revolutionary war in the Sudan. Both sides will fight to the death to remain in power.

The major outside forces that can make a difference now are two: the first is Russia, which is connected to Hamdan and the RSF through the gold trade. The second is the Egyptian military; the military capitalists in Sudan have long historical links with the Egyptian militarists and Islamists. Other smaller elements include the military of Eritrea, which Hemedti recently visited.

Progressive forces internationally must call for the arrest and trial of the military forces that have unleashed genocidal violence on the Sudanese peoples since 1989. The Resistance Committees’ and the popular forces are calling for solidarity and non-intervention to push the process of transition from militarism to one where the peoples of Sudan can enter into new relations.

Progressives internationally must transcend the propaganda war of the bourgeois forces who are quaking at the prospect of this counter-revolution inspiring millions of Egyptians who can take courage from Sudan if their leaders continue in the alliance with Israel against the Palestinian peoples.

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Horace Campbell is Professor of African American Studies and Political Science, Syracuse University. He is the author of Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya, Monthly Review Press, 2013. Mahder Serekberhan is a Political Science PhD student at Syracuse University. She is the Vice Chairperson of the Global Pan African Movement, North America Delegation.


Risks and Opportunities of Admitting Somalia Into the EAC

The process of integrating Somalia into the EAC should be undertaken with long-term success in mind rather than in the light of the situation currently prevailing in the country.



Risks and Opportunities of Admitting Somalia Into the EAC
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The East African Community (EAC), whose goal is to achieve economic and political federation, brings together three former British colonies – Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania – and newer members Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan, and most recently the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Somalia first applied to join the EAC in 2012 but with fighting still ongoing on the outskirts of Mogadishu, joining the bloc was impossible at the time. Eleven years later, joining the bloc would consolidate the significant progress in governance and security and, therefore, Somalia should be admitted into the EAC without undue delay. This is for several reasons.

First, Somalia’s admission would be built on an existing foundation of goodwill that the current leadership of Somalia and EAC partner states have enjoyed in the recent past. It is on the basis of this friendship that EAC states continue to play host to Somali nationals who have been forced to leave their country due to the insecurity resulting from the prolonged conflict. In addition, not only does Somalia share a border with Kenya, but it also has strong historical, linguistic, economic and socio-cultural links with all the other EAC partner states in one way or another.

Dr Hassan Khannenje of the Horn Institute for Strategic Studies said: ”Somalia is a natural member of the EAC and should have been part of it long ago.”

A scrutiny of all the EAC member states will show that there is a thriving entrepreneurial Somali diaspora population in all their economies.  If indeed the EAC is keen to realise its idea of the bloc being a people-centred community as opposed to being a club of elites, then a look at the spread of Somali diaspora investment in the region would be a start. With an immense entrepreneurial diaspora, Somalia’s admission will increase trading opportunities in the region.

Second, Somalia’s 3,000 km of coastline (the longest in Africa) will give the partner states access to the Indian Ocean corridor to the Gulf of Aden. The governments of the EAC partner states consider the Indian Ocean to be a key strategic and economic theatre for their regional economic interests. Therefore, a secure and stable Somali coastline is central to the region’s maritime trade opportunities.

Despite possessing such a vast maritime resource, the continued insecurity in Somalia has limited the benefits that could accrue from it. The problem of piracy is one example that shows that continued lawlessness along the Somali coast presents a huge risk for all the states that rely on it in the region.

The importance of the maritime domain and the Indian Ocean has seen Kenya and Somalia square it out at the International Court of Justice over a maritime border dispute.

Omar Mahmood of the International Crisis Group said that ”Somalia joining the EAC then might present an opportunity to discuss deeper cooperation frameworks within the bloc, including around the Kenya-Somalia maritime dispute. The environment was not as conducive to collaboration before, and perhaps it explains why the ICJ came in. Integrating into the EAC potentially offers an opportunity to de-escalate any remaining tensions and in turn, focus on developing mechanisms that can be beneficial for the region.”

