Sudan’s Bashir is playing a dangerous game

23 May 2018

The attempt of the Sudanese president to engage with rival regional interests in a bid to stay in power might fail.

By Ahmed H Adam

Sudan’s political crisis is sliding into a dangerous phase. Its economy is on the verge of collapse. The price of food and other basic commodities is rising by the day, worsening living conditions for ordinary Sudanese and stirring growing discontent in the country.

The economic problems are compounded by a severe fuel crisis that has nearly paralysed the country and which the government is unable to solve. Some high-ranking officials have admitted that Sudan is virtually bankrupt. Many believe that, if the economic crisis continues on such a scale, the country will implode.

Amid this impending disaster, President Omar al-Bashir continues to insist on running again in the 2020presidential elections, worried about his two arrest warrants from the International Criminal Court (ICC).

To ensure the survival of his presidency, he has been playing a complex foreign policy game, balancing between different regional interests and rivalries. There are indications, however, that pressure on him to choose sides is increasing, and his balancing act might fail.

Seeking a US approval, playing the Russia card
In October 2017, the US lifted most of the economic sanctions that had been imposed on Sudan for nearly two decades. Sudan has been designated a state sponsor of “terrorism” since 1997.

Next month, Sudan and the US will start the next phase of the five-track engagement plan that involves negotiations over the removal of Sudan from the US list of state sponsors of “terrorism”. Khartoum is hoping to get rid of the remaining US sanctions, including the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act of 2006, as a prelude to seeking debt relief and fully normalising relations with the US.

The European Union is also accelerating its rapprochement with the Sudanese regime. Sudan has received millions of euros from the EU to curb migration from Africa to Europe.

Nevertheless, al-Bashir appears to be very suspicious of US intentions. Last year, reports circulated that the US had sent a message to al-Bashir telling him not to run in the 2020 elections – something the Sudanese foreign ministry denied.

Al-Bashir was incensed when then-US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan did not meet him during his visit to Khartoum in mid-November 2017. Al-Bashir suspects that there is a clique within his regime that has reached an understanding with the US regarding his future in power.

Consequently, he has taken steps to dismantle this so-called “US clique” by removing his foreign minister, Ibrahim Ghandour, the director-general of the National Intelligence and Security, Mohamed Atta, and Army Chief of Staff, General Emad al-Din Adawi from their respective roles.

Al-Bashir has also recently replaced many senior officials in the ruling National Congress Party and has just reshuffled his cabinet to further consolidate his power before the 2020 elections.

Hoping to attract some attention in Washington, al-Bashir decided to pay a visit to Russia in December 2017. During his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he expressed support for Russia’s position in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, and denounced “US interference” in the region.

Al-Bashir even asked Putin for protection against US aggression and invited Russia to establish a military base on the Red Sea. His remarks, which came just weeks after the lifting of US sanctions, were widely seen as a message of defiance to Washington.

Playing Gulf games in times of crisis

At the regional level, Bashir is trying to manage a delicate balance in relations with competing regional players. When Turkish President Erdogan visited Sudan in January, he and Bashir signed more than a dozen agreements to boost bilateral economic ties, including a deal to lease the Red Sea island of Suakin to Turkey.

Ankara and Khartoum agreed that Turkish investors would rebuild Suakin’s historical sites, develop the island as a tourist attraction and create a transit point for Muslim pilgrims crossing the Red Sea to reach the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

In March, Sudan signed a further $4bn deal with Qatar to develop Suakin as Sudan’s second biggest port on the Red Sea. Qatar’s investment in Sudan already amounts to more than $2bn and expected to rise in the near future.

These deals have sparked speculation about a potentially significant shift in Sudan’s regional alliances. Al-Bashir’s moves to bring Qatar and Turkey to the Red Sea are no doubt viewed with concern by the axis of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and others who accuse both Qatar and Turkey of sponsoring the Muslim Brotherhood.

Al-Bashir had previously sought to win over Saudi Arabia and the UAE for financial and diplomatic gains by moving quickly to sever diplomatic ties with Iran in early 2016 and sending thousands of Sudanese soldiers to fight with the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthis in Yemen.

When the Gulf crisis broke out last year, Bashir tried to stay neutral, deciding not to back the Saudi-led blockade against Qatar. However, earlier this month, media reports circulated in Sudan that Saudi Arabia and the UAE had presented al-Bashir with a set of tough conditions for continuing their financial and diplomatic support, including severing ties with Turkey and Qatar. The government was quick to deny these rumours, saying that “no party is applying pressure on the government”.

