‘The Burning Flame’ — a handbook for Sudan’s Neighbourhood Committees

“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 a sense of the committees’ recent history, having begun in 2013. In terms of their more recent activities, Mohammed Amin has described their various 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 in English, with both their class bases and political variations still obscure outside of Sudan and the diaspora. Indeed, even these organisations’ proper name — ‘neighbourhood’, ‘resistance’, or ‘resistance and change’ committees— is disputable, as the source text’s title suggests.

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

This translation was originally published on 20 August 2019.


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


All of us have followed the tremendous role played by the Neighbourhood Committees, as formed in Sudan in the months before the Sudanese revolution. When the revolution began in December 2018, after the violent, securitised approach of the National Congress regime, and the repression that the major processions were exposed to, we saw how the committees and neighbourhood youths 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 via 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 very 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, volunteering labour 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 horizontal, 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 Committee’s EO might have the following positions:

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

c. 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. Co-ordination Officer: he is mandated to track 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. 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, in order to work on shared programs.

And of course, every one of these officials can create a working-group, composed of people from the neighbourhood.

3. The Formation of a Neighbourhood Committee:

The story of any Neighbourhood Committee’s 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. Once a number of young people from the neighbourhood or area have gathered and created a committee, officials can be chosen by election.

4. Tasks of the Neighbourhood Committees:

Neighbourhood Committees, besides the task/s of direct assistance that 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 of needing to strengthen the political role played by the committees, so that the revolution continues in a positive direction, and we begin 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 both co-operation with, and pressure on, the Popular Committees and municipalities [i.e., local government] [1], 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 to engage in the future in political work through legislative councils, or in the form they deem appropriate, or simply 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


[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 in similar terms, as ‘neighbourhood-level governance structures also entrusted with petty security functions’.


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