Sudan is an important crossroads between the Horn and North Africa and, for this reason, a country of transit for regional refugee flows and trans-Mediterranean migration networks. While Khartoum and its surrounding provinces remain relatively stable, instability and internal conflict still occur in the country’s peripheries, including the western Darfur region. Many Western countries, including the U.S., European Union and its member states are now seeking better relations with Khartoum. To this end, in October 2017 U.S. economic and trade sanctions were lifted. Through field research and advocacy with Sudanese and international actors in the region, we aim to reduce the likelihood of conflict inside Sudan and encourage Khartoum’s shift toward positively engaged regional and international relations.
Ethiopia is building a mighty dam on the Blue Nile, promising economic benefits for both itself and Sudan. But Egypt fears for its freshwater supply. The parties should agree on how fast to fill the dam’s reservoir and how to share river waters going forward.
In response to continued protests that began mid-Dec, President Bashir declared state of emergency giving freer rein to security forces and raising risk of more violent crackdown against protesters in March. Bashir 22 Feb declared state of emergency, dissolved cabinet and sacked all eighteen provincial governors to replace them with army and intelligence officials. Bashir’s announcement differed considerably from what intelligence chief Salah Gosh hours before said Bashir would say, namely that he would step down as head of ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and cease attempts to change constitution so that he could run for president again in 2020. Security forces 23 Feb stormed doctors’ complex, fired tear gas and detained several; dozens of other protest and opposition leaders detained 22-23 Feb. Authorities 25 Feb banned unlicensed gatherings and protests, 26 Feb established emergency prosecutors and courts across country; over 800 reportedly put on trial 28 Feb. Bashir 1 March handed leadership of ruling NCP to deputy head, Ahmed Mohamed Haroun, until party’s next general conference. U.S. Sec State Pompeo 14 Feb told media that, if there was a transition, U.S. hoped Sudanese people and not outsiders would lead it. Special Assistant to U.S. President Cyril Sartor 18 Feb met Sudanese officials as part of discussions on U.S.-Sudan dialogue and reportedly told officials that U.S. could propose resolution to UN Security Council to defer Bashir’s case at International Criminal Court, if he agreed to step down.
Popular protests are rumbling across Sudan, shaking President Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year grip on power. The authorities have cracked down hard and, as the demonstrations intensify, they may ratchet up the repression. External powers should urge restraint and offer Bashir a way to the exit.
By 12 October, Washington will decide whether the steps Sudan has taken qualify it for lifting some U.S. sanctions. But to push forward afterwards will require a new roadmap that ties further sanctions relief and improved bilateral relations to political reform and human rights.
China, traditionally averse to intervening abroad, is testing the role of peacebuilder in South Sudan, where it has unique leverage. This could portend a growing global security role, but further Chinese engagement will likely be tempered by self-interest, capacity constraints and aversion to risk.
The clock is ticking for President Trump who must decide by 12 July whether to lift decades-long U.S. sanctions on Sudan. The failure of economic penalties to alter Khartoum’s behaviour so far means Washington should repeal some sanctions and continue a process of conditional engagement.
Sudan's government is in survival mode. As it drifts away from its former radical Islamist ideology toward a new foreign policy pragmatism, Western powers should encourage Khartoum to solve the internal wars that have done so much damage to the country and blocked the normalisation of external relations with this increasingly active player in the Middle East.
[Sudanese President] Bashir has a cunning record of allying himself with everyone and being beholden to no one. He has a reputation for transactional diplomacy.
[Sudan's President] Bashir has faced down protests before, but what’s clear is that the economy has reached a tipping point and the masses have been pushed to the edge.
While [Sudan] wants to show [its] independence from Egypt on the diplomatic front, [it] can’t afford to have a more powerful enemy, such as Egypt, that can affect [its] relationship with the Gulf states.
[Salah Abdallah Mohammed Salih] may be seen [by Sudan's President] as a strong guy who could handle the difficult political situation given the recent protests.
This is a dangerous moment [for Sudan]. By taking out [Darfur's powerful militia chief] Musa Hilal, [Khartoum] has pitched two Darfuri Arab clans against each other.
[After the lifting of U.S. sanctions in Sudan] there’s been a lot of excitement among the Sudanese middle classes, even for things like getting a cinema. The sanctions have not been effective.
Drawing from analysis in our Sudan briefing, Improving Prospects for a Peaceful Transition in Sudan, the Washington Post Editorial Board argues that, faced with nationwide unrest and unpalatable alternatives, President Bashir should relinquish power.
Originally published in The Washington Post
A UN mission has largely succeeded in keeping the peace in Abyei, an oil-rich area claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan. But there has been less progress made on the mission's work in aiding political mechanisms to determine the final status of Abyei and demilitarise and demarcate the border. As the UN Security Council debates the mission's scope, these mechanisms deserve ongoing support.
Facing an economic crisis at home, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has avoided picking sides in the spat between Gulf powers. But friction with Egypt and divisions in the Gulf have made such flexibility in regional relations more difficult to achieve.