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The Sudanese government, once globally ostracized for sponsoring terrorist activities and human rights abuses, is currently enjoying unprecedented foreign relations with a number of countries, including Western powers.
Germany actively engages with Sudan, especially with regards to curbing refugee flows to the continent. The country has provided over €80 million to development projects in Sudan dealing with immigration, and recently the two countries met up to discuss joint efforts to combat illegal migration and human trafficking.
Italy, like Germany, has also taken measures to curb refugee flows. In August, Italy signed an agreement with Sudan to curb irregular migration into the country and later repatriated a group of Sudanese nationals attempting to cross the border at France – a move that the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, claims may have violated international law.
EU member states are not the only countries that have fostered new relations with Sudan recently. In previous times Sudan had maintained a close relationship with Iran but, desperate for revenue, shifted allegiances to Iran’s regional opponent, Saudi Arabia. Sudan and Saudi Arabia have forged a new, amiable relationship, especially in the fields of military and economic investment. Several sources have attested that the Kingdom granted at least $5 billion in military assistance to Sudan earlier this year, in return for its participation its participation in the Yemeni civil war.
Even Israel has been optimising relations with Sudan since the country’s distancing from Iran. Previously Israel regarded Sudan’s alliance with Iran as a threat, especially as it meant that weapons could funnel into the Gaza Strip from Iran, via Sudan. But now as Israel regards Sudan as less threatening, it has extended statements to its Western allies to increase cooperation with Sudan.
In addition to fairly recent relations with foreign countries, Sudan remains a steadfast ally to Russia, having maintained diplomatic relations with the country for 60 years. Bashir’s government has historically faced isolation from the West, and Russia is seen as a major ally for Khartoum. Russia, in the meantime, has sought out economic investment opportunities from Sudan. In 2014 both countries agreed to promote cooperation in a wide range of areas, including mineral prospecting and the financial sector. Bashir is even scheduled to visit Russia soon to discuss furthering mutual cooperation and bilateral relations.
Indications of Russia’s support for Sudan manifested when Russia blocked a UN Security Council report in December 2015, which linked Musa Hilal, a former leader of the infamous pro-government militia ‘Janjaweed,’ to gold profiteering in Darfur. The report was blocked on the grounds that, according to Russia, the Security Council should have been focused on promoting peace and security throughout Sudan instead of monitoring and condemning the gold industry. Russia regarded the report as “extremely biased,” and as a campaign to weaken Khartoum rather than to promote peace and security in Darfur.
Similarly, China has provided political support and a pivotal economic role with Sudan. In particular, China has maintained domineering control of Sudan’s oil fields. Chinese companies, which began working in Sudan in 1996, control 75 percent of Sudan’s oil sector. Over the last two decades Beijing has invested more than $20 billion in Sudan; something that has contributed greatly to the Sudanese economy and for which China has provided low-interest loans and weapons to Sudan in return.
Sudan has also developed new relations amongst regional African countries such as Uganda and Kenya. Following the violence that plagued Darfur in 2003, Bashir has faced a warrant form the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity. Bashir has managed to lobby support among several African leaders who have denounced the international court, accusing the ICC of neo-colonialism.
At the end of last month South Africa announced that it was pulling out of the ICC. The decision was announced when the country faced criticism for not arresting Bashir after he attended a June 2015 AU summit in Johannesburg, South Africa. Burundi’s parliament voted to leave the ICC in October this year while Gambia announced its decision to pull out too, in the same month. Sudan has welcomed these withdrawals and it seems that Khartoum’s views on the ICC are gaining support within the continent.
Despite these diplomatic gains, U.S. President Obama extended sanctions on Sudan for another year. The announcement made in October prolongs U.S. economic, trade and financial sanctions against Khartoum, first imposed in November 1997, on the grounds that the Sudanese government supports terrorism and violates human rights. These were further extended in 2006 due to the violence committed under the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in the Darfur region, where at least 300,000 have died since 2003.
The announcement to extend sanctions follows a human rights report alleging government use of chemical weapons in Jebel Marra, Darfur. While the report encouraged US Congress to push for investigations into these claims, other countries such as Germany expressed doubts over the report, labeling it “implausible.”
What it means…
The improved relations mark a stark contrast to the relative isolation Sudan faced since the current ruling party (formerly the National Islamic Front) came to power in 1989. With few allies other than Iran and China, Sudan has garnered “normalized” relations with a wide spectrum of regions: the West, the Middle East, Russia and China, and regionally within the African continent.
Despite the plethora of countries engaging with Sudan, it is worth noting the country’s state of foreign relations has been erratic. These relations illustrate the duplicitous nature of Bashir’s government. In the span of 25 years, Khartoum has hosted terrorists such as Osama bin Laden, backed Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and flooded weapons into African warzones such as South Sudan. It is apparent that Sudan’s external relations are not diplomatically consistent, but instead reflect a regime focused on day-to-day, and especially monetary, survival.
Sudan’s new foreign engagements will invariably support any ruling party’s longstanding tactics: subduing dissent through military means. Huge cash investments from Saudi Arabia and China, and potentially the EU will ensure that the conflicts in the Two Areas of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, as well as Darfur, will continue. Diplomatic support from African countries and Western countries will also diminish any accountability vis-à-vis the ICC.
And despite the U.S. renewal of sanctions, Sudan has received considerable political support by Western countries. Even the U.S. has been involved in promoting the National Dialogue, a state-led peace initiative in Khartoum, despite the initiative being widely rejected by opposition parties for being disingenuous and non-inclusive.
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