Sudan: Desperate to Be Free From Terror Tag, Govt Agrees to Pay U.S. Cash It Doesn't Have

(file photo).
22 October 2020
opinion

United States President Donald J. Trump surprises no one any more with his use of Twitter for every announcement, big or small, compliment or insult, diplomacy or outrage.

This was not different on Monday, October 19, 2020, when he tweeted the US decision to remove Sudan from the scornful 'state sponsor of terrorism' blacklist, after Khartoum reportedly agreed to pay a whopping sum of $335 million as compensation for its alleged role in the bombing of two US embassies in east Africa by al-Qaida in 1998.

"GREAT news! New government of Sudan, which is making great progress, agreed to pay $335 MILLION to US terror victims and families. Once deposited, I will lift Sudan from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list. At long last, JUSTICE for the American people and BIG step for Sudan!" Trump declared.

With this, he made the affair sound like a win-win situation, where Sudan becomes unshackled from the weight of its terrorism status while the US gains compensation for its citizens and secures Sudan's cooperation on a number of US projects, including the war on terror, intelligence sharing and access to the Red Sea.

But this is hardly a fair deal. Instead, the US has used its global might, neo-colonial posture and the racist disdain for Africans that President Trump has championed ever since he came into office, to bully another country, making a mockery of the concept of justice he referenced his tweet.

A bit of history is warranted.

Dictatorship

First of all, Sudan was ruled for 30 years since 1989 by a ghastly dictatorship lead by Omar Hassan al-Bashir, whose National Islamic Front looted the country dry, destroyed its sense of unity, essentially forced South Sudan to break away, executed a genocidal murder in the country's western region of Darfur, in the Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile regions.

Al-Bashir invited to Sudan all manner of jihadists from Arabia to the Maghreb and beyond, making Sudan a passageway, training hub and radicalisation venue for fighters headed to Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa's Sahel region.

For this, Sudan was placed on the US list of countries sponsoring terrorism in 1993 on accusations of supporting terrorist groups.

In 1997, Washington imposed economic sanctions on Khartoum and tightened them a year later after attacks against US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

In 2007, the US imposed further sanctions after al-Bashir's government had turned the conflict in the western Darfur province into a genocidal war.

Later in October 2017, the administration of former President Barack Obama lifted some of the economic sanctions, but left the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act (DPAA) and the terrorism list designation. More of these sanctions were lifted in 2020 following some bargains between Washington and Khartoum over strategic cooperation.

And then in a massive revolutionary protest almost unknown in the rest of Africa, the Sudanese rose up against the dictatorship and toppled al-Bashir in June 2019.

A new government combining the military and civilian technocratic structures was installed. Indeed, a great and commendable effort to bring about transformation. Al-Bashir and his cronies, including some of the prominent genocidaires, went to jail, where they are now awaiting trial, potentially destined for the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which had indicted them long before they lost power.

For this admirable feat of popular action by the Sudanese people to restore their basic rights, many activists from around the world who campaigned for imposition of sanctions on Al-Bashir's Sudan quickly recognised that the moment had come for all these sanctions to be reversed so as to reward the Sudanese for their bravery and for Sudan to breathe economically and diplomatically.

Battered economy

Sudan's economy had been ravaged and crippled by both the decades of al-Bashir's misrule, the looting machinery under his 30-year dictatorship and by the US sanctions.

So, to quickly rebuild the economy, restore traditional livelihoods and inject some confidence into the new government, it was imperative that Sudan be unchained from the economic sanctions and the negative image of being on the list of countries that sponsor terrorist organisations, something the new government wanted resolved in short order.

It was obvious that Sudan could only speed up democratic transformation, reverse its treacherous human rights record and improve the country's global image if it could resume normal relations with other countries and revive its trade networks. Sudan also needed its foreign debts restructured and given access to loans with the World Bank, things that could happen while the country was under sanctions.

The problem was that the US White House was occupied at this time by a leader who did not care much about getting involved in international affairs, not least in Africa -- the "shithole countries" and what not.

Therefore, the negotiations toward the lifting of sanctions and resumption of normal relations were naturally slow. The Sudanese prime minister, Mr Abdalla Hamdok, travelled to Washington for this purpose in December 2019, the first for a Sudanese head of state or government since 1985.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Khartoum in April 2020. Both visits were geared toward navigating the speed of transition in Sudan but hardly listening to each other's message. Khartoum wanted nothing more urgently than the lifting of sanctions. Washington seemed bent on getting Sudan to resume diplomatic relations with Israel. The aspirations could not be more parallel.

Then Trump dropped the bombshell, pegging the lifting of state sponsor of terrorism status to a demand for payment of a sum that Sudan will be hard pressed to pay any time soon. Sudan is essentially broke, and its people will not be happy about this demand.

Curious response

However, Prime Minister Hamdok reacted to this announcement in a way that seems to puzzle many Sudanese when he tweeted "Thank you so much, President Trump! We very much look forward to your official notification to Congress rescinding the designation of Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism, which has cost Sudan too much."

This was a truly puzzling response from a person heading a government that was born of people power, a people who have suffered the brutality of a criminal regime and are now being collectively punished for the deeds of a regime they hated.

"This Tweet and that notification are the strongest support to Sudan's transition to democracy and to the Sudanese people ... As we're about to get rid of the heaviest legacy of Sudan's previous, defunct regime, I should reiterate that we are peace-loving people and have never supported terrorism," Mr Hamdok continued.

Thank you so much, President Trump! We very much look forward to your official notification to Congress rescinding the designation of Sudan as a state-sponsor of terrorism, which has cost Sudan too much. https://t.co/GeScTPfb0k

- Abdalla Hamdok (@SudanPMHamdok) October 19, 2020

But there was no rejection of Washington's demand for payment and this will probably not go down well in Sudan. There will be local politics on both sides and the two leaders will have to navigate the minefields. The payment of compensation is likely to cause anger and the Sudanese will want nothing to do with paying the US, while the US will tie any further action to Sudan's settlement of the accounts. What will give?

I think it is unfair that the US wages wars all over the world, many of which are unjust and outright colonial occupations, killing countless people in the Middle East and Africa and no international mechanism to compel the US to compensate its victims, nor political force within Africa to ensure mutual respect.

It would be unfair to force Sudan to make a multimillion-dollar payment to the US using public funds to pay for the misdeeds of a fallen dictator.

Perhaps the African Union should intervene on Sudan's side, or a way could be found to compel such countries as the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia, where al-Bashir is said to have stashed billions of stolen money, to release it and use that money to meet such obligations.

But it is the principles of fairness and justice that should first be looked at to point out the US double standard, political might or not.

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