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Down with the Dictatorship’s Constitution

sudan in revolt
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The al-Bashir government fell, but the dictatorship lives on

By Martin Ralph and Cesar Neto – January 28, 2022


The overthrow of al-Bashir’s rule was an important victorious battle. Battles, however, are always part of a war. This war against the military government is not over. The Constitution drafted by the dictatorship installed in 1989 has been cobbled together with the Constitutional Charter and nothing has changed. This article aims to demonstrate that the legal system in force, the Constitutional Charter signed on 4 August 2019, meant the alliance between the military and civilians continued to govern without resolving the most elementary democratic issues. They continued watching, controlling and repressing the workers, the youth and the poor people.

  1. The heroic struggle to defeat al-Bashir

The defeat of the al-Bashir government was made possible by one of the biggest insurrectionary processes on the African continent in recent decades. The combination of workers’ strikes (Petro-Energy, Atbara railway workers, SEEN Flour Company, bank workers, teachers, etc.), demonstrations in front of army units and most villages and communities involved in the mobilisation defeated al-Bashir but did not oust the military from power.

  1. Half victory. Half defeat

As we said above, it was a victorious battle, but the war continues. The absence of a class, independent and revolutionary leadership was decisive for not winning the war in this “battle”. The genocidal military managed to impose a coalition government, which guaranteed the new government’s stability, initially with the reform of the constitution inherited from al-Bashir.

  1. The regime’s constitution of June 1989

The government of al-Bashir, since 1989, is characterised as a regime that relied unconditionally on the army, the power of arms and imposition. Legislators, judges, journalists, etc., had to adapt to the power that emanated from rifles and prisons. Over time this oppression became institutionalised as laws were created that “legalised” this regime. The Constitutions of 1998 and 2005 were made in its image in order for the regime to institutionalise repressive violence.

  1. The Constitutional Charter guarantees power to the military

Just like at the beginning of al-Bashir’s dictatorship, the forces that took power in 2019 set about building their system of laws. To do so, they patched up the 2005 Constitution through the Constitutional Charter. In order for the military to continue ruling, the Transitional Military Council needed a “new” Constitution, drafted by them, without the presence of those who gave their dead and wounded to overthrow al-Bashir’s dictatorship. So, the Constitutional Charter was created to legitimise the theft of freedom and sovereignty won in the streets. 

The international press describes very clearly the mood and atmosphere from which the Constitutional Charter came out: 

“In a room full of senior foreign officials and under heavy security measures, Sudan’s civilian opposition and the military junta that holds power in the country ratified on Saturday the Constitution that will serve as a roadmap for the next three years and three months of transition.” 

The unions, women’s organisations, youth organisations, soldiers’ organisations and insurgent cables were not invited; where were those who fought in the streets for the end of al-Bashir’s dictatorship? As the newspaper says, those who fought were not in the packed room. Those who were were included: high foreign officials, the civil opposition elite and the military.

  1. The Constitutional Charter perpetuates the repressive power structure

Reading the Constitutional Charter carefully, we see that there are several points that explain how its central aim is to give legitimacy to the new government of the military and the local bourgeoisie against the workers and the poor people. 

Let us look at some examples:

Chapter 1: General provisions

“The Transitional Constitution of Sudan of 2005 and the constitutions of provinces is repealed, while the laws issued thereunder remain in force, unless they are repealed or amended.” i.e., they do away with al-Bashir’s Constitution, but the laws remain in force. 

“The decrees issued from 11 April 2019 until the date of signature of this Constitutional Charter remain in force unless they are repealed or amended by the Transitional Military Council” This means that if the Decrees are not in line with the military interests, they will be revoked or amended by the CMT. 

Chapter 2: Transition Period

(9)  “Establish mechanisms to prepare to draft a permanent constitution for the Republic of Sudan.

(10)  Hold a national, constitutional conference before the end of the transitional period”. Here it is clear that the future constitution will be made behind closed doors and without the participation of the workers and the poor people. It will be a constitution to legally perpetuate the abuses of backward and dependent capitalism in Sudan.

* “Implement programs to reform state agencies during the transitional period in a manner that reflects their independence, patriotism, and the fair distribution of opportunities therein, without altering conditions of aptitude and competence. The task of reforming military bodies is entrusted to military institutions in accordance with the law”. At this point, it is clear that the task of dismantling or creating new repressive apparatuses remains the prerogative of the military itself. Dismantling the NISS (National Intelligence and Security Service) will be a decision of the military, and the will of the people will not be taken into consideration. The same rule will apply to the Rapid Support Force (Janjaweed) 

(16)  Form a national, independent investigation committee, with African support if necessary as assessed by the national committee, to conduct a transparent, meticulous investigation of violations committed on 3 June 2019 and events and incidents where violations of the rights and dignity of civilian and military citizens were committed”. The over 700 injured and the 100 killed will be investigated by a committee appointed by the military itself in the government to investigate whether there were violations of the rights and dignity of civilians and military personnel. At the end of this investigative farce, without popular pressure, we can already read that if there were 100 dead and 700 wounded, three military personnel were also stoned. And the significant conclusion will be: there were excesses on both sides. All that remains is to reconcile …with the criminals.

