The 3-day visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan ended up breaking new grounds in Sudan’s foreign relations, whereby the country forged for the second time in its history a strategic intimae relation with a weighty player on the world scene. Turkey after all is one of the G-20.
The first was a brief stint almost half a century ago when the Soviet Union came to the help of the new, leftist regime of May 1969 led by Ja’far Nimeiry and supported by the communists and other left wing groups. They provided much needed armament and even ventured to overhaul the economy through a 5-year plan, but their efforts came to abrupt standstill following the 1971 communists’-led coup. Then it was during the peak of the Cold War, which dictated the type of relation between a developing country and one of the superpowers.
This time things look different.
Aside from history and the shared ideological Islamic background, Erdogan seemed to be concerned with two main issues as he embarked on his second African tour this year: his experience back home, where he gave priority to improving his country’s economic base and the fact that the Arab world is passing through one of its worst periods in its history, a situation that creates a vacuum that could be used as an opportunity or it could create problems at the same time.
The outcome of the visit demonstrated clearly that there is a political will to make a breakthrough. By setting up the mechanism to look after the bilateral relations from a high strategic council headed by the two presidents, down the chain to work out through 21 signed agreements that hopefully will raise trade relations between the two countries from their current meager $500 million to $10 billion according to target put by the two presidents and venture aggressively in the investment field as well. But all depends on the new found political will can be translated in ability to tackle Sudan’s two main problems: lack of finance and poor management.
However, whatever Turkey can or will do is not going to replace what needs to be done by Sudan itself , particularly in terms of overhauling its civil service and state apparatus at various level to be up to the challenge in the forms of follow-ups, meeting deadlines and cutting bureaucratic red tape so as to make a difference.
The Turkish experience here could be of great value. After all Erdogan came to power in 2002, but managed to build on what he found though steering gradually to put his stamp on the well-established system. And his success is visible in economy as well turning the political system into a presidential one with clear Islamic feature that does not collide with the well-entrenched Turkish secular features.
Moreover, Sudan’s problems stem more from its domestic politics that have prevented it from tapping its huge natural resources. Though the military challenges facing the government currently are at their lowest level in decades, a fact that is demonstrated through series of unilateral ceasefires over the past two years, but the political problems are still there in Darfur and the two areas of the Blue Nile and South Kordofan that need to be addressed in a bold way to make a much needed breakthrough.
The other worry is the way this Sudanese-Turkish relationship is seen in the region. If the media coverage is any guide, it is evident that Egypt and to some extent Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are not happy at all with this rapprochement. They see it as a revival of the Islamists threat and more serious a venture by a non-Arab country in the region. And that is why the agreement to rebuild Suakin, which has been Sudan’s port during the Ottoman administration has been viewed as a foothold on the sensitive geopolitics of the Red Sea. Equally the meeting of the three chiefs of staff of Sudan, Turkey and Qatar that coincided with Erdogan visit was seen as yet another evidence of this new axis.
Sudan does not have the luxury of getting into axes and at the same time will not accept directives on what to do or how to behave, but the way to achieve that is through solving its domestic political problems that could pave the way to handle its economic woes so as to be a player on its own right.
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