However, there have been other signs of tensions. On May 2, Sudan’s defence minister told parliament that the government was re-evaluating its role in the war in Yemen, with a decision on Sudan’s continued participation expected soon. There are reports that hundreds of Sudanese soldiers have died and thousands have been wounded in Yemen.

Khartoum’s continued participation in the Yemeni war has been questioned by members of the Sudanese parliament, as well as pro-government newspapers and writers. There has also been growing criticism of Saudi Arabia and the UAE for not helping Sudan to resolve its acute fuel shortage.

Comparisons have been drawn with the substantial financial support given to Egypt by the two Gulf countries despite the fact that Egyptian President Abel Fattah el-Sisi has not sent troops to fight in Yemen.

Despite these criticisms, it is possible that the talk of withdrawal from Yemen is not genuine and is meant to pressure Saudi Arabia and the UAE into helping Sudan to resolve its economic crisis. Hence, Sudan is expected to keep its troops in Yemen for the time being to ensure continued leverage.

Whatever the case, it seems that al-Bashir’s ability to play rival regional and international actors off against each other is diminishing, as some key players are telling Sudan “you are either with us or against us”.

In the end, his tactics of manipulating competing regional and international alliances are actually damaging to Sudan’s national interests. They are turning the country into a battlefield for rival powers.

The author is a Research Associate at the School of Law, SOAS University of London

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South Sudan Peace Talks End Without Deal: Mediators

23 May 2018

ADDIS ABABA (REUTERS) – Talks in Ethiopia to revive South Sudan’s failed 2015 peace pact and end the country’s civil war broke up on Wednesday without a deal, mediators said, potentially prolonging a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions.

Regional grouping IGAD has been helping to mediate and get South Sudan’s warring parties to agree again on power sharing and security arrangements, crucial steps for recommiting to the 2015 agreement and ending the war.

In a statement IGAD said the talks ended on Wednesday after “several attempts to narrow the gaps between the positions of the parties” proved fruitless.

South Sudan plunged into war in December 2013, barely two years after independence from Sudan, after a disagreement between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar deteriorated into a military confrontation.

Tens of thousands have been killed by the fighting between troops loyal to Kiir and forces loyal to Machar. The conflict has also left a quarter of the country’s population of 12 million either internally displaced or as refugees in neighboring countries.

IGAD’s statement did not mention on which issues the two sides had failed to reach agreement but encouraged them to consider the group’s proposals, which “reflect a considered effort to identify common ground between the different negotiating positions.”

(Reporting by Aaron Maasho; additional reporting by Denis Dumo; writing by Elias Biryabarema; editing by Susan Fenton)

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Sudanese troops will remain in Yemen, al-Bashir

24 May 2018

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Sudanese President Omer al-Bashir Wednesday stated that the Sudanese troops would continue to fight Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen despite the tough economic situation his country is experiencing.

Al-Bashir received Saudi Assistant Minister of Defence Mohammad Abdullah Alayeesh who briefed him about the military developments in the war waged by the Saudi-led alliance against the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

In a statement released after the meeting, the presidency said al-Bashir reassured the visiting Saudi official that the difficult economic situation would not dissuade Sudan from playing its role in restoring legitimacy in Yemen.

The Sudanese president further pointed to Sudan’s declared position to “defend the land of the Two Holy Mosques’’.

Earlier this month, State Defence Minister Ali Mohamed Salim said his ministry was evaluating pros and cons of the participation in the Yemen war in order to decide on it soon.

Al-Bashir has been under pressure to withdraw his troops from Yemen because Gulf countries particularly Saudi Arabia do not provide financial support to the country to overcome its economic crisis.

The Sudanese army has been participating in the Saudi-led military coalition since 2015 in a regional effort to back the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi after he was ousted from the capital Sanaa by the Iran-backed Shiite Houthi rebels.

STRATEGIC RELATIONS WITH SAUDI ARABIA

In a related development, the newly appointed Sudanese Foreign Minister Al-Dirdiri Mohamed Ahmed has described his country’s relations with Saudi Arabia as strategic.

During his meeting with the Saudi Ambassador to Khartoum Ali bin Hassan Jaafar on Tuesday, Ahmed said regional and international challenges could only be met through concerted efforts from both countries and peoples.

The meeting discussed ways to promote and strengthen bilateral relations to serve interests of the peoples of the two brotherly countries.

