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.
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.
Govt and rebel faction Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) led by Abdelaziz al-Hilu met for talks in Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa 1-2 Feb, first since Oct 2016, but failed to secure cessation of hostilities agreement, hitting deadlock over humanitarian access to Two Areas (S Kordofan and Blue Nile states). SPLM-N al-Hilu 30 Jan extended its unilateral ceasefire for four months in Two Areas ahead of talks. Rival SPLM-N faction led by Malik Agar protested exclusion from talks. Protests against bread price rises continued, mainly in Khartoum; after EU and U.S. embassies condemned harsh govt crackdown, govt 19 Feb released 80 detained protesters, though hundreds remained imprisoned. Govt delegation met Egyptian counterparts in Cairo 8 Feb further de-escalating tensions between countries which flared late Dec-early Jan and agreeing to curb hostile media campaigns, set up mechanisms for high-level dialogue and reaffirm commitment to principles agreed March 2015 regarding dispute over Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
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.
Talks led by East Africa’s IGAD offer the best chance to end South Sudan’s spreading war. International partners must put aside their disillusionment and rally to the regional body’s new IGAD-PLUS mechanism to help mediators reach a deal.
The two-year-old flare-up of violence in Darfur continues, adding 100,000 people this year to more than 2.5 million who have lost their homes since war began in 2003. Sudanese, regional and international peace processes have stalled. They should restart with parallel initiatives that take into better account all of Darfur’s communities and armed groups.
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.
It is appropriate to offer Sudan incentives and the beginning of a way back to a kind of international order from which it was thoroughly expelled. They had made enough progress, and we need to keep pushing them to climb.
If the U.S. is smart it will use the momentum it has gained in its relations with Sudan [by announcing an end to its 20-year-old trade embargo] and push for further improvements in the conduct of the Sudanese government.
Addis Ababa can win economic and security gains if it perseveres with its impressive commitment to peace efforts in South Sudan. With its new two-year membership on the UN Security Council, Addis Ababa has the opportunity to better connect regionally-led political processes to UN action.
President Museveni will naturally defend Uganda’s short-term interests, but he should also work towards longer-term stability by supporting President Salva Kiir’s pledge to bring peace through ARCSS implementation, negotiations and national dialogue.
Originally published in Daily Monitor
Originally published in Sudan Tribune
Jihadist groups have regrouped in the neglected hinterlands of Sahel countries and are launching attacks from them. To regain control of outlying districts, regional states must do far more to extend services and representation beyond recently recaptured provincial centres.