Nasong’o Muliro, a foreign policy and security specialist in the region, said: “The East African states along the East African coast are looking for opportunities to play a greater role in the maritime security to the Gulf of Aden. Therefore, Somalia joining the EAC bloc will allow them to have a greater say.”

Third, Somalia’s membership of the Arab League means that there is a strong geopolitical interest from Gulf states like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. However, Somalia stands to gain more in the long-term by joining the EAC rather than being under the control of the Gulf states and, to a large extent, Turkey. This is because, historically, competing interests among the Gulf states have contributed to the further balkanisation of Somalia by some members supporting breakaway regions.

On the other hand, the EAC offers a safer option that will respect Somalia’s territorial integrity. Furthermore, EAC partner states have stood in solidarity with Somalia during the difficult times of the civil conflict, unlike the Gulf states. The majority of the troop-contributing countries for the African Union Mission to Somalia came from the EAC partner states of Uganda, Kenya and Burundi. Despite having a strategic interest in Somalia, none of the Gulf states contributed troops to the mission. Therefore, with the expected drawdown of the ATMIS force in Somalia, the burden could fall on the EAC to fill in the vacuum. Building on the experience of deploying in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, it is highly likely that it could be called upon to do the same in Somalia when ATMIS exits by 2024.

The presence of the Al Shabaab group in Somalia is an albatross around its neck such that the country cannot be admitted into the EAC without factoring in the risks posed by the group.

According to a report by the International Crisis Group, the government of Somalia must move to consolidate these gains – especially in central Somalia – as it continues with its offensive in other regions. However, Somalia may not prevail over the Al Shabaab on its own; it may require a regional effort and perhaps this is the rationale some policymakers within the EAC have envisioned. If the EAC can offer assurances to Somalia’s fledgling security situation, then a collective security strategy from the bloc might be of significance.

Somalia’s admission comes with risks too. Kenya and Uganda have in the past experienced attacks perpetrated by Al Shabaab and, therefore, opening up their borders to Somalia is seen as a huge risk for these countries. The spillover effect of the group’s activities creates a lot of discomfort among EAC citizens, in particular those who believe that the region remains vulnerable to Al Shabaab attacks.

If the EAC can offer assurances to Somalia’s fledgling security situation, then a collective security strategy from the bloc might be of significance.

The EAC Treaty criteria under which a new member state may be admitted into the community include – but are not limited to – observance and practice of the principles of good governance, democracy and the rule of law. Critics believe that Somalia fulfils only one key requirement to be admitted to the bloc – sharing a border with an EAC partner state, namely, Kenya. On paper, it seems to be the least prepared when it comes to fulfilling the other requirements. The security situation remains fragile and the economy cannot support the annual payment obligations to the community.

According to the Fragility State Index, Somalia is ranked as one of the poorest among the 179 countries assessed. Among the key pending issues is the continued insecurity situation caused by decades of civil war and violent extremism. Furthermore, Human Rights Watch ranks Somalia low on human rights and justice – a breakdown of government institutions has rendered them ineffective in upholding the human rights of its citizens.

Somalia’s citizens have faced various forms of discrimination due to activities beyond their control back in their country. This has led to increasingly negative and suspicious attitudes towards Somalis and social media reactions to the possibility of Somalia joining the EAC have seen a spike in hostility towards citizens of Somalia. The country’s admission into the bloc could be met with hostility from the citizens of other partner states.

Dr Nicodemus Minde, an academic on peace and security, agrees that indeed citizens’ perceptions and attitudes will shape their behaviour towards Somalia’s integration. He argues that ”the admission of Somalia is a rushed process because it does not address the continued suspicion and negative perception among the EAC citizens towards the Somali people. Many citizens cite the admission of fragile states like South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo as a gateway of instability to an already unstable region”.

Indeed, the biggest challenge facing the EAC has been how to involve the citizens in their activities and agenda. To address this challenge, Dr Minde says that ’’the EAC needs to conduct a lot of sensitisation around the importance of integration because to a large extent many EAC citizens have no clue on what regional integration is all about”. The idea of the EAC being a people-centred organisation as envisioned in the Treaty has not been actualised. The integration process remains very elitist as it is the heads of state that determine and set the agenda.