It is noteworthy that Saudi Arabia is the largest Arab investor in Sudan with more than 590 projects.

In 2016, Saudi investments in Sudan increased to $15bn compared to $11bn in 2015.

SUPPORTING VOLUNTARY RETURN VILLAGES

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has announced its support for the voluntary return of the displaced persons to their villages in Darfur.

Following his meeting with Jaafar on Tuesday, Darfur’s commissioner of voluntary return and resettlement Taj al-Din Ibrahim al-Tahir said Saudi Arabia vowed to provide water plants, clinics and livelihood projects for the returnees.

It is noteworthy that Qatar is the largest sponsor of peace and development efforts in Darfur. The tiny Gulf State hosted government and rebels negotiating teams besides the stakeholders for two years before reaching the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD).

Also, Doha continues to fund large resettlement and development projects in the region.

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Maternal death rates in South Sudan one of world’s highest

23 May 2018

There are very few maternal healthcare clinics left in a country that has been torn by five years of civil war, and many of the existing facilities are poorly equipped.

South Sudan has one of the world’s highest rates of women dying in childbirth.

And many of those who survive suffer painful injuries with long-lasting effects, that are entirely preventable.

But after five years of war, medical facilities and treatment are in short supply.

Al Jazeera’s Hiba Morgan reports from Juba.

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Preaching for a Peaceful South Sudan

23 May 2018

Rebecca Achol Atem-a local pastor from Panyagor- is using evangelism to promote peace in her area. She was trained by CARE in 2016 as a peace builder. ©Joseph Scott/CARE. Link to image.

For the past two years, Rebecca Achol Atem has gained a reputation as a peacemaker in her church and community. The thirty-three-year-old pastor from Panyagor in South Sudan says she found her new role as peacemaker exciting as it does not differ much from her duty of evangelism.

No peace, ‘no religion’

“Without peace, we can’t talk about religion,” says the mother of six. “That’s why I am so passionate about my new role as a peace maker in the church and also in my community.”

Rebecca has been a pastor in her church for more than four years. In 2016 she was nominated by her congregation to go for a peace building training supported by CARE.

“I realized that it was God’s hand that saw me being chosen to be trained as a peacemaker,” she says. “We have had a lot of clashes between different tribes in this area. This has brought bad blood among the people. As a pastor, my role is to bring them together and the training by CARE prepared me for the work.”

After her training, Rebecca says she has helped resolve countless conflicts within and outside the church.

“I am also a member of my local peace committee and whenever there is a problem in my area, I try to help,” she says.

Peace in the church and community

In most of the cases, Rebecca and her fellow committee members deal with issues relating to disagreements on marriage and bride price. But last year, they were asked to negotiate peace between two tribes who clashed because of land wrangles.

“I was called in as a pastor and peacemaker to broker a deal between the two feuding tribes,” explains Rebecca. “This was a serious issue as four people died in the clashes. I had to enlist the help of my fellow committee members because the situation was so tense.”

Rebecca use verse in the Bible and peace messages from her training to promote coexistence in her community. ©Joseph Scott/CARE. Link to image.

Despite the complexity of the issue, Rebecca and her fellow peace committee members managed to bring the two tribes together for peaceful dialogue. The matter was resolved amicably.

“In such tense moments, I always insist that we start with a prayer. It makes people less hostile to each other as we will have invoked the aid of a greater being. This is one strategy I used during the meeting with the feuding chiefs.”

Rebecca, who also works as a hospital assistant at the local health facility, sometimes take time off to preach the gospel of peace to schools around the area. So far, her peace committee has managed to form five peace clubs in the surrounding schools.

“We want to catch the students young before they are socialized in the culture of violence,” she says. “So far, we are having positive responses from the students. Their strong views against violence gives us confidence that the future is bright.”

Hunger and poverty

Despite the numerous achievements in bringing peace in her community, Rebecca says poverty is a threat to their work.  She explains that most of the issues she has to deal with stem from either a fight for resources or a struggle for survival.

“Many families have nothing to eat. So, they offer their young girls to well to do people in return for dowry,” says Rebecca. “This has been one source of conflict in my area as other possible suitors feel short changed and resort to marriage bidding. If one is not successful in the bidding, they often resort to violence.”

Marriage bidding normally happens when someone rich challenges the dowry offered by another for a girl by increasing the number of cows. Due to poverty, many parents settle for the highest bidder, and in most circumstances, the girl marries an old but rich person or someone the she has never met.