Chapter 4: Council of Sovereignty

The Constitutional Charter in force legalises all the continuing acts of the military and genocidal those in power. Look at what it says verbatim: 

[10] (a.) “The Sovereignty Council is the head of state, the symbol of its sovereignty and unity, and the Supreme Commander of the armed forces, Rapid Support Forces, and other uniformed forces. It is formed by agreement between the Transitional Military Council and the Forces of Freedom and Change”.

To consolidate this power, among the competencies and powers for the Sovereignty Council are: to appoint the Prime Minister and his cabinet, and if it can appoint, it can also dismiss. At the same time, it has the same control over Transitional Legislative Council, Supreme Judicial Council, Supreme Court Judges, Attorney General of the Supreme Prosecutorial Council, Auditor General etc. 

We could continue analysing the power structure of Burhan and Hamdok’s government, and we will conclude that both of them, like al-Bashir, made a Constitutional Charter to perpetuate themselves in power and rule for the local and imperialist bourgeoisie. In order not to tire the reader we will stop here and invite you to continue studying the content of the Constitutional Charter together.

  1. What are the demands of the people? What is the response of the Constitutional Charter?

The revolt that started in December 2018, according to some analysts, was because of the increase in bread and petrol. Others explain that inflation was at 122% and was one of the highest in the world. In fact, in our view, the mobilisations began because the population could no longer bear to continue living in a country rich in natural resources and without rights. And more than that, to live in a country controlled by genocidaires. The population knew what they didn’t want and had an idea of what they did want. Let us summarise some of these desires and what is proposed in the Constitutional Charter, formulated by the genocidal Burham and by Hamdok, representative of the national and imperialist bourgeoisie.

Education and Health: In order to speak of democracy, we have to guarantee that health and education are public, that they are the right of all, without exception. And more than public, they have to be free so that everyone has access. The Constitutional Charter does not speak of a duty or obligation to be public and free. 

In chapter 14 of the Constitutional Charter, in item 64 (Right to health) it says that:  The state shall undertake to provide primary health care and emergency services free of charge for all citizens, develop public health, and establish, develop and qualify basic treatment and diagnostic institutions.”

That is to say, the State “commits” itself but is not obliged by law to provide health care. And even then, only for primary and emergency care. More complex treatments and surgeries, the state has no obligation. Likewise, it does not define what percentage of the Union Budget will be allocated to health and education. And since this obligation is not defined in the budget, the government spends whatever it wants and can after paying the foreign debt and the agreements with the IMF.

Restoration of the Right to Land: The al-Bashir dictatorship and the military that surrounded it built large mining companies, sold land to foreigners and expelled the residents from their ancestral lands. To put an end to al-Bashir’s dictatorship, the land must be returned to its former owners. But the Constitutional Charter, chapter 14 (Charter of Rights and Freedoms), in item 60(Right to property) guarantees that: “private property shall not be appropriated except by virtue of a law and for the public interest, and in return for fair, immediate compensation. Private funds may only be confiscated by virtue of a court ruling”. In short, the land taken through expulsion, violence and genocide will be respected. And these measures can only be questioned through the courts and if the Court appointed by the CMT, by some divine miracle, decides to expropriate, and even then, their current owners will be compensated. 

National sovereignty, IMF and the fight against hunger: the issue of national sovereignty is a prominent theme in the Constitutional Charter. In the chapter (General Provisions), it appears prominently, and in item 4 it says:  Sovereignty belongs to the people and is exercised by the state in accordance with the provisions of the Constitutional Charter, which is the supreme law of the country and its provisions prevail over other laws.” Sovereignty belongs to the people are beautiful words. A sovereign country says: first we feed the people, and then we pay (if at all) the foreign debt. The Burham-Handok government, without consulting the people, disdaining sovereignty, made a deal with the IMF that raised inflation to unprecedented levels and further increased the people’s suffering. The choice was: first the IMF, then food for the people. Is that sovereignty?

al-Bashir left, and his men continued. The case of Kenana Sugar Company

We have no doubt that the military who enjoyed the benefits of al-Bashir’s dictatorship are still ruling or controlling state and private companies. The Constitutional Charter, in chapter 2 (Transition Period), in item 3 says: “hold accountable members of the former regime by law for all crimes committed against the Sudanese people since 30 June 1989“, and in item 6, reaffirms: “work on settling the statuses of those who were arbitrarily dismissed from civil and military service, and strive to remedy the harm they suffered in accordance with the law.”

The workers of the Kenana Sugar Company went on strike to demand “basic trade union rights, increased wages to compensate for the rising cost of living, the removal of figures associated with the former regime from the company and the reinstatement of 34 workers sacked for participating in the uprising against dictator Omar al-Bashir.” 

