Tag Archives: Omar al-Bashir

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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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

Why Khartoum backs Kiir

Khartoum may have once backed Riek, but Riek also once betrayed Khartoum. Interests are not fixed over time. Today’s paradox is that while Khartoum has enjoyed and encouraged some instability in South Sudan, even after independence, too much instability in South Sudan hurts Khartoum’s interests. An existential threat to the government in Juba (much like an existential threat to the government in Khartoum) brings for the other side destabilising uncertainty, the possible retraction of existing commitments on oil, trade and cooperation, and security complications in the borderlands.

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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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Questioning the narratives of protest

Every serious protest in Sudan is put to the same test of classification. Is it is akin to the revolutions of 1964 and 1985? Or, is it Sudan’s version of the Arab Spring? Those supportive of the protests usually assert it is one or both of these things; those supportive of the status quo deny or downplay either parallel, and analysts and observers tend to favour one or more of the four possible positions (akin to 64 or 85, or not; a formative Arab Spring, or not). I would argue that return to these precedents as the models for comparison both limits our understanding of current events, and obscures a dispassionate assessment of how change is likely to occur.

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