Why the U.S. is Losing Influence in Sudan
Why does the U.S. have so little influence over political outcomes in Sudan? Earlier this month, I made a presentation at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York in which I argued that the U.S. Administration can only influence political outcomes in Sudan at the margin, and moreover that its leverage is diminishing. Some in the audience were puzzled by this. It is axiomatic for many in the policy world that the international community (usually defined as north America and Europe) not only should fix difficult problems, but can successfully do so.
There are five main reasons why the U.S. has less influence in Sudan than it did a few years ago.
1. Credibility. The Bush Administration made several promises to Khartoum, and failed to deliver on them. The Sudan Government expected normalization of relations after it signed the CPA, after it signed the DPA, and after it allowed UN troops into Darfur. There are good reasons why the U.S. didn’t make good on its promises. The Obama Administration inherits that legacy. But, from Khartoum’s point of view, any U.S. promise is heavily discounted.
2. Coherence. Khartoum will only listen seriously to a promise or a threat from Washington DC if senior members of the Administration speak with one voice. Despite the completion of the Sudan policy review, there are still contradictory statements in public. As long as this continues, Khartoum has no reason to respond to any U.S. engagement. If Special Envoy, General Scott Gration’s critics get their way and force him out, we can expect another interregnum after which his successor (if one can be found for this thankless job) spends many months formulating a new approach.
3. Cohesion. In the 1990s, as the north-south peace process remained moribund, the first task was getting a common stand among the key internationals. That was achieved when IGAD appointed a Special Envoy, backed by the troika of the U.S., Britain and Norway, and Egypt did not object. Getting these five internationals into line took from 1994 until 2001, and that was a prelude to the real negotiations. Gen. Gration, has made progress in coordinating the six Special Envoys (the P5 plus the EU), but the profusion of international institutions and interested foreign governments, means that this is loose coordination rather than the tight cohesion that made the IGAD-convened process so effective.
4. Paucity of tools. When dealing with most foreign policy issues, the U.S. Administration has a range of tools, including the pressure that can be brought from commercial ties, various forms of cooperation, as well as diplomacy. In the case of Sudan, isolation and sanctions have left Washington with diplomacy alone. It’s a weak lever to move a heavy stone. Khartoum’s attitude is that it has learned to live without the U.S., and that threats of escalated pressure are simply not credible.
5. Time. The best opportunities for influence have been lost. The current dynamic in Sudan is one in which the NCP and SPLM are sizing one another up, assuming the worst, and preparing for the worst. True, there is intermittent progress, such as the agreement on a Referendum Law, but the Government of National Unity falls exists chiefly in name. As the days of decision approach, the relationship between the NCP and SPLM will determine what happens. The few tools that the U.S. possesses will be slow to enact, and U.S. action will be hampered by the need to protect humanitarian workers, peacekeepers and political relationships with key partners. So, while the NCP and SPLM will actively drive events, the U.S. will be reacting after the fact.
Thanks again for an intersting analysis and view.
I think the 4th reason has a lot to do with the justification more than the others. Since the US sanctions were imposed on Sudan in 1997, Sudan has managed to build several alternative alliances and found good â€œreplacementsâ€ that were very eager to step-in and support the Sudanese government. In a way, that was one of the biggest mistakes of the US Administration.
Increased presence of powers like China and France with their economic and political powers and unhidden interest in the country and the region, but also defiant tendency by the government of Sudan to build up and strengthen relations with other ideological enemies of the US, also contributed greatly to the erosion of the US influence in Sudan.
If the Government of Sudan claims that France was one of the major supporters of the Juba Conference and the Juba Alliance proved to be true, based on the visits by the leaders of the Umma Party, the PNC Party, and also by the President of the GoSS to Paris prior to the meeting in Juba, this could also be one aspect of the threats to the US influence in the South. Apparently, the South is becoming more strategic to France now with the recent embrace by the Commonwealth to Rwanda which is compromising its influence in the great lakes region.
