Sudan strives to break out of isolation to reach ‘safer shores’
CAIRO - Sudan’s transitional authorities, spearheaded by its decisive military wing, are not hesitating to take steps that could help the country reintegrate with the international community, meet its domestic economic challenges and complete Sudan’s democratic transition.
Past the initial hesitation after the ouster of Islamist-backed President Omar al-Bashir, Khartoum has set as a priority the removal of Sudan from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism.
It has had to reckon with a complex set of sanctions that stemmed from the designation, which, by virtue of its tangled ramifications, has had the impact, for Sudan, of some “kind of a diplomatic nuclear bomb,” as put by Daniel Benjamin, a former US State Department counterterrorism coordinator.
Inclusion on the US blacklist deprived Sudan of accessing international economic assistance, impeded foreign investment in the country and delayed the process of modernisation and reform.
Seeking Israeli help with Washington towards removing Khartoum from the list, Lieutenant-General Abdel Fattah Burhan, president of Sudan’s Sovereignty Council, met with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on February 3, in Entebbe, Uganda.
Despite criticism that followed his move, most Sudanese political parties seemed to understand Burhan’s motivations.
Habib Sarnoub al-Daw, member of the political council of the Umma Party, said he was optimistic that Sudan would “succeed to a great extent in removing this international siege” and that “the coming period will witness more progress at the level of completing the process of transitional justice, which will facilitate the government’s mission to lead the country to new elections.”
In another move aimed at ending the blacklisting of Sudan, the Sudanese Ministry of Justice said Khartoum agreed to pay $70 million compensation to the families of the 17 US sailors killed and 15 wounded in the 2000 attack by al-Qaeda on the US Navy destroyer USS Cole.
To further shed its pariah status, Khartoum announced February 12 that it would hand al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court. Al-Bashir is accused of genocide for his role in the war in Darfur in which approximately 300,000 people were killed.
The announcement came after negotiations in Juba between the government and the Revolutionary Front, which represents several armed movements.
The decisive posture of the military members of the Sovereignty Council seems, however, to be ruffling the feathers of civilian members of the Abdalla Hamdok government. While the military sees a need for quick and decisive action, civilian leaders are said to favour dialogue, transparency and democratic processes.
Experts said that, wary of the army’s unilateral initiatives (even when it has overcome its fears of a military takeover), the government sought the partnership of the United Nations in implementing the constitutional document to which protesters and the military had agreed, last August.
The steps taken by Khartoum are leaving a positive impression internationally. “The fledgeling post-al-Bashir Sudan government is demonstrating a serious commitment to human rights principles in its first months in office,” said John Prendergast, co-founder of the Sentry watchdog group.
Sudan’s new rulers are hoping the trust they are building at home will allow them a longer grace period to start implementing reform. Sudanese political analyst Muhammad al-Asbat said the Sudanese government was moving the country to “safer shores.”
He added the Sudanese revolution “achieved the goals of freedom and justice to a great extent and now it must achieve comprehensive peace and solving the country’s economic problems.”
Observers said opening to major world powers goes beyond ending its US blacklisting. On February 13, the German parliament lifted sanctions against Sudan and re-established bilateral cooperation between Berlin and Khartoum, one day before a meeting between Hamdok and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.
For the next stage, the Sudanese government hopes to be able to hold an expanded international donor conference, which could help Khartoum obtain the aid packages and urgent loans it needs and ensure the success of its transition to a Western-backed democracy.