By: Alsir Sidahmed
On the heel of the visit by the German President Frank Walter Steinmeier, the first by a western head of state to Sudan in decades, came a 2-day visit by the European Union (EU) new high representative for foreign relations Josep Borrell Fontelles, both indicate to a new beginning for the Sudanese-European relations. But there is a long way for such beginning to go before settling on new grounds.
Fontelles, a seasoned Spanish diplomat, took the helm of the EU foreign relations at a critical time for the bloc, which has been weakened following the departure of Britain and an uncertain relationship with the United States under Trump administration, yet there is no alternative but to continue on soldering to safeguard its place in the world.
Sudan emerges as a point of interest for three main reasons that stems from its geostrategic position. The country’s geographical position makes it a door way to immigration to Europe, while at the same time it represents a good intro to the rest of Africa. Yet most important is the political change taking place in Sudan and is opening a new chapter not only for the country, but may have its shockwave triggering across the region.
After decades of failed experiences in post-independence Africa and the Arab world Sudan has emerged as an important player in harnessing human trafficking and illegal immigration to Europe. Cooperation in this field, particularly in areas of capacity building for the security and border forces, could be through training and providing equipment to help these forces do a better job.
However, this cooperation has been a source of worry for many human rights organizations especially that it was a deal with a regime accused of grave human rights violations and the EU has been subject to strong criticism from these organizations.
Europe’s security concerns will continue and the political change in Sudan will not affect that in a drastic way. The question is how to mix between meeting these worries and at the same time help Sudan transform into a positive way into a stable country.
So far the EU has announced 55 million euros following Prime Minister’s Abdalla Hamdok visit to Brussels last November, in addition to 250 million euros that can go to development projects and more specifically training and capacity building. That falls short of Sudanese expectations and of European experience. Following the end of World War 2, the United States launched its Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe following the destruction of the war. And Sudan after three decades of an ideological, military rule is in dire need for such a Marshall plan, though on smaller scale.
Europe has interest in seeing Sudan prosper and carry out a successful democratic transformation because it lies in Europe’s southern boarders and given its geostrategic location whatever happens in Sudan will have an impact in the region.
And that is why the International Crisis Group in its report late in December on the EU’s new leadership it said Fontells is having seven priorities and on the top of them is how to deal with change in Sudan. It referred to the aid the EU pledged to give to Sudan adding that, “yet these contributions – however generous – remain a proverbial drop in the bucket given the scale of support required to deliver on this once-in-a-generation opportunity.”
In other words and given the feet dragging of Washington to translate its nice words into concrete help especially as for removing Sudan from the list of states sponsoring terrorism, the responsibility falls on the EU to send a different supporting message.
It may worth recalling here that the message sent by the international community in supporting the SPLA that led initially to signing of the peace framework in 2002 was seen by rebels in Darfur that resorting to arms is sanctioned by the international community and that is partly one of the reasons why the rebellion started the following year.
The international community needs to send a different message this time. Though Sudan has been through two popular uprisings during the past forty years, but it is the first time that there is a real chance for change and democratic transformation. And the EU’s help in this respect is in a way helping for itself and standing for its ideals.
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