The country’s admission into the bloc could be met with hostility from the citizens of other partner states.

Dr Khannenje offers a counter-narrative, arguing that public perception is not a major point of divergence since “as the economies integrate deeper, some of these issues will become easy to solve”. There are also those who believe that the reality within the EAC is that every member state has issues with one or the other partner state and, therefore, Somalia will be in perfect company.

A report by the Economic Policy Research Centre outlines the various avenues through which both the EAC and Somalia can benefit from the integration process and observes that there is therefore a need to fast-track the process because the benefits far outweigh the risks.

EAC integration is built around the spirit of good neighbourliness. It is against this backdrop that President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has extended the goodwill to join the EAC and therefore, it should not be vilified and condemned, but rather embraced.  As Onyango Obbo has observed, Somalia is not joining the EAC – Somalia is already part of the EAC and does not need any formal welcoming.

Many critics have argued that the EAC has not learnt from the previous rush to admit conflict-plagued South Sudan and the DRC. However, the reality is that Somalia will not be in conflict forever; at some point, there will be tranquillity and peace. Furthermore, a keen look at the history of the EAC member states shows that a number of them have experienced cycles of conflict in the past.

Somalia is, therefore, not unique. Internal contradictions and conflict are some of the key features that Somalia shares with most of the EAC member states. The process of integrating Somalia into the EAC should, therefore, be undertaken with long-term success in mind rather than in the light of the situation currently prevailing in the country.

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The Repression of Palestine Solidarity in Kenya

Kenya is one of Israel’s closest allies in Africa. But the Ruto-led government isn’t alone in silencing pro-Palestinian speech.



The Repression of Palestine Solidarity in Kenya
Photo: Image courtesy of Kenyans4Palestine © 2023.
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Israel has been committing genocide against the people of Occupied Palestine for 75 years and this has intensified over the last 30 days with the merciless carpet bombing of Gaza, along with raids and state-sanctioned settler violence in the West Bank. In the last month of this intensified genocide, the Kenyan government has pledged its solidarity to Israel, even as the African Union released a statement in support of Palestinian liberation. While peaceful marches have been successfully held in Kisumu and Mombasa, in Nairobi, Palestine solidarity organizers were forced to cancel a peaceful march that was to be held at the US Embassy on October 22. Police threatened that if they saw groups of more than two people outside the Embassy, they would arrest them. The march was moved to a private compound, Cheche Bookshop, where police still illegally arrested three people, one for draping the Palestinian flag around his shoulders. Signs held by children were snatched by these same officers.

When Boniface Mwangi took to Twitter denouncing the arrest, the response by Kenyans spoke of the success of years of propaganda by Israel through Kenyan churches. To the Kenyan populous, Palestine and Palestinians are synonymous with terrorism and Israel’s occupation of Palestine is its right. However, this Islamophobia and xenophobia from Kenyans did not spring from the eternal waters of nowhere. They are part of the larger US/Israel sponsored and greedy politician-backed campaign to ensure Kenyans do not start connecting the dots on Israel’s occupation of Palestine with the extra-judicial killings by Kenyan police, the current occupation of indigenous people’s land by the British, the cost-of-living crisis and the IMF debts citizens are paying to fund politician’s lavish lifestyles.

Kenya’s repression of Palestine organizing reflects Kenya’s long-standing allyship with Israel. The Kenyan Government has been one of Israel’s A-star pupils of repression and is considered to be Israel’s “gateway” to Africa. Kenya has received military funding and training from Israel since the 60s, and our illegal military occupation of Somalia has been funded and fueled by Israel along with Britain and the US. Repression, like violence, is not one dimensional; repression does not just destabilize and scatter organizers, it aims to break the spirit and replace it instead with apathy, or worse, a deep-seated belief in the rightness of oppression. In Israel’s architecture of oppression through repression, the Apartheid state has created agents of repression across many facets of Kenyan life, enacting propaganda, violence, race, and religion as tools of repression of Palestine solidarity organizing.

