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.
Omar al-Bashir is out as president of Sudan, but protesters suspect that the military-led transition is a game of musical chairs. A new curfew raises the spectre of bloodshed. International actors should press vigorously for civilian leadership of a process that must promise further-reaching change.
Military’s ouster of then President Bashir 11 April after almost 30 years in power led to tense stalemate between military council and protest movement leaders over composition and leadership of joint civilian-military body to oversee transition. Thousands marched in capital Khartoum 6 April – anniversary of 1985 popular uprising – and began sit-in outside military headquarters, resisting security forces’ attempts to break up crowds. Army adopted policy of non-intervention and junior and mid-ranking military defied orders to disperse protesters; some soldiers reportedly clashed with members of National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS). Police 9 April also adopted non-intervention policy. First VP and Defence Minister Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf 11 April announced ouster and arrest of Bashir, creation of Transitional Military Council (TMC) to rule for up to two years before elections, suspension of constitution, three-month state of emergency and curfew. Protesters rejected curfew and Ibn Auf as ruler, and demanded immediate transition to civilian rule. Next day Ibn Auf resigned and was replaced by Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Burhan. Burhan 13 April announced overhaul of military leadership, notably head of Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” appointed TMC deputy chair. Salah Gosh resigned as NISS head 13 April. Bashir reportedly transferred to prison 17 April and next day two of Bashir’s brothers arrested. African Union 15 April gave TMC fifteen days to hand over power to civilians to avoid Sudan’s suspension; summit of several African leaders chaired by Egyptian President Sisi in Cairo 23 April gave military leaders three months. Protest leaders led by Sudanese Professionals Association late April engaged TMC in talks on formation of joint transitional council, but said protests would continue until TMC accepted to form civilian-led transitional body.
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.
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.
What is clear is that there has not been a clear break from the old [Sudanese] regime. And what we know is that what the military says and what the military does can be quite different.
The scale of protests on Saturday [in Sudan] illustrate that Bashir's gamble that he can save his regime through repression is proving to be a losing bet.
[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.
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.