It took two months of strike action for the beautiful words of the Constitutional Charter to have any value.

Expropriation of the military’s companies

The thirty years of dictatorship allowed the formation of a new bourgeoisie that grew rich at the point of the rifle. The journal of the International Socialist League , explains this process well to us: “Under al-Bashir, General Hamdan(Hemeti) and the army generals became business tycoons who seized whole sectors of the economy, said Suliman Baldo of the Enough Project. “This is not just about power; it’s about money,” he said. “Army and Hemeti commanders up to their necks in corruption – that’s why they have zero tolerance for a civilian government in Sudan,” and went on to explain that: “The war has made General Hamdan rich, with interests in gold mining, construction and even a limousine rental company. His patrons include Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.”

In chapter 14 (Charter of Rights and Freedoms), the Constitutional Charter admits the death penalty. In item 53, it says: “The death penalty may only be inflicted as retribution (qasas), a hudud punishment, or as a penalty for crimes of extreme gravity, in accordance with the law.”

The death penalty is admitted in the Constitutional Charter, but it does not have a line imposing the expropriation of property resulting from corruption or theft of Sudanese state property and assets.

Does the military control society or does society control the military? Who will dissolve the NISS? And who will look into military crimes against the population?

Historically, the army’s role is one of defence against the external enemy. However, after more than 30 years of military dictatorship, the army has changed its focus. It is no longer the external enemy but the “internal enemy”, that is its population. The demand for the return of the military to the barracks is an imperative need. In chapter 2 (Transition Period), the Constitutional Charter excludes any possibility of the people controlling this organ of the Sudanese capitalist state. In item 12, we read: “The task of reforming military bodies is entrusted to military institutions in accordance with the law”. This means that the ending of the NISS (National Intelligence and Security Service) will not happen. 

Neither the end of the NISS nor the impartial trial of military murderers and genocidaires. In Chapter 11 (Uniformed Agencies), it deals with Military Courts, in item 37 it states that “military courts may be established for the armed forces, Rapid Support Forces, police forces, and the General Intelligence Service in order to try their members with regards to their violations of military laws.” 

Constitutional Charter made without representatives elected by the population

The Constitutional Charter was not the result of debate, deliberation and voting by the population. In the introduction to the Charter, we read: “We, the Transitional Military Council and the Forces of Freedom and Change, have agreed to issue the following Constitutional Charter“, which means that the Constitutional Charter was written within four walls and without the presence of those who gave their sweat, blood and lives for the end of the dictatorship and the democratisation of the country.

The Constitutional Charter allows the Constitution to be made between four walls

The Constitutional Charter has already prepared a new blow to the democratic demands by defining that the subsequent Constitution will be made within the transition period, with the current dictatorship and without consulting the workers and the population. 

This decision is explicit in chapter 2 (Transition Period) through item 9: “Establish mechanisms to prepare to draft a permanent constitution for the Republic of Sudan“, and approval of the future Constitution will take place through a conference called by the current government, as stated in item 10: “hold a national, constitutional conference before the end of the transitional period“.

  1. Combine the struggle for the end of the government and the struggle for the Constituent Assembly

In the streets and the struggles, the Khartoum Resistance Committees have already declared: “we promise our people in every town and village that there will be no retreat and no complacency“. And they also said: “No compromise, no compromise, no partnership with the criminals“, referring to the high command of the Armed Forces and the Janjaweed’s leading officers.

This decision by the Khartoum Resistance Committees is correct and should be supported. But here, a warning is in order: be careful because we can defeat this government and the new government if it relies on the current Constitutional Charter. For this reason, we say that we must fight for the end of the government and combine it with the fight for a Constituent Assembly.

  1. The Constituent Assembly must be: free, democratic and sovereign

According to Leon Trotsky, the Constituent Assembly is the “maximum that bourgeois society can achieve”. In order for the future constitution to achieve the goals of imposing important conquests of the now old bourgeois revolution, it must first be free, democratic, and sovereign. 

There can be no restriction on the constitutional process. Free means that it must first defeat the government. From its beginning, in the choice of the future constituent deputies until the signing of the new constitution. 

Democratic means that everyone can participate. No restriction to the parties and organisations that, in the struggles, defeated al-Bashir. Freedom for all political parties, the right to independent candidacies, the right to vote for illiterate people, soldiers and migrants. 

Sovereign means that its decisions cannot be questioned by any organ of the capitalist, backward and dependent Sudanese state.

  1. Three tasks that must be in the mind of every fighter

Everyone who is on the streets, in the trade unions, in the resistance organisations must have three major objectives: 

(a) No deal, no compromise, no partnership with the criminals. Down with the government

b) Call for a free, democratic and sovereign Constituent Assembly;

c) To advance in constructing a government of the workers and the poor.

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