‘The Flame Burning’ — Sudan’s Neighbourhood Committees

Al-Muzāharāt
Aug 20 · 6 min read
They Always Appear, 1961, Ibrahim El-Salahi

“At the core of revolutionary action,’’ wrote Magdi el Gizouli, in a recent essay for the Review of African Political Economy , “is a radical component drawn from urban subalterns who are neither subsumed under the Forces for Freedom and Change’s [the opposition umbrella group] meritocratic model nor liable to co-optation by Himeidti’s [the state’s ‘man of the hour’] pledge of ethnic representation under sultanic authority. The most successful organisational form of this precariat spread across Sudan’s urban landscape is so far the neighbourhood-level ‘resistance committee’”.

Reem Abbas’ May 2019 Al-Jazeera article gives some sense of the committees’ recent history (‘the formation of resistance committees in Sudan dates back to 2013’); in early July, Mohammed Amin described groupings’ reactions to the FFC-state negotiations (‘the various committees have offered a mix of responses to the power-sharing deal’).

Nevertheless, the committees have yet to be extensively analysed, at least in English, with both their class bases and political variations remaining somewhat obscure, at least outside Sudan and the diaspora. Indeed, even these organisations’ proper name — ‘neighbourhood-’, ‘resistance-’, or ‘resitance and change committees’ — is disputable, as the source text’s own title suggests.

The following ‘visualisation’ was taken from the Facebook page of ‘غرفة عمل دعم لجان الأحياء’ , which translates only awkwardly as ‘the Support Chamber for Neighbourhood Committees’; the original graphics are included below.

A Visualisation of the Nature and Role of the Neighbourhood Committees of Sudan (or Resistance and Change Committees.)

Introduction

All of us have followed the enormous role of the neighbourhood committees that were formed in Sudan in the months before the Sudanese revolution. When the revolution began in December 2018, after the violent security approach of the National Congress regime, and the repression that the central processions were exposed to, we saw how the committees and neighbourhood youth took up the banner of the revolution and were able to keep the flame burning. Indeed, they were able to gradually increase levels of mobilisation, with their processions night and day in the neighborhoods, and through various forms of mass media, from pamphlets, to graffiti, to revolutionary songs and other means — to the extent that on April 6 we were able to bring down the head of the system.

Neighbourhood committees are an essential component of civil society. When we say civil society, we are talking — in general terms — about the organisations and groups created by citizens to achieve a shared goal. Civil society consists of professional- and labour unions, voluntary and charity associations, non-governmental organisations, and neighbourhood committees.

The revolution has now entered a new phase, in which we need to strongly support the existence, continuity and development of civil society organisations.

1. Definition of the Neighbourhood Committee:

A grouping of individual residents of a neighbourhood or area [منطقة], volunteering to work to realise the aspirations of the residents of that neighborhood or area.

2. The structure of Neighborhood Committees:

When talking about the members of the neighbourhood committee we are, more explicitly, referring to the members of the Executive Office (EO). The organisation here is considered to be a horizontal organisation, meaning that no member of the EO has more powers than other members. The number of EO members is determined according to the tasks assumed by the neighbourhood committee. By way of example, a neighbourhood commitee’s EO might have the following positions:

a. The Information Officer: his mission is to ensure that every house of the neighbourhood or area knows about and follows the activity of the neighborhood committee. He also communicates the committee’s activities to people outside of the neighbourhood.

b. The Office Secretary: he is the one who arranges the time and place of meetings, and writes down the minutes. He speaks to every member of the committee [i.e. the EO], makes sure that the date and place are suitable for them, makes an archive of the committees’ documents, and so on.

c. The Financial Officer: his task is thinking about how to provide money for various activities. Sources of funding might be: neighbourhood residents’ donations, donations from sons of the neighbourhood [أبناء الحي] amongst the diaspora, and external sources of funding, like agencies supporting civil society organisations. The Financial Officer manages and records financial payments.

d. The Co-ordination Officer: he is mandated to track [يتابع] the fulfillment of tasks allotted to each member, meaning that if the committee decided, for example, to organise a discussion about governance structures, and said it would reach out to specific people, the Co-ordination Officer [زول; Sudanī vernacular for ‘man’] must facilitate and track peoples’ ability to fulfill the pledge. When there is a problem, he speaks to other people and often, will have a solution — ‘one hand can’t clap’.

e. The External Relations Officer: the person who has to form relationships with other civil society organisations, for example with neighbourhood committees in the same city and province [الأقليم], in order to work on shared programs.

And of course, every one of these officials can have with them a workgroup composed of people from the neighbourhood.

3. The Formation of a Neighbourhood Committee:

The story of neighbourhood committees’ formation is one of initiative: just as young people began and developed the committees over the last few months, so have they continued as instigators — after a number of young people from the neighbourhood or area have gathered and brought about a committee, perhaps officials can be chosen by election.

4. Tasks of the Neighbourhood Committees:

Neighbourhood Committees, besides the task/s of direct assistance they may be able to offer, such as, for example, landscaping and upkeep of the neighborhood, the repair of schools, the construction of public libraries, etc., have greater and more important goals, which are essentially political tasks.

We are currently at the stage when we need to strengthen the political role played by the committees, so that the revolution continues in a positive direction and we start to achieve the noble goals we all are pursuing, to build a free and healthy nation.

In short, neighbourhood committees must protect the goals and the rallying cry of the Sudanese Revolution: Freedom, Peace, and Justice. Thus, the broad framework for the tasks of Neighbourhood Committees is:

a. To strengthen democratic culture and practice.

b. To promote a culture of peace and to build national unity.

c. To defend human rights and public freedoms.

d. To contribute to the improvement of services and living conditions at the neighbourhood or area level, such as the establishment of public libraries; the development of infrastructure; environmental sanitation; adjustment and cancellation of fees and taxes; and so on. This is done through co-operation with, and pressure on, the popular committees [1] and municipalities [i.e., local government], as well as co-operation with the residents of the neighbourhood themselves and other entities who can contribute within this framework.

5. The Working Methods of the Neighbourhood Committees:

a. Communications: direct communication with citizens in the neighbourhoods and the markets.

b. Discussions: in the neighbourhoods, on the squares, in the clubs, mosques and elsewhere.

c. Training: the use of competent actors to train members of the resistance committees and enable them in the future to engage in political work through the legislative councils, or in the form they deem appropriate, or just to increase awareness of political work and practice.

d. Social media.

e. Other media, such as graffiti and publications.

f. Mobilisation through demonstrations and peaceful gatherings

g. Organisation of reading clubs.

— Support Chamber for Neighbourhood Committees, June 1, 2019

Donation link to support the activities of the Chamber: https://paypal.me/pools/c/8fcItcRYqq

#لم_تسقط_بعد
#Not_fallen_yet

[1] As Sarra Madjoub wrote for OrientXXI (Fr), popular commitees are ‘the state’s local tool for surveillance and quadrillage [administrative division, control]’; neighbourhood commitees’ antithesis, so to speak.

In 2012, El Gizouli described popular commitees similarly, as ‘neighbourhood level governance structures also entrusted with petty security functions’.

Al-Muzāharāt

Written by

Translating Arabic-speaking base-level organisations; “We recognize our old friend, our old mole, who knows so well how to work underground”; Collective

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