“We don’t have a ready answer to issues such as marriage bidding but we always raise awareness on the rights of the girl child. Our message is that educating the girl child is the best weapon to defeat poverty,” says Rebecca.

The future looks bright

Although there are still conflicts in her area, Rebecca feels that the number has gone down when compared to the past. She adds that more people, especially young people, are now aware of the need for peace.

“I appreciate the training I got from CARE, it taught me so many things which I am using now as a peacemaker. However, we need to engage as many young people as possible and make them understand that violence always begets hate.

“This is our only chance of influencing future of peace and tranquility. If we do that, then the future of our children is bright. From the work we have done so far, it’s very much possible.”

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Sudan summons Egypt ambassador over ‘insulting’ TV series

Sudanese President Bashir accused Egypt last year of supporting opposition figures fighting Sudanese troops in Darfur [AP]. Link to image.

Sudan has summoned the Egyptian ambassador to Khartoum to complain about a TV series that portrays Egyptian rebel fighters living in the neighbouring country.

The Sudanese foreign ministry said on Saturday that the Ramadan series, titled Abu Amr al-Masry, broadcasted by ON TV satellite channel, is “insulting to Egyptians living in Sudan and destroying the confidence and relations between the people of the two countries”.

It urged Egypt to “stop attempts at disturbing the interests of the two countries”.

Khartoum appears to have been angered by the idea that Egyptian armed groups would find refuge in Sudan. Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and other armed group members were based in Sudan in the mid-1990s.

Diplomatic ties between Cairo and Khartoum have largely remained tense, particularly since last year after Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir accused Egyptian intelligence services of supporting opposition figures fighting his troops in the country’s conflict zones such as Darfur.

Diplomatic relations have been further strained over the past year by Khartoum’s revival of a long-standing border dispute and its perceived support for Ethiopia, which is building an upstream dam on the Nile that Egypt fears will cut into its share of the river.

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Top UN peacekeeper in Sudan regrets new Darfur clashes

2015.05.20

The fighting had erupted in Jebel Marra between the Sudanese government forces and the Sudan Liberation Army-Abdul Wahid rebel group, said the African Union-United Nations joint peacekeeping mission in Darfur. AFP/File/ASHRAF SHAZLY. Link to image.

The chief of the UN peacekeeping force in Darfur on Sunday expressed regret over recent clashes in Sudan’s western war-torn region, which he said has left villages burnt and people displaced.

The latest fighting, in the Jebel Marra mountains, came despite a ceasefire unilaterally announced by Khartoum in March, applying to Darfur and another conflict in Blue Nile and South Kordofan states.

The fighting had erupted in Jebel Marra between the Sudanese government forces and the Sudan Liberation Army-Abdul Wahid rebel group, said the African Union-United Nations joint peacekeeping mission in Darfur, also known as UNAMID.

“UNAMID appeals to all parties involved to exercise restraint and resolve all outstanding issues through dialogue and the peace process,” UNAMID chief Jeremiah Mamabolo said in a statement issued after he visited the mission’s temporary operating base in the town of Golo in Jebel Marra.

“We particularly regret the new displacements and the burning of villages such as Gobbo, Kawara, Kimingtong in South Darfur as well as other villages in the Rokero locality in Central Darfur.”

Washington too had condemned the fighting, which it said has resulted in thousands of new displacement of civilians.

An insurgency began in Darfur in 2003, as rebels rose up against Sudan’s government, accusing it of marginalisation.

Khartoum cracked down on rebels and since then insurgent groups have fragmented, with fighting punctuated by periods of relative calm.

Khartoum restricts international media access to Darfur, an area about the size of France, so it is not possible to independently verify the details of fighting there.

In recent years the level of violence has significantly dropped across Darfur, with Khartoum insisting that the conflict has ended in the region.

The UNAMID mission too is being downscaled, now standing at around 10,000 uniformed personnel from a peak of about 27,000.

The United Nations says that over the years the conflict has killed about 300,000 people and displaced more than 2.5 million, with many having set up home over the last decade and a half in sprawling semi-permanent camps.

A separate conflict erupted in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, both bordering South Sudan, in 2011.

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South Sudan: More than 200 child Soldiers released- UN

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The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) said Armed groups in South Sudan have released more than 200 children who have been serving as fighters, this comes amid estimates that there are some 19,000 child soldiers in the war-torn nation.

