The popular anti-government uprising, now in its fourth month, and with no clear political breakthrough and worsening economic crisis has started to take its toll on the country’s image at least in the region.
Out of the blue Egypt invited foreign interested oil and gas companies to bid for new blocks some of them are located in the disputed Halaieb region between Sudan and Egypt.
Sudan warned companies from bidding saying that they will be taken to court if they engaged in any activity to utilize any hydrocarbon reserves namely in blocks 7, 8, 9 and 10. Interestingly enough it was back in early 1990s that Egypt objected to Sudan’s move to list these blocks, then grouped by Sudanese authorities as Block-16.
The dispute over Halaieb is an old one that flared up in late 1950s, then Sudan tabled a formal complaint to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and keeps on renewing it regularly. However, things took a turn in the 1990s when Egypt moved its troops and administrators in the region following an assassination bid on former President Hosni Mubarak. An attempt Sudan was accused of providing the logistical support to the plotters. That was followed by UNSC resolutions that pushed Sudan into a splendid isolation.
It looks like Cairo is reading from the same previous experience and the recent moves are intended to make use of Sudan current crisis and consolidate the facts it is creating on ground that will lead eventually to the Egyptianization of the disputed region.
Moreover, question marks now hang over Sudan’s bid to host and chair the first ordinary IGAD summit in years. It was originally scheduled to be held in the first week of March with a big announcement of linking the Red Sea with Lake Victoria, thus unlocking Uganda and refocus the attention on Sudan’s strategic location and the role it could play for land-locked countries like Chad and help boost China’s road and belt mammoth project.
These development refocuses attention on which strategy to take in dealing with the outside world. To focus on solving domestic problems and enhance the country’s stand to enable it play a more active role or venture into regional disputes as a mediator so as to strengthen its regional and international stand that will help eventually in solving domestic problems.
The latter was the route taken by Sudanese diplomacy over the past few months when it ventured on mediating into South Sudan civil strife that brought to end a five years of internecine fight. Though the deal was met with scepticism, but it still holding. More important after the peace agreement was sealed, Khartoum got a nod from Washington that it is time to start the second stage of the bilateral dialogue that will lead eventually to lifting Sudan from the list of countries sponsoring terrorism.
The success achieved with South Sudan peace encouraged Khartoum to try its luck with another nearby dispute in Central Africa, a move that was not very much welcomed by France.
That could have add to what Khartoum managed to achieve in South Sudan and help shore up the country’s image.
Then the long discontent that has been brewing for years exploded in a way that took almost all political powers including the government and traditional opposition by surprise.
More important it shows clearly that attempts to reconcile and achieve peace should start at home, not in neighboring countries. Whatever that regional effort did is now under threat from ongoing uprising. This uprising is putting question marks around the system currently in place. It is a fact recognized by President Omar al-Bashir, who went as far as saying he will lay down framework for solution and going forward. He asked other political forces to join hands.
But to move on along the line stipulated needs more than a declaration. One big problem that needs to be faced head on is the lack of confidence and the credibility of government declarations. This is one of the cases where deeds speak more than words. And it is in the government’s court that first steps need to be taken.
But the government is dominated by the National Congress Party (NCP) and despite President al-Bashir saying that he is becoming a national figure, but that needs to be translated into actions and NCP sorts out where it stands and what it hopes to do.
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