Tag Archives: Darfur

Bashir and the Americans: sanctions and regime survival in Sudan

With sanctions, as in politics, it is only a slight exaggeration to say, paraphrasing Gladstone, that timing is everything. Altering U.S. policy on Sudan now, and not six months or a year or five ago, is more about Obama’s impending departure from office than due to any dramatic difference or reform in the Sudanese regime. The regime continues to prioritize the security state over effective governance and service delivery, attack legitimate political opposition and expression, systematically and indiscriminately use the tools of repression, and more (see, for example: Continuing judicial harassment of 5 defenders from TRACKs and the Director of ZORD; Silencing Women Rights Defenders)

None of these are new patterns, nor has Khartoum been discreet enough to avoid further incidents in recent weeks. Mudawi Ibrahim, one of Sudan’s best known human rights activists, was detained in Khartoum on December 7. Human rights lawyer Tasneem Ahmed Taha was detained in El Fasher on December 26. Access to Jebel Marra and many parts of the Nuba Mountains remains extremely limited.

But it does not follow that comprehensive U.S. sanctions are a solution to these or Sudan’s many other problems, or that progress on all of these fronts should have been a precondition to the initial easing of sanctions. The blunt force of the policy of the last twenty years has clearly harmed ordinary civilians, including civilian opponents of the regime. The easing of personal communications equipment sanctions by the U.S. government in February 2015 was recognition, in part, that Sudanese civil society, and ordinary civilians, suffered much more than any Sudanese government elite in being prevented from using modern technology.

There is not much to suggest that U.S. sanctions have compelled those ruling Sudan to consistently moderate their behaviour over the last twenty odd years. The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control noted in a 2009 report: ‘assigning causality between the threat or imposition of economic sanctions and regime-level behavioral changes is fraught with peril,’ while going on to argue, through a few rather unconvincing examples, ‘that U.S. sanctions against Sudan have applied constructive pressure that has affected key Sudanese officials’ decision-making calculi.’ Affected, perhaps, but to what extent? Even Treasury’s own statement announcing the easing of sanctions this month seemed to unwittingly accept this ineffectiveness: ‘our sanctions were intended to pressure the Government of Sudan to change the way it treats its people.’ Intent does not equate to results.

Herein lies the problem with both critics and proponents of this policy shift: sanctions – their imposition and their removal – are not a strategy; they are merely tools, in service of a strategy. And the alternative strategy remains sorely lacking.

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Misplaced focus: a regional protection force in South Sudan is not a substitute for a political process

 The international community will be confronted with hard choices: do we move ahead with the deployment of a force that will not make a difference, that will not have the capability to defend itself and that carries the risk of humiliation of the Security Council and the United Nations and tragic failure for the people…

These words could easily have been said about the anticipated Regional Protection Force (RPF), now the international community’s primary policy prescription to address the crisis in South Sudan. Instead, they date from 2007 and Jean-Marie Guéhenno, then head of the United Nations Department for Peacekeeping Operations, describing the challenges of what would become the United Nations – African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID).

There are at least three important parallels between the experiences of UNAMID and the RPF. First, as in Darfur, the RPF is intended to enhance the capacity of an existing, under-performing and repeatedly outmanoeuvred peacekeeping operation. Second, the host government opposed, and then accepted with conditions, the RPF, and has and will continue to shift the goal posts on the composition and operational parameters of the force. Third, the RPF will take months to fully deploy, if indeed it ever does. Most crucially, even if this force deploys, it will not address the most crucial security and political problems in South Sudan. The greatest security risk to civilians in the city of Juba today comes from the government’s armed forces; the RPF will be outnumbered and outgunned by those same forces the government refuses to withdraw. With the bulk of SPLM/A (IO) forces having now fled Juba, the argument that the RPF is there to interposition between rival forces no longer holds; the moment at which a third party security force would have been of greatest benefit has been missed.

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Reviewing the review: wishful thinking and the future of UNAMID

In late February, the United Nations secretariat published the special report of the Secretary-General on the review of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (S/2014/138), the UN mission more commonly known as UNAMID.

Skip to the end of the document:

 51. After one year, the Security Council would be faced with three scenarios:

(a) The political and security situation has not changed and the Mission has not improved its effectiveness, and a thorough assessment of the way forward requiring hard decisions on the future of UNAMID will be necessary;

(b) The political and security situation has not changed but the Mission has nevertheless measurably improved its effectiveness, and streamlining continues within the civilian and uniformed components based on effectiveness;

(c) The political and security situation has improved and the Mission has improved its effectiveness, in which case consideration should be given to strengthening, accordingly, the peacebuilding and support to early recovery mandate of the Mission.

One, obvious scenario is missing from the UN analysis: a worsening political and security situation in Darfur.  Continue reading

Did Qatar really give Sudan a billion dollars?

Rich though they are, Qataris do not like losing money.  Investing in Sudan is no different: it requires a return.  On April 2, Qatar’s emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani spent a few hours in Khartoum; at the end of the visit Sudan’s minister of finance announced $1 billion would be deposited by Qatar in the Central Bank of Sudan, to shore up foreign exchange reserves.

To explain the emir’s visit and the money as primarily a Qatari effort to find a friend amidst regional isolation, and/or as support to an ideologically akin state is unsatisfactory.  Paramount are simpler Qatari interests: economic diversification, food security, maintaining an independent foreign policy and making money.

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Meanwhile, in Sudan…

Current events in South Sudan (and Addis Ababa) continue to grab the headlines, and preoccupy the attention of most analysts, including this author.  But that should not imply there have been no recent notable events north of the border.  Here are three, mostly un or underreported developments in Sudan, and some thoughts on their implications. Continue reading

A new cabinet in Khartoum (part one)

Most attention has focused on the resignation of Ali Osman Taha and his replacement as first vice-president by Bakri Hassan Saleh. While Bakri’s ascension may in time prove to be the decisive move in the Bashir succession drama, I’d argue that its immediate significance has been overplayed. Recall: Bakri has been at Bashir’s side since the regime’s beginning. As minister of presidential affairs from 1998 to 2000 and again from 2005 onwards, he has steered policy in the presidency and served to mediate party and army concerns. He is one of the main gatekeepers to those seeking access to presidential decision making. His elevation in the constitutional hierarchy does not alter his already formidable power and influence. The army is central to state policy concerns; that is unchanged. We will now see much more of Bakri, the man. But Bakri’s mentality has long been on display.

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On Darfur and the death of Mohammad Bashar

Originally published by African Arguments on June 5, 2013.

The second honeymoon of Darfur’s Doha peace process lasted just over a month.  On April 6, Mohammad Bashar, leader of the Justice and Equality Movement-Sudan (hence referred to as JEM-Bashar) signed the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD; EnglishArabic) in the ballroom of the Doha Ritz-Carlton hotel.

In Doha, Bashar told delegates he was looking forward to going home.  On May 12 he was dead, killed on the Sudan-Chad borderlands at the hands of his former comrades in the mainstream Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). Continue reading