Sudan: Is Anybody Listening in Washington?

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir (file photo).
1 December 2019

Slowly the international mood towards Sudan is changing favorably. Thanks to efforts and sacrifices of the Sudanese people, who single handedly managed to topple a -3-decade totalitarian regime of former President Omar Al-Bashir.

At the time the country is preparing to celebrate the first anniversary of the popular uprising that uncharacteristically started in the countryside with the youth and women leading the way, prospects of carrying out a successful transitional period hangs on the balance and in particular on the economy that needs to show people some fruitful dividends.

It is the scarcity of bread, fuel and their high cost that led people to the streets and eventually raising the ceiling to regime change. Nothing much seems to have changed and people were kept at bay by the hope of some improvement, but for how long?

That is the question which led eventually to two op-ed pieces appearing last week in the London Guardian newspaper and across the Atlantic in a similar piece from the Sentry-Enough Project that called on the US to accelerate the process of removing Sudan from the states sponsoring terrorism (SST).

The Guardian piece was more candid. It said "if Sudan's economy slides into complete meltdown and the civilian administration fails, the rug pulled from under Hamdok's feet will have "Made in the US" written all over it.

If the US administration - and Congress, which must approve the lifting of sanctions - wants to be on the right side of history in Sudan, it must respond expeditiously to the Sudanese people's plea."

Both are known to be fierce critics of the deposed Al-Bashir, but is anybody listening in Washington?

It was 14 months ago that both Sudan and the United States agreed on phase two on a 6-track program to be carried on a six month period ending with delisting Sudan from the SST. These are stopping any cooperation with North Korea and continue cooperation on combating terrorism, respect human rights and review of state of liberties generally and particular religious freedom, work towards achieving comprehensive peace, unfettered access to humanitarian aid in addition to concluding a settlement with judicial ruling regarding victims of bombings.

However, with the rising tide of popular uprising earlier this year the Trump administration announced shelving the joint meeting and the suspension of these tracks.

Ironically enough with the political change taking place in Sudan most of the conditions have been met or on the way especially in areas of freedom, human rights respect, humanitarian aid, while the two main remaining sticking points are achieving peace and concluding a settlement with the families of those lost in the bombings.

However, the most worrying aspect of all this is that it is not clear whether Washington is still sticking to the last year's 6-track program or have a new one. The irony in that at the time it was willing to work on a clear path to delist Sudan with a regime toppled by a popular uprising, but its position regarding the civilian-led government committed to human rights and democratic transformation is shrouded in ambiguity.

Even the Friends of Sudan meeting, where US is playing a leading role, hosted by Khartoum last week managed to release yet another statement and promising the hard-pressed Sudanese government of two more meetings in Stockholm and Paris before venturing into the most important one: the donors conference in April.

The April conference will be problematic in itself if Washington failed to delist Sudan by then. It will be really awkward for the United States to push for helping financially a country that it officially designates as sponsoring terrorism.

By then all scenarios seem to be possible: cancelling the donors' conference all together, or postpone it or look for a face saving solution like continue extending some humanitarian aid to affected, troubled regions in Darfur and the two areas or boosting contacts with the private sector.

But the central point in all this is that Washington is playing the role of the external examiner who is marking the book of the student, Sudan in this case.

What is needed is more than the current lip service and the stand-off approach waiting for Sudan to satisfy all the concerns of Washington, but the question remains is whether a US administration is getting into an election fever and a growing impeachment procedures will have the political will and interest in engaging positively with Sudan.

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