Sudan – Bashir’s Political Efforts Rewarded

Efforts by President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to bring a lasting peace to war-torn Sudan have made great strides since the start of the year, most notably through the formation of a government of national consensus (GNC) that includes Bashir’s NCP and opposition groups that have taken part in a National Dialogue initiated by the president in 2015. Bashir launched the dialogue in the hope that he might be rewarded by the lifting of international sanctions and the dismissal of his indictment on war crimes charges stemming from abuses committed in the armed conflict in the western region of Darfur.

Although key civilian and armed political groups have refused to participate in talks, Bashir wagered that a perceived good-faith attempt at promoting national unity and democratic pluralism would be enough to achieve his objectives. The president’s bet paid off in early October, when US President Donald Trump announced the permanent lifting of sanctions imposed 20 year ago as punishment for Sudan’s offer of safe harbor to Osama bin Laden, which had previously been suspended by Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama.

As a result, individuals and companies in the US are now permitted to engage in direct trade with, and process financial transactions for, counterparts in Sudan, and to facilitate transactions with third parties doing business with Sudan. In addition, the US will release Sudanese assets frozen under the sanctions.

Significantly, Bashir remains under indictment by the ICC, and Sudan has not been formally removed from the US State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. Moreover, separate sanctions imposed by the UN in response to the conflict in Darfur, which mainly involve restrictions on the provision of weapons and other war-making materiel, remain in place.

Even so, the Trump administration’s move will give Bashir’s government more room to revive an economy badly damaged by domestic conflict and the secession of oil-rich South Sudan in 2011. For his part, Bashir has pledged to press ahead with plans to produce a new democratic constitution and hold competitive elections, while also taking steps to resolve ongoing domestic conflicts, with the aim of bequeathing a nation at peace to a successor in 2020.

Even assuming Bashir is sincere, the refusal of some of the most influential opposition parties and several armed militias to participate in the dialogue process poses an obstacle to achieving that ambition. As recently as November 1, both Sadiq al-Mahdi’s National Umma Party and the Sudan Revolutionary Front released a formal statement affirming their commitment to toppling Bashir’s regime by force.

The government’s plan to return hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people to Darfur carries a risk of reigniting conflict in the region, where a cease-fire has largely held since 2016. The UN contends that Darfur’s non-Arab population continues to be subjected to abuses by pro-government Arab militias, and has called on Khartoum to delay plans to close down camps for displaced Darfuris until the militias have been fully disarmed.

However, having secured the lifting of the most onerous sanctions, Bashir will not be inclined to pay much heed to the international community. Indeed, the president is spearheading an effort to convince African nations to withdraw from the ICC. Thus far, South Africa, Burundi, and Gambia have done so, and the issue came up during a recent meeting between Bashir and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose indictment by the ICC on charges of fomenting ethnic violence was thrown out in 2014 for lack of evidence.

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