The release of the 210 child soldiers brings the total number of underage fighters freed so far this year to 806 a UN spokesperson said.

Farhan Haq said additional releases are expected in the coming months that could result in more than 1,000 children being freed.

Most of those released, he said, were from the armed opposition faction (SPLM-IO) while eight are from the National Salvation Front.

However, the UN top official has condemned the treatment of aid workers in South Sudan, saying that violence and harassment is preventing help from reaching an estimated seven million people in need.

U.N. undersecretary General for humanitarian affairs, Mark Lowcock said four aid workers have been killed and 10 others abducted in the last two months alone. His numbers did not appear to include aid workers reportedly kidnapped near the eastern town of Yangiri.

Lowcock, who visited South Sudan this week, said both the government and the armed opposition have done too little to halt violence and stop their forces from obstructing aid workers from reaching their intended destinations.

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Address cross-border security concerns

MONDAY MAY 21 2018
Mr Ambrose Olaa. Link to image.

Last week, the Acholi Cultural Institution premier Ambrose Olaa and eight others were abducted by an armed group in South Sudan. The group regained their freedom after three days following intervention of the UN Mission in South Sudan and World Vision.
Mr Olaa, who was picked up in South Sudan’s Gbudwe State close to the western border with DR Congo and the Central African Republic, had been doing consultancy on peace building with World Vision International.

While security officials in Uganda have not disclosed the identity of the armed group behind the abduction, the UPDF 4th Division spokesperson, Maj Telesphor Turyamumanya, said the abductees were released in a jungle and they were tracing for a convenient place where they could be picked up.
It is a welcome relief, particularly for the Acholi Cultural Institution, that Mr Olaa has been freed. The incident, however, raises broader concerns about the security of Ugandans in South Sudan and those residing around the border areas.

Given the prolonged instability in South Sudan, there are various rebel outfits and armed groups. This has led to widespread lawlessness and armed gangs operating mostly around border areas where they terrorise cross border traders, raid cattle, farms and homesteads inside Uganda.
The government of South Sudan may not have control over such armed groups, which makes it difficult to engage them constructively.
Cases of abduction and harassment by South Sudan armed groups both in South Sudan and the border areas, including inside Uganda, have therefore become common. In August last year, a suspected South Sudan rebel group operating near Lamwo District in northern Uganda, abducted six Ugandan businessmen, held them in a prison and demanded a Shs3 million ransom in order to release them.

The area where the businessmen were abducted – Lubone Sub County, Magwi County in Imatong State in South Sudan – just five kilometres from Aweno Olwi border post in Lamwo District, was then controlled by rebels.
In 2014, similar reports of abduction, torture and harassment were reported in the West Nile district of Moyo when 16 Ugandans were detained by South Sudan militia while carrying out a census exercise at Wano Village, Lefori Sub-county in Moyo District. The militia claimed the territory belonged to South Sudan.

Such reports, and several others, including a recent case where a South Sudan MP was assassinated in Uganda by gunmen operating in South Sudan, calls for tougher security measures to protect Ugandans living around border areas and South Sudan refugees in Uganda.

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Ethiopia denies accusations by Eritrea of supporting rebel movement

ADDIS ABABA, May 20 (Xinhua) — The Ethiopia Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) said on Sunday accusations by Eritrea of its supporting Eritrean rebel movements as “baseless.”

The Eritrea Ministry of Information (MoI) issued a press statement on Wednesday accusing neighboring nations, Sudan and Ethiopia, of conspiring to support Eritrean rebel groups.

The statement from Eritrea further said Ethiopia and Sudan have agreed to deploy Eritrean armed opposition groups along the two countries’ borders with Eritrea to facilitate hit and run attacks on the Red Sea nation.

Speaking exclusively to Xinhua, Meles Alem, Spokesperson of Ethiopia Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), said the allegations by Eritrea that Ethiopia is working together with Sudan to support Eritrean rebel movements are totally false.

He further said Ethiopia’s offer to have unconditional negotiation and dialogue with Eritrea still stands despite the two countries’ current bitter standoff.

Eritrea and its southern neighbor Ethiopia fought a blood border war from 1998 to 2000, which killed an estimated 70,000 people.

Since then, the two countries have been engaged in a state of armed standoff along their common border punctuated occasionally by sporadic small-scale clashes.

Eritrea has tense relationship with its eastern neighbor Sudan, with both countries accusing each other of supporting rival rebel groups.

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