I do really believe that this is one of the reasons why we should get scared by the current developments in the political arena in Sudan and their potential catastrophic repercussions while everyone seems to be having falsely raised expectations about the role that the US can play to contain the situation and help the different parties of the conflict reach a peaceful solution to the issues of dispute and conduct an honest and free elections and referendum in April 2010 and January 2011 respectively.
What has been celebrated as a victory and a progress on the issues of dispute, after the demonstrations that led to the arrest of the SPLM leaders and which also led to a bitter disillusion about the relative weight of their representation in the government of the national unity, proved now to be, yet, just another chapter in the huge volume of the dishonoured agreements by the typical North Sudan leadership.
With the clock ticking in the countdown for the elections scheduled in April 2010, the question remains if there is enough time for the US to benefit from this realization, and also whether or not it is possible for the international community to come up with â€“yet another – initiative to help in resolving the so-many-slippery-issues that stand between us and the entrance of the dark tunnel labelled April 2010.
What is USA or any other country’s influence supposed to bring to the targeted country or its people? And in the case of Sudan, supposed the relation between USA and the NCP regime in Khartoum were to be like their relation with Nimayri regime in 1980s, will that make any big difference to the situation in Sudan will that encourage the country to move towards more democratic, open and friendly relations with its people and neighboring countries? With regard to China and its relation with the NCP regime, I think it is more serving the interest of each otherâ€™s than, having influence on how the regime behave. China always keeps a blind eye on everything the regime does as far as they have their investment protected and they are receiving oil from Sudan at discount price as their demand for oil grows. The Chinese role is not visible, we only see their special envoy sometimes but we have not seen their effect in influence the NCP position in the more pressing issues, like the current deadlock between the two partners to the CPA, where we see more visible role for other western envoys (the American, British even the Russian). The Chinese are only engaging with the NCP and have no influence at all on the other actors. And most of the time they disappoint the NCP regime by not using their veto against some UN security council resolution, for example 1593, as they fear some western pressure groups.
The American sanctions are negatively affecting the Sudanese economy and Sudanese people, they are crippling the banking systems and limiting the options for businesses to get better deals in all international trade. However, the regime elites managed to escape that to some extent by resorting to China, Malaysia and other countries in the far east. But they still need the west. I think it is better for the Sudanese people if the sanctions are lifted, but that doesnâ€™t mean change to what USA can do, their threat sometimes work better than their persuasion.
I am not sure from where Ahmed Hassan got his information about French influence, as France is the most disliked country in world now for Khartoum. The NCP blames France for being behind the recent demonstrations in Khartoum and also supporting Juba Alliance, they have more strong relation with Juba than Khartoum as Total signed contracts with GOSS for oil exploration and the south. France are also planning to build an oil efinery in the South and looking at the possibility of building pipeline through Kenya. The only visible investment in the North is Assembling of Renault lorries in Giyad Industrial Estate south of Khartoum.
The NIF policies since 1989 when it took power by military coup was not to recognize or to negotiate anyone in Sudan , and to strengthen their existence by any means and to resolve all the conflict by military means and confront the superpowers during the cold war, their slogans used to tell that, and after the Soviet Bloc started the fall in 1989 they thought they are the power which will replace it by spreading their political Islam ideology to most of countries in the region. They formed the Conference of Islamic Arabic People in 1991, bring most of the Islamic dissidents in Arabic and Islamic countries to Sudan including giving sanctuary to Osman Bin Laden and the so called Afghan Arabs, but after the failure of their military campaign to defeat SPLA in the south and Nuba mountains and the 1998 bombing of Shifa factory in Khartoum by the American they realized that they didnâ€™t have the power to realize their dreams and they have to adopt more realistic way to survive and buy more time specially after their split in 1999.
Since that time they are using their strong survival instincts and their main strategy has become simply to survive and every other thing is tactical.
Some of the leaders in the NCP try to portray themselves as moderate and ready to negotiate, but the hardliner ideologues are still the strongest and will stop any genuine move towards engaging with others or negotiate a genuine power sharing deals which they will honor.