When I meet with Naomi Barasa, the Chair of the Kenya Palestine Solidarity Movement, she begins by placing Kenya’s repression of Palestine solidarity organizing in the context of Kenya as a capitalist state. “Imperialism is surrounded and buffered by capitalistic interest,” she states, then lists on her fingers the economic connections Israel has created with Kenya in the name of “technical cooperation.” These are in agriculture, security, business, and health; the list is alarming. It reminds me of my first memory of Israel (after the nonsense of the promised land that is)—about how Israel was a leader in agricultural and irrigation technologies. A dessert that flowed with milk and honey.

Here we see how propaganda represses, even before the idea of descent is born: Kenyans born in the 1990s grew up with an image of a benign, prosperous, and generous Christian Israel that just so happened to be unfortunate enough to be surrounded by Muslim states. Israel’s PR machine has spent 60 years convincing Kenyan Christians of the legitimacy of the nation-state of Israel, drawing false equivalences between Christianity and Zionism. This Janus-faced ideology was expounded upon by Israel’s ambassador to Kenya, Michel Lotem, when he said “Religiously, Kenyans are attached to Israel … Israel is the holy land and they feel close to Israel.” The cog dizzy of it all is that Kenyan Christians, fresh from colonialism, are now Africa’s foremost supporters of colonialism and Apartheid in Israel. Never mind the irony that in 1902, Kenya was the first territory the British floated as a potential site for the resettlement of Jewish people fleeing the pogroms in Europe. This fact has retreated from public memory and public knowledge. Today, churches in Kenya facilitate pilgrimages to the holy land and wield Islamophobia as a weapon against any Christian who questions the inhumanity of Israel’s 75-year Occupation and ongoing genocide.

Another instrument of repression of pro-Palestine organizing in Kenya is the pressure put on Western government-funded event spaces to decline hosting pro-Palestine events. Zahid Rajan, a cultural practitioner and organizer, tells me of his experiences trying to find spaces to host events dedicated to educating Kenyans on the Palestinian liberation struggle. He recalls the first event he organized at Alliance Français, Nairobi in 2011. Alliance Français is one of Nairobi’s cultural hubs and regularly hosts art and cultural events at the space. When Zahid first approached Alliance to host a film festival for Palestinian films, they told him that they could not host this event as they already had (to this day) an Israeli film week. Eventually, they agreed to host the event with many restrictions on what could be discussed and showcased. Unsurprisingly they refused to host the event again. The Goethe Institute, another cultural hub in Kenya that offers its large hall for free for cultural events, has refused to host the Palestinian film festival or any other pro-Palestine event. Both Alliance and Goethe are funded by their parent countries, France and Germany respectively (which both have pro-Israel governments). There are other spaces and businesses that Zahid has reached out to host pro-Palestine education events that have, in the end, backtracked on their agreement to do so. Here, we see the evolution of state-sponsored repression to the private sphere—a public-private partnership on repression, if you will.

Kenya’s members of parliament took to heckling and mocking as a tool of repression when MP Farah Maalim wore an “Arafat” to Parliament on October 25. The Speaker asked him to take it off stating that it depicted “the colors of a particular country.” When Maalim stood to speak he asked: “Tell me which republic,” and an MP in the background could be heard shouting “Hamas” and heckling Maalim, such that he was unable to speak on the current genocide in Gaza. This event, seen in the context of Ambassador Michael Lotem’s charm offensive at the county and constituency level, is chilling. His most recent documented visit was to the MP of Kiharu, Ndindi Nyoro, on November 2. The Israeli propaganda machine has understood the importance of County Governors and MPs in consolidating power in Kenya.

Yet, in the face of this repression, we have seen what Naomi Barasa describes as “many pockets of ad hoc solidarity,” as well as organized solidarity with the Palestinian cause. We have seen Muslim communities gather for many years to march for Palestine, we have seen student movements such as the Nairobi University Student Caucus release statements for Palestine, and we have seen social justice centers such as Mathare Social Justice Centre host education and screening events on Palestinian liberation. Even as state repression of Palestine solidarity organizing has intensified in line with the deepening of state relations with Apartheid Israel, more Kenyans are beginning to connect the dots and see the reality that, as Mandela told us all those years ago, “our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of Palestinians.

