Sunday, 2nd Apr 2017 (Sudanow) - The Sudanese-Saudi joint air manoeuvers currently being undertaken in Merowe, some 330 north of Khartoum, are the first of its kind and is yet another strong signal on the growing coordination between the two countries in various fields. To emphasize the message, Saudi Arabia is sending its Eurofighters in their first mission outside the kingdom, in addition to the US F-15s and Typhoons, while Sudan is deploying its Russian and Chinese Mig-29s and Sukhois.
The air games came less than three months after the second naval manoeuvers were conducted in Saudi Arabia earlier this year, while the first was carried out in Sudan four years ago.
With this military dimension and the expanding Saudi business and investments in Sudan, the Sudanese-Saudi bilateral relationship is moving towards a strategic heights after Sudan being treated for long as only recipient of aid and exporter of labor.
Given the Saudi confrontation with Iran in the east and battling it in its backyard in Yemen and to the north in Iraq, its western front, where Sudan is located becomes of additional importance. More than securing its western flank only, the issue of the Red Sea security is moving to the forefront and where Sudan could be one of the key players in securing that waterway.
Interestingly enough it was back in the 1970s and during the height of the Cold War that the issue of the Red Sea security became an issue, though it subsided over time given the collapse of the Soviet Union and the undermining of its proxies.
With regional conflicts dominating the scene the issue of the Red Sea security became a regional worry with regional players and domestic implications. To Saudi Arabia the Red Sea is becoming another outlet to world markets with the Petroline that carries some 5 million barrels per day to loading facilities, in addition to the complexes of refining and petrochemical plants in Yanbu and Rabigh. And that is why its security concerns to safeguard the area is heightened. Last January a Saudi frigate has been attacked while patrolling near the Yemeni port of Hodeida, which was kept open and under the Houthi control to allow for humanitarian aid to be sent to people in Yemen. It is no wonder that Hoeida will be the next military target on the 2-year old war against the Houthis as has been announced.
On the other hand, the Red Sea is Sudan’s only outlet to world markets, where the port and oil export facilities are on shore. In addition to Sudan, these facilities are serving South Sudan and talks are in advanced stage to serve Ethiopia and Chad as well, which would turn Port Sudan into a regional hub, thus adds to its regional importance and puts the Red Sea security under new strategic prism.
However, more important Sudan is working to position itself as one of top destinations for Saudi investments especially in area of agriculture, food and animal husbandry. Recent reports spoke of successful commissioning of agriculture projects in the Northern Province by the Saudi tycoon Suliman Al-Rajhi and the NADEC company in Northern Kordofan, where wheat was planted for the first time in that region in a pilot experiment that it managed to achieve sounding results.
Moving to Sudan is part of the Vision 2030 stipulated by Deputy Crown and defense minister Prince Mohamed bin Salman in his attempt to diversify the economic base of the kingdom, reduce its dependence on oil and encourage Saudi investments in nearby countries like Sudan with abundant natural resources.
And that brings the ball to the court of Sudan and how it plans to make the utmost utilization of this favorable change of atmosphere. The issue far exceeds having a positive investment regulations or streamlining procedures to lure would be investors. Rather, what is needed is a vision and a strategic one on the future of the country and where it is heading. For quite long time Sudan has been run on crisis management style instead of a long-term vision with measurable benchmarks.
Part of the equation and on the way to establish this national vision is political stability, which requires dealing with the on-going political and security turmoil mainly in Darfur, the Blue and Southern Kordofan. Over the years the root causes of instability that has plagued Sudan have been discussed over and over. What is missing is political will for implementation and this is the time for it.
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