They caved in to the American and other western power pressure from 2002 to 2005 by signing the CPA in 2005 even though the American sanctions were on, the same thing happened in Abuja in 2006 when the signed the DPA, and the strategy is the same buy time and kill those agreement from inside, because they know deep in their hearts a genuine implementation to the CPA means their end, and that what they will resist. What is happening with the CPA, is now mistrust between the two partners and lack of implementation to some important parts of it. The DPA is almost dead , just yesterday Minni Minawi said clearly he think just less than 5% of the DPA has been implemented until now.
Suppose the American normalize their relation with the NCP and remove all the sanctions. Will that give them the leverage needed to persuade the NCP to allow a genuine democratic reforms, which would mean surrendering power, including loss of their control over all the security organs and the economy, because if that happened it not only means they will lose power but will also entail the dismantling of the NCP as more of the opportunists around them will leave and the and the few Islamists will go back to Dr Hassan Al Turabi.
In the last 5 years there are more that 7 special enjoys to Sudan , and Sudan become one of the few countries in the world which foreigners shape its internal politics. With all the arrogance of the NCP leaders and their continual refusal to recognize other Sudanese power or honour their agreements with them, whenever we have a crisis we look outside for special envoys to fly in and solve it, not only the NCP or other political parties leaders and most of the Sudanese people are looking for solutions to come from abroad, and more of the creditable news about Sudan from foreign media (BBC, Aljazaira etc). The only time Sudanese and oppositions political leaders to resort to facing their problem themselves is the last 3 weeks when they decided to resort to their democratic rights and ask Sudanese people to come out on the street demanding democratic reform before the election to create a conducive environment for that and forced the NCP to respond very quickly and they managed to do what the American envoys and others failed to do in the last year, and as most of the oppositions leader promised in a public rally two days in Khartoum south that they will continue the demonstration until all the needed reform put in place.
I think all those special envoys (especially the Russian) have to take holidays and allow the Sudanese people to do it themselves, I am sure they are the most influential power, more than any other foreign power, they have a excellent track records on that.
I’ve been away from this for a while, but I think you overstate the paucity of tools. Debt relief, admission to the WTO, the possibility of lifting some sanctions, coordinating with Europeans on either more or fewer sanctions. This in addition to diplomacy, both direct and in the region, and an especially large influence over the South, make the U.S., for better or worse, mighty still.
DEBATING A SOUTHERNER (2): Head, Southâ€™s Mission to USA
Washington: Mohammad Ali Salih
Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth: Head of Southern Sudanâ€™s mission to the US, in Washington , DC . Was Sudan Peoplesâ€™ Liberation Movement (SPLM) representative in US. Served as a soldier in Sudan Peoplesâ€™ Liberation Army (SPLA). Received BA in criminal justice from the University of Maryland College Park
Q: In recent media interviews, you described the current talks between the National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) as towards a â€œpeaceful divorce.â€ Why?
A: Many times, under President Salva Kiir Mayardit, we repeated that we are ready and committed to honest negotiations with the NCP because, according to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 (CPA), certain issued must be finalized before the end of the agreementâ€™s duration. Therefore, talks about post-referendum should be honest and transparent. But, we lost hope in the NCP.
Honestly speaking, I think what we are entering into is negotiating peaceful divorce. Why?
First, there is not enough time left before the referendum for the two parties to agree on all pending issues.
Second, we are disappointed in the events since the singing of the CPA because the implementation of our goal to create a New Sudan seems now difficult if not impossible.
Q: Will the Southerners choose separation or stay in the united Sudan ?
A: According to many international and local polls, if the referendum takes place today, 98 percent will vote for independence.
Q: Recently, Ali Karti, Sudanâ€™s new Foreign Minister, said the separation of the South would lead to a war worse that the war that ended in 2005?
A: The SPLM repeated many times that it wants peace, not war. By the way, I noticed that the new Foreign Minister has recently issued some extreme statements, and not only about the South. Those who talk about a new war donâ€™t know what war is. We know. We have suffered form war throughout the decades, its killing, its bloods, the destruction, the widows, the orphans, the disperse of families, of villages and of a whole people.
Q: Didnâ€™t some Southern leaders also issue extreme statements? How about those who hare talking about an independent South that would cooperate with the US in its â€œWar on Terrorismâ€?
