Crisis in Sudan is a Lesson for the U.S.

By Wim Laven

About 2,700 years ago a storytelling slave named Aesop told tales of political, religious, and social themes. They have been popularized for their ethical dimensions and utilized as children’s’ stories for the morals and wisdom they deliver.

In “The Four Oxen and the Lion” Aesop tells of a powerful lion who prowls a field in search of a hearty meal. The four oxen who live there stand tail to tail and offer The Lion horns regardless of the direction of the approach. One day, however, an argument causes the the four oxen to go their separate ways. On their own the oxen do not stand a chance against the lion, who picks them off one by one with great ease.

The moral of the story: united we stand, divided we fall.

Issues of collective security are timeless. In the United States collective security was so important that a 3/5ths Compromise (making slaves 3/5ths of a person for purposes of the census and political power), which inflated the power of slave states, a prohibition against the abolition of slavery (Article I Section 9 of the Constitution prevents Congress from banning the importation of slaves before 1808), and the electoral college (Virginia slaveholder James Madison famously admitted that direct vote of the President was the “fittest” but would hurt the South because they had so many nonvoting slaves) in order to create ‘unity.’

Compromise is a strategic effort where parties to a dispute make concessions—give up some of the demand—in order to achieve other goals or meet other needs. 

Sudan is currently in headlines because the military has dissolved the alliance between military and civilian groups effectively blocking the power-sharing Sovereign Council and agreed-upon transitional government. To be clear, the transition from the brutality of Omar al-Bashir’s three decades of power, which ended in a 2019 nonviolent grassroots insurrection to democratic civilian rule, was on shaky ground because the Sovereign Council was unelected.

The excitement with ousting al-Bashir has faded and conflict over power has increased political pressures and tensions between both sides; the future of Sudan is uncertain, the coup was not a surprise, but neither is the resistance; the streets are full of peaceful pro-democracy protesters, but while the efficacy of nonviolence is clear the outcome remains to be seen.

Al-Bashir’s loyalists have initiated the military coup d’etat, which bears some parallels to Trump’s illegitimate power grabs and the criminal efforts of his loyalists. But the similarities are limited; where most of the officers pushing for al-Bashir in Sudan last month were arrested, the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol say they will get justice, yet nine months later no officials nor Trump have been charged for their efforts intended to overthrow American democracy.

Al-Bashir’s loyalists in Sudan chanted “down with the hunger government” just like Trump’s scream “Stop the steal!” The former demand reforms to the Forces of Freedom and Change coalition, the replacement of the cabinet in power, and a coup overthrowing the government. The latter, according to a recent poll, which found that 66 percent of Republicans believe that “the election was rigged and stolen from Trump,” while only 18 percent believe “Joe Biden won fair and square.”

The rule of law is under attack in both countries. And just like Aesop delivers a lesson on standing together, the people of Sudan present important reminders on the importance of people power and the role of nonviolence safeguarding democratic institutions. 

It is easy enough to hope that Trump loyalists will not make a repeat attempt at an insurrection, but the evidence suggests otherwise and the political threats and violence of 2020 and 2021 should be a wake-up call. 

There have been too many plots to list and at seemingly every level of government; there have been plans to kidnap Gretchen Whitmer, the Governor of Michigan, who, in June, said: “Threats continue, I have looked out my windows and seen large groups of heavily armed people within 30 yards of my home. I have seen myself hung in effigy. Days ago at a demonstration there was a sign that called for ‘burning the witch.’” 

The National Association of School Boards has asked President Joe Biden for federal assistance to investigate and stop threats in a letter outlining 20 cases of threats, harassment, disruption, and acts of intimidation in California, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, Ohio and other states. The board argues that: “As these acts of malice, violence, and threats against public school officials have increased, the classification of these heinous actions could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.”

The U.S. and Sudan showcase different stages of division. The people of the U.S. are well served to learn and get involved in Sudan through solidarity. People of the world can all push for frozen assets and travel bans on those responsible for the coup and thank President Biden for his swift action in suspending $700 million in aid to Sudan. Nonviolent but coercive measures like these can pressure the military to yield to the people’s demands. We can also make strong condemnations to the use of political violence and the detainment of political prisoners—who should be immediately released. 

When we watch what is happening in Sudan we become better global citizens. We learn about other cultures and struggles, and we increase our empathy for others. We live up to the moral demands that we respond to the injustice that others experience and they gain strength through the increases in unity. But we also learn valuable lessons for the protection of our own fragile democracy. As long as there are people who threaten a violent takeover there must also be people prepared to use the power of nonviolent struggle—to amplify the voices of the people—in resisting them.

Trump and al-Bashir may be the lions. But we are the many oxen who can thwart their attacks.

Wim Laven, Ph.D., syndicated by PeaceVoice, teaches courses in political science and conflict resolution. 

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