This post is from a partnership between Africa Is a Country and The Elephant. We will be publishing a series of posts from their site every week.

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Only Connect: Human Beings Must Connect to Survive

We must fight to remain human, to make connections across borders, race, religion, class, gender, and all the false divisions that exist in our world. We must show solidarity with one another, and believe we can construct another kind of world.



UK-Rwanda Asylum Pact: Colonial Era Deportations are Back in Vogue
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24 November 2021. We wake to the news that 27 migrants have drowned in the English Channel.

“Stop the boats!” cry the Tories. It’s the hill British Prime Minister Sunak has chosen to die on. But there is no political will to stop the wider crisis of global migration, driven by conflict, poverty, persecution, repressive regimes, famine, climate change, and the rest. Moreover, there is zero understanding that the West is behind many of the reasons why people flee their homes in the first place. Take Afghanistan, a useless Allied war that went nowhere. It left the Taliban more powerful than ever. Afghans who worked for the British army, betrayed when our forces pulled out. Now they make up the majority of cross-Channel migrants.

Not for them the welcome we gave Ukrainians. Wrong skin colour, maybe? Wrong religion? Surely not.

Some right-wingers rejoice at news of these deaths. “Drown ’em all!” they cry on social media. “Bomb the dinghies!” There are invariably photos of cute cats and dogs in their profiles. Have you noticed how much racists and fascists love pets? Lots of ex-servicemen among them, who fail to see the link between the failed wars they fought, and the migration crisis these spawned. The normalisation of a false reality is plain to see. Politicians and the media tell folk that black is white, often in meaningless three-word slogans, and the masses believe it. Migrants, especially those who arrive in small boats, are routinely labelled criminals, murderers, rapists, invaders, Muslims intent on imposing Islam on the UK, and “young men of fighting age”, which implies that they are a standing army.

If you bother to look beyond the stereotypes, the reality is very different.

One couple’s story

Riding those same waves, a year or so later, are two Iranian Kurds. A young couple. Let’s call them Majid and Sayran. They have sadly decided not to have children, in 12 years of marriage, because they believe Iran is no place to bring up children. Activists who oppose the regime, they were forced to flee after receiving direct threats. They ran an environmental NGO, and held Kurdish cultural events that are banned in Iran.

The husband, Majid, a writer, first fled to Iraq in 2021. He and his wife were parted for 18 months. She eventually joined him in a Kurdish area of Iraq. They were forced to flee again, when the Iranian regime bombed the homes and offices of political dissidents in Iraq, killing and wounding many of their friends. They decided their only hope was to head for Britain via Turkey, Italy and France. They paid people smugglers around USD30,000 in total. They eventually ended up in a hotel in my home town. Their story continues below.

Feeling powerless

Meanwhile, there I am sitting at home in the UK, getting more and more enraged about my government’s attitude and policies on immigration. I feel powerless. I think about refugees living in an asylum hotel in my town. I’m told many of them are Muslim, now trying to celebrate Ramadan. I picture them breaking their fasts on hotel food, which relies heavily on chips and other cheap junk. I meet some of them in the queue at the town’s so-called community fridge, where I used to volunteer. I chat a little to Majid, who can speak some English. I try to find out why they are there. The “fridge” gives out food donated by supermarkets to anyone in need. The food would otherwise be thrown away because it’s about to reach its sell-by date. The refugees go there, they tell me, to get fresh stuff because the hotel food is so awful. I can sense the growing resentment from locals in the queue, who want to put “Britain first”.

Thinking, thinking. Then I berate myself. I should take action, however small. Get down to the supermarket, buy food for, say, six families. I can’t feed everyone, but let’s start somewhere. Food that people from the Middle East (the majority of the hotel residents) will like. Hummus, flatbreads, dates, olives, nuts, rice. Divide it into six bags. I don’t know how I will be received (I feel rather nervous), but let’s give it a go.

I can sense the growing resentment from locals in the queue, who want to put “Britain first”.