A: Under President Salva Kiir Mayardit, I represent the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS) in the US . Ask me about this, not about statements issued by other people and other organizations. You have to know that the Southerners, since the CPA, have become free to say what they want to say; we cannot stop them.
Q: How about the slogan â€œ Sudan Jadidâ€ (New Sudan) that was criticized by many Northerners as a foreign-inspired plan to change Sudan â€™s Islamic and Arabic identity?
A: H.E. late Dr. John Garang de Mabior, the founder and former president of SPLA/SPLM, had a vision of a New Sudan . He didnâ€™t want to just end the war. He, also, wanted to establish guarantees that the war would not start again, and that would be by establishing a New Sudan with the following characteristics: First, diversity of religions, cultures and ethnic groups. Second, sharing of power and wealth. Third, writing a secular constitution.
Q: Didnâ€™t you just say the implementation of the â€œ Sudan Jadidâ€ seems impossible? Has it failed?
A: Yes, for now, and for two reasons: First, the NCP which controls the North doesnâ€™t want any changes towards secularism, diversity and democracy. They want to continue the Islamic military regime they established in 1989. Second, after the signing of the CPA in 2005, we called for â€œWihda Jazabaâ€ (Attractive Unity), and said the Northerners had a last chance to proof that they were serious and honest — by building in the South infrastructures, schools, hospitals, factories and others development projects. Now, five years have passed and we see nothing of that sort on the part of the Northerners.
Q: Will the Southerners vote for unity if the Northerners construct these projects?
A: This is an â€œifâ€ question.
Q: What should the Northerners do for the Southerners to vote for unity?
A: First, official and popular, civilian and military apologies for the killing and destruction in the South during the war decades. Second, financial reparations for the physical and mental sufferings; also for the oil revenues that were not given to the Southerners duding the war. Third, free and fair elections to reflect the true powers and the diversity of the country â€“ a step towards New Sudan .
Q: What would be the following step?
A: A secular constitution, like the American one. The US constitution doesnâ€™t segregate people because of their religions and races; it separates state and religion. Also, it doesnâ€™t describe the Whites, their color, culture and religion as superior, although they are the majority. Also, it doesnâ€™t say Christianity is the official religion, although it is the religion of the majority. I am not an Arab and I am not a Muslim. Why do I have to feel I am a second-class citizen in Sudan ? Why wouldnâ€™t the Sudanese constitution be like the US one?
Q: Under the new constitution, could states in the North declare Islam as their official religion, and, maybe, implement the Sharia, provided that the Southern states donâ€™t have to do that?
A: In the US , there is no state that can mix between religion and government and discriminate because of race and culture. So, if a Northern state declared Islam as its official religion, what would be the situation of its non-Muslim citizens?
Q: Some Southern leaders put impossible conditions on the Northerners. Like SPLM Secretary General, Pagan Amum, who said that Northerners should stop calling Southerners â€œAbeedâ€ (Slaves)?
A: I also said that because it reflects the Northerners superiority complex; it is an Islamic and Arabic superiority complex. Many African countries suffer from that, but in Sudan it is very clear and very direct. That is why I am not sure that, even if the Northerners apologized and paid reparations, they would change in the way they treat the Southerners. And that is why we want a Sudan that recognizes its African identity. 60 percent said they are Africans. So, why does an Arab minority controls the county?
Q: But the Northern Arabs and Muslims are also Africans?
A: If they are Africans, who do they look down to us? Why do they talk about the unstoppable Islamic and Arabic culture expansion in the South? This talk makes us feel unsure about the Northernersâ€™ real intentions, and whether they would want to repeat the injustice that they inflicted on us in the past. Why canâ€™t there be freedom and justice in Sudan as it is here, in the US?
Q: Despite US laws against discriminations, some Whites call Blacks Niggers (slaves). Of course, this is not an important issue. The most important issue is that the Black Americans have come a long way, and the Black-White relations have improved greatly, to the extend that, right now, there is a Black President, Barack Obama?
A: In the US, there is a secular constitution and laws against discrimination and an independent judiciary that the oppressed appeal to. To whom and to what can the oppressed in Sudan appeal?