Sudan on US Administration Radar

Muawad Mustafa Rashid

The observations and analyses of most of the international political and strategic circles to determine the US Administration policies towards Sudan are multiple, especially after the recent steps and procedures taken by the US Administration.

One of the most important reports on the scene of the Sudanese/American relations was published by US Al-Monitor website under the title: Sudan Takes Center Stage in US Regional Strategy.

The report started with an affirmation that Khartoum is getting a boost from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund as US Sudan envoy tours the region.

US-Sudan relations are in full turnaround from where they were two years ago. The transition is still fragile, but on a fast track, especially after this week.

A decision by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) gives Sudan’s 44 million people a chance to break the cycle of chronic poverty and fragility.

The visit to the region last week by official US envoy to Sudan Donald Booth also signals the increasingly pivotal role Khartoum plays in the region — especially in the regional Nile dam talks and addressing the civil war in Tigray, which has spilled over into Sudan.

On March 31st, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed a “new chapter” in US-Sudan relations after Khartoum paid $335 million to compensate victims of al-Qaeda terrorism in the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000.

The country’s payment and its recognition diplomatically of Israel is part of the deal to get Sudan off the US list of state sponsors of terrorism, which had blocked Sudan in terms of receiving international aid and assistance.

On March 26, David Malpass, World Bank Group President, called the decision a “breakthrough,” adding that the reform steps taken so far by Sudan’s government, “including arrears clearance and exchange-rate unification, will put Sudan on the path to substantial debt relief, economic revival and inclusive development.”

A recent IMF report referred to Sudan as having a “once in a generation window of opportunity” to build on, and accelerate structural reforms undertaken by the civilian-military transitional government.

New Chapter in US-Sudan Ties

The United States is not the only country that has opened a new chapter with Sudan. Egypt-Sudan ties over the past two years have also witnessed a dramatic turnaround from the days of Bashir, who had an affinity for the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Ethiopian civil war in the Tigray region has led to a hot border dispute with Sudan.

Sudan is hosting 70,000 refugees from Tigray, and the numbers are growing. Sudanese forces have skirmished with the Ethiopian military and militias on the border.
The second issue is the stalled talks on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

On March 31st, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said, “No one can take a drop of water from the waters of Egypt. Whoever wants to try, let him try. But this would destabilize the whole region. No one should dare question our capabilities but if they want to put us to the test, then so be it.”

Egypt’s population of 100 million depends on the Nile for 95% of its water needs. Any interruption in the flow of Nile water caused by the dam would be devastating.

Egypt wants an internationally brokered plan for the dam’s water management. For Ethiopia, the Nile is a sensitive nationalist issue. Talks mediated by the United States, the World Bank and the African Union have so far yielded little progress.

Although Sudan would be less impacted by any potential disruption of Nile water flow, Khartoum is backing Cairo’s call for mediation, as its concerns with Ethiopia are increasingly affected by the fighting in Tigray.
Meanwhile, the Egypt-Sudan partnership has taken off diplomatically, economically and militarily.

On March 31st, Egyptian and Sudanese air forces launched joint training exercises. Mohamed Saied writes that even “bilateral economic projects such as the railway project, an electrical connection project and others in the fields of transportation, agriculture and irrigation cannot be analyzed in isolation from the [dam] dispute.”

US special envoy to Sudan Donald Booth was in the region last week, seeking to find ways to jumpstart the dam talks and de-escalate tensions in Tigray.

Sudan has backed a proposal supported by Egypt to involve the United States, the European Union, the UN, as well as the African Union, in mediating the dam talks, but Ethiopia rejected the offer.

Following Booth’s tour, Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi, the incoming head of the African Union, announced a new round of Nile dam talks starting in Kinshasa last week.

Eyes on Sudan

The popular demonstrations that began in Sudan in December 2018 and that eventually deposed Bashir, a war criminal and dictator, foreshadowed a kind of sequel to the Arab Spring, which also occurred in Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere.

Sudan’s role in the region is increasingly impactful. And its people, who in the past have suffered from chronic poverty, abusive and corrupt governance, and in Darfur, genocide, deserve this opportunity for a new direction and social contract with their rulers.

Future Opportunities

We believe that lifting Sudan from the SST will enable the IMF and the World Bank to reconsider Sudan’s application for writing off its foreign debts according to the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC).

Last week, the World Bank’s Managing Director of Operations said: “We have felt Sudan’s absence from our programming for the past 27 years – and we are very happy to welcome them back. We stand ready to support the Sudanese people in their efforts to build a stronger economy that reduces poverty, delivers prosperity and a better future.”

To sum it up we can say that there are enormous challenges facing Sudan with its least rank in terms of GDP and human capital.

Sudan’s economy had declined by 3.6% on 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and this is the third successive year in negative growth; but despite that, the IMF expects 9.0% growth in the Sudanese economy this year.

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