The hotel manager is cagey. (I am later banned. He and his female head of security are rude and hostile, but that’s still to come.) For now, he lets me in to distribute the food. Luckily, I spot Majid, just the person I’m looking for. I recognise him from the “fridge” queue. He can translate for the others, who quickly gather in the lobby. The food is snatched within minutes, people are delighted with it. (It turns out Majid and his wife are atheists. But they get some food too.)

I didn’t do this for the thanks. But I’m glad I made that first move. Taking it further, I invite them both round for a meal. I spend hours making Persian rice, it’s a big hit. My new friends fall on the spread like ravening wolves. One thing leads to another. We start to meet regularly. It helps that they have some English, which greatly improves as the weeks pass and they go to classes. They are thrilled by everyday things – walks in the country, pizza, a local fair, being taken to see the film Oppenheimer. (“We were amazed to see so many British people go to the movies!”) They tell me they are delighted simply to make contact, to see how ordinary people live, to be invited into my, and my friends’ homes. I tell them I have plenty to learn from them, too. We get a bit tearful. I say hi to Sayran’s mum on the phone in Iran. We also laugh a lot. Majid has a black sense of humour.

At first, I don’t ask about their experience of crossing the Channel. All I know is that the entire journey, from Iran to Britain, was deeply traumatic. Until now, months later, when I ask Majid to describe what happened.

Majid picks up the story of their journey in Turkey: “The most bitter memories of my life were witnessing my wife’s tiredness, fear and anxiety as we walked for nine hours to reach Istanbul. I saw my wife cry from exhaustion and fear many times, and I myself cried inside. In a foreign country without a passport, our only hope was luck, and our only way was to accept hardship because we had no way back. The most bitter thing in this or any refugee journey is that no one gives any help or support to his fellow traveller.  The smallest issue turns into a big tension.”

To reach the sea, where they would take a boat to Italy, they walked through dense pine forests. “There were about 30 of us in this group and none of us knew each other. We passed through the forest with extreme anxiety and fear of being arrested by the ruthless Turkish police. We were all afraid that some babies who were tied tightly on their father’s shoulders would cry and the police would find us. But as soon as we stepped into the forest, all the children became silent due to their instinct and sense of danger.  They didn’t make a single sound all the way. We were in the forest for about 12 hours, and reached the beach by 8 a.m. Here we were joined by several other groups of refugees; by now we were more than 100 people.”

The week-long journey to Italy in a 12-meter “pleasure” boat carrying 55 people was terrifying. “As the boat moved towards the deep parts of the sea, fear and anxiety took over everyone. The fear of the endless sea, and worse, the fear of being caught by Turkish patrols, weighed heavily on everyone’s mind. The boat moved at the highest speed at night, and this speed added to the intensity of the waves hitting the hull of the boat.  Waves, waves, waves have always been a part of the pulse of travellers.  As the big waves moved the boat up and down, the sound of screams and shouts would merge with the Arabic words of prayers of old, religious passengers. I can say that there is no scene in hell more horrific than this journey.  It was near sunset when several passengers shouted: ‘Land! Land!’”

On the way to France, they somehow lost their backpacks. All their possessions gone. Moving fast forward, they found themselves in yet another forest, this time close to the French coast.

“For the first time, I felt that the whole idea I had about Europe and especially the French was a lie. Nowhere in the underdeveloped and insecure countries of the Middle East would a couple be driven to the wrong address at night, in the cold, without proper clothing.  But what can be done when you illegally enter a country whose language you do not know? It was almost 2 o’clock in the morning. The sound of the wind and the trees reminded us of horror scenes in the movies. It was hard to believe that we were so helpless in a European country on that dark, cold and rainy night.” He collected grass and tree leaves to make a “warm and soft nest.  I felt like we were two migratory birds that had just arrived in this forest.” Eventually they found what they were looking for – a refugee camp. The next step was to try and cross the Channel.

“I can say that there is no scene in hell more horrific than this journey.”

“We reached the beach. The sky was overcast and it was almost sunset. A strange fear and deadly apprehension gripped all the poor refugees in that space between the sky, the earth and the sea.” A smugglers’ car brought a dinghy and dumped it on the beach before quickly driving away. It was no better than a rubber tube. The refugees filled it with air, and attached a small engine. “They stuck 55 people in that tube.” The dinghy went round in circles and ended up on another part of the French coast. Many people decided to disembark at this point, leaving 18 passengers.

