For almost three years Peter Pham, the director of Africa program at the think tank the Atlantic Council, who was newly appointed Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region was campaigning against US sanctions on Sudan, questioning the rationale behind the US State Department continuation of listing Sudan as a state sponsoring terrorism (SST) at the time its annual reports hailed Sudan’s efforts in combating terror.
It has been exactly quarter a century since the Clinton administration decided to add Sudan to the SST and only now following the initiation of Phase-2 for framework agreement between the two countries, “the United States is prepared to initiate the process of rescinding Sudan’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism if the determination is made that all of the relevant statutory criteria have been met,” according to the State Department statement.
Much could be said about US policy towards Sudan which, “does not always appear consistent, much less rational,” as Pham wrote once, or some Sudanese officials who accuse Washington of moving the goal posts every time Khartoum was about to score.
But engaging into a blame game is not politics and is not useful by any measure.
It was the pragmatic approach adopted back in 2016 to engage into a specific roadmap to achieve specific goal, that is removing of economic sanctions, a step that was successfully accomplished early last year and which opened the way for tackling the most serious and sensitive issue of removing Sudan from SST.
Unlike sanctions that could be waived through an executive order, delisting Sudan from SST involves a lengthy process that goes all the way to the congress following a six months review and monitoring. Such step opens the way for lobby groups to be involved and that is an area where Sudan has very little, if any influence. And that is why it looks like a missed opportunity that foreign affairs minister Eldirdiery Mohamed Ahmed while visiting Washington did not make use of some public addresses in platforms like the Atlantic Council and put his case before an audience that is involved in shaping the public opinion and eventually the decision making.
Of the six points agreed upon to be included in Phase-2 of the roadmap to delisting Sudan from SST, only two are in fact related to direct US interest, namely expanding counter terrorism cooperation and adhering to UNSC resolutions related to North Korea. The remaining four items that cover enhancing human rights issues including freedom of the press and religion, improve humanitarian access, ceasing internal hostilities and push towards Sudan peace process are purely Sudanese with some regional and international implications.
The issues of freedom of the press, religion and political association and movement are in the heart of the struggle engulfing Sudan for decades and have reached new apex of late. Making remarkable improvements in these areas is of vital interest to Sudan, more than the United States. Freedom of the press and political association can help in closing the window for violence and resorting to bullets instead of ballots.
The Phase-2 encompasses more or less the scattered initiatives to restore peace in Sudan and allow the country to live in peace with itself. There is AUHIP initiative, an offer by South Sudan to mediate between Sudan and rebels be it SPLM-N or those of Darfur. In some press leaks one American official put a time frame for Phase-2 that ranges between six months to four years, but the bottom line is that the whole thing depends on Sudan and how it sees the urgency in clinching a deal now that winds seem to be blowing into Khartoum wings. Washington decision to initiate Phase-2 adds to this. And that is why it is important for Khartoum to make use of the time frame and push for a comprehensive peace in the coming year and before the slated 2020 elections.
The idea is not just to close the door before violence, but more important to put a new foundation for legitimacy.
Throughout Sudan’s history as an independent state the question of legitimacy has always been there even during multi party governments as a disgruntled group resorts to arms because the existing system did not provide enough guarantees. Committing to peaceful means and sticking to them throughout the political process inside the country provides a new mechanism and puts the first block for durable legitimacy.
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