1 October 2017

Sudan: Shifting Emphasis


The actual lifting of economic sanctions imposed on 223 Sudanese companies and corporations is the clearest sign yet that US-Sudanese bilateral relations have entered into a new era. And that is in itself a good excuse to get into more complex issues of removing Sudan from the list of State Sponsoring Terrorism (SST), which has its own sanctions regarding double use objects, but the move in itself seems to be and for all practical purposes the gateway to tackle the troubling burden of Sudan debt, believed to be in excess of $50 billion.

However, a successful sailing through the coming phase depends more on Sudan, than on the United States and the ability to put its own house in order in terms of improving its human rights records, rule of law, transparency, in addition to a workable plan that can make use of this window of opportunity to attract more foreign investments.

According to Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour talks on removing Sudan from SST should start next month. It is straightforward procedure where the relevant institutions namely the trio of the State Department, the Pentagon and the CIA enter into a six months assessment exercise before tabling their recommendation to the President. But that is not the whole story as there are some bumpers along the way. The President should notify the Congress of his decision to lift Sudan from the designation list. The Congress has a 45 days window to come up with an objection.

Sudan was added to the SST list in 1993 to be the number eight country to join the club. Over the years some were removed from the list either because the country itself ceased to exist as an independent entity like South Yemen, or given drastic change in its internal policy as the case with Iraq and Libya or through a deal as happened with North Korea. Today the list includes in addition to Sudan only Iran and Syria.

However, as early as 2013 Sudan started to join actively in efforts to combat terrorism and that brought in the paradoxical situation where the State department annual report speaks positively about Sudan efforts in combating terrorism at the time it is being kept in the SST, an irony that led the director of the Africa program at the Atlantic Council Peter Pham to write a criticizing piece about it last year following the release of annual report on terrorism.

However, given the domestic political price such a move involves and the long history of anti-lobbies and their activities in devising policies towards Sudan, this next step should not be taken lightly or a foregone conclusion on the assumption that the trio have been working hand in hand with Sudan and have achieved a degree of understanding. The US officials are aware of these domestic complications and know how to deal with it. The removal of Sudan from the travel ban, without clear justification, seems to be designed to send a message of the upcoming permanent lifting of sanctions.

Another positive sign was the visit last month to Sudan by the chair of the House intelligence committee Devin Nunes where he received a first-hand account on what is going on that can open a window in the legislative body.

Clearly the US side will be looking at the continuation of commitment on the part of Sudan on the five tracks that were used as a yardstick to measure relations and remove sanctions. In addition issues of human rights, religious freedom, and rule of law will be part of the assessment somehow. And that where handling the domestic scene becomes an issue. Another incident like the ill-timed Kalma IDP camp in Darfur will definitely not augur well and Sudan needs to help itself to allow others extend a helping hand.

Ghandour was all praise to the attitude from the American side, who he said they usually honor their commitments. That is a quite development compared to the period when the complaints were high about moving the goal posts every time is about to score a goal.

And that is where the emphasis should be shifting to the old dictum that a good foreign policy depends on similarly good domestic one. There is a lot of literature that have been generated out of the National Dialogue and it is high time to devise concrete policies that address the thorny issue of governance in its various formats.


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