“Women and children were wailing and crying. The children looked at the sea dumbfounded.  Men argued with each other and sometimes arguments turned into fights.  The boat was not balanced. I was writhing in pain from headaches, while my wife’s face was yellow and pale because of the torment.”

At last a ship approached, shining bright floodlights at the dinghy. It belonged to the British coast guard.  “When they threw the life rope towards our plastic boat, we were relieved that we were saved from death.”

Hotel life

My friends tell me about conditions at the hotel. Grim. Food that is often inedible, especially for vegetarians like them. They send me photos of soya chunks and chips. Residents are banned from cooking in their rooms, or even having a fridge. Majid and Sayran have sneaked in a rice steamer and something to fry eggs on. (They have to hide them when the cleaners come round.)  Kids have no toys and nowhere to play except in the narrow corridors. Everyone is depressed and bored, waiting for months, sometimes years, to hear the result of their asylum claims.

Majid takes up the story: “Due to the lack of toys and entertainment, the boys gather around the security guards and help them in doing many small tasks. The image of refugee children going to school on cold and rainy mornings is the most painful image of refugees in this developed country.  In schools, language problems make refugee children isolated and depressed in the first few years.  What can be the situation of a pregnant woman, or a woman whose baby has just been born, with an unemployed husband, and poor nutrition, in a very small room in this hotel? Imagine yourself.  Many elderly people here suffer from illnesses such as rheumatism, knee swelling, and high blood sugar.  But many times when they ask for a change in the food situation or request to transfer somewhere else, they are ridiculed by the hotel staff.  One day, a widow who had no food left for her and was given frozen food, went to the hotel management office with her daughter to protest. But one of the security guards took the food container from this woman’s hand and threw it on the office floor in front of her child.  Now that little girl is afraid and hates all the security.”

“When they threw the life rope towards our plastic boat, we were relieved that we were saved from death.”

Yet racists rant about migrants living it up in five-star hotels costing the taxpayer £8 million a day. They don’t think or care about how we got here: the Tories let the asylum backlog soar, by failing to process asylum claims in a timely fashion. Some of us cynically wonder if this was deliberate. The number of people awaiting an initial decision is now 165,411. This compares to 27,048 asylum applications, including dependents, between January and September 2015, before the UK left the European Union.

I’ve done what I can. Lobbied the Home office to improve the food and conditions. I eventually got a reply, both from them and the catering contractor. Wrote to my MP, local councillors, inter-agency bodies that monitor conditions in hotels, migrant organisations, the press. We have had some success. There is a lot more to do.

I ask my friends if the threat of being deported to Rwanda (a key plank of the UK’s asylum policy) might have deterred them from coming. Or if anything would have stopped them. Majid replies: “Not at all! Because everywhere in this world is better than Iran for life. Especially for me, I have a deep problem with the Intelligence Organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. They threatened me with death over the phone.”

Making sense of the world

World news has become unbearable to read, watch or listen to. Once a news junkie, I increasingly find myself switching off. I’m equally appalled by the widespread apathy, even among friends who were once politically engaged. Then there is all the dog whistling our government does, in language that echoes that of the far right. Ministers and MPs have shamelessly whipped up suspicion, hatred, and fear of the Other. “Cruella” Braverman was one of the worst offenders, but at least she is no longer Home Secretary. Her “dream” of deporting refugees to Rwanda (her words) has become a nightmare for Sunak. Both are of East African Asian heritage.

Ministers and MPs have shamelessly whipped up suspicion, hatred, and fear of the Other.

This may sound trite, but we must struggle to remain human, and make connections where we can – across borders, race, religion, class, gender, all the false divisions that exist in our world. We have to keep lobbying those in power, and going on protest marches. We must show solidarity with one another. We have to believe we can construct another kind of world, pole pole, from the bottom up. A kinder world would help, for starters. It can begin in very small ways.

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