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Sudan needs US support – both diplomatic and economic

Jihad Mashamoun
By Jihad Mashamoun

Doctoral candidate of Middle East Politics within the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies of the University of Exeter

Posted on Monday, 10 February 2020 09:51, updated on Tuesday, 11 February 2020 16:10

Sudan's new Prime Minister in the transitional government Abdalla Hamdok REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

The Sudanese government is working hard to get itself removed from the US list of State Sponsors of Terrorism (SST) in order to get much-needed investment into the country.

On his return from his recent trip to Washington DC, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said that the transitional government will be closing the offices of both Hamas and Hezbollah, designated by the US as terrorist groups.

By remaining on the list, Sudan is prevented from accessing the much-needed $10bn in aid it was hoping to raise to repair the battered economy.

Although Hamdok’s visit to the US was certainly positive – the US agreed to upgrade its diplomatic representation to the ambassador level – removing Sudan from the US list will take longer than the three-year period of the transitional government.

So what are the implications of the US keeping Sudan in its SST list? How could the US help Sudan overcome those obstacles?

From a distance

As the US does not want the bloody crackdown on protesters of 3 June to occur again, Makila James, deputy assistant secretary for East Africa and the Sudans, has informed US House officials that the government is looking at options including sanctions should similar events occur.

That pressured the Transitional Military Council (TMC) to reach an agreement with the opposition. However, the US remains uneasy about the inclusion of the military in the transition process.

That is because the transitional process includes military elements of the former regime of president Omar al-Bashir.

Those elements include Lt. General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, the former chairman of the TMC, and Lt. General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo ‘Hemeti’, former deputy chairman of the TMC and who is the commander of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

Both military leaders have been implicated in the genocide that took place in Darfur in 2014. Moreover, the independence of Lt. General Hemeti and his RSF from the Sudanese Armed Forces has been a cause of concern US officials, especially since the emptying of the protest site in front of the Sudanese military headquarters on 3 June.

According to professor David Shinn, a former US diplomat and an expert on Sudanese affairs, the US is keeping Sudan on the SST list to see how the transitional government will bring the RSF under its control.

What about the security establishment?

Another point of concern for US officials is the hold of the former regime over the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), which has been recently revamped into the General Intelligence Services (GIS).

The US included Sudan on the SST list in 1990s even though its Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had joint operations with the NISS, which was headed by Salah Abdallah ‘Gosh’ at the time. In 2005, the CIA flew him into its headquarters as a reward for Sudan’s support in detaining suspected militants and providing information on Osama Bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda following the 11 September 2001 attacks.

In the 1990s, Sudan invited and hosted Bin Laden. The US had deemed him a threat for his planning of the attack on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The US attack on the Shifa pharmaceutical factory in 1998 was a turning point where Sudan abandoned Bin Laden by attempting to hand him over to the CIA.

Thereafter, the Bashir regime decided to work with the US intelligence agencies to repair the relationship between the two countries and to remove Sudan from the SST list.

One of the central individuals who was tasked with supporting ties with the US was the controversial Salah Gosh. He and the Bashir regime helped the CIA in counter-terrorism operations.

With the removal of Salah Gosh from his position as head of the NISS, the US has concerns about its counter-terrorism partner.

On 2 December, Cameron Hudson, who was a former US diplomat and former chief of staff of the George Bush administration, said the US worries that Salah Gosh has supporters who could undermine the country’s reform efforts.

The recent mutiny of the operations unit of the GIS shows that the US’s fears were well founded.

That is because it became apparent that Lt. General Mustafa Abubakr Dambalab, who was appointed as the chief of the GIS, was a supporter of Salah Gosh. Salah Gosh founded the operations unit of the NISS in 2005.

Sources say Salah Gosh manipulated the operations unit to mutiny and to try to instigate a coup as Lt. General Hemeti on 13 January 2020.

Sailing into safer waters

As the recent mutiny has shown that the supporters of the former regime will continue to threaten the transition process by creating insecurity, it is apparent that the inclusion of Sudan on the SST list is also threatening the transition process.

As it will take more than three years to remove Sudan from the SST list, the hope to get immediate debt relief and credit seems bleak.

However, to help guide Sudan’s transitional process into safe waters, there are a series of immediate measures that could satisfy the immediate goals of both Sudan and the US:

  1. As fellow Sudanese have understandably great expectations, the US could help Hamdok’s government in managing the expectations of the population by appointing a pro-active ambassador. It is recommended that the ambassador work with both the Sudanese government and the governing Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces party in communicating clearly what the US expects from Sudan.
  2. The US could help address Sudan’s security problems by working with its regional allies to hand over Salah Gosh and other members of the former regime to Sudan so that they can face prosecution for the crimes they committed against the people since 30 June 1989.
  3. While Hamdok’s government has been operating with public support so far,  removing fuel and food subsidies to balance the books will undermine it. Therefore, rather than following policies driven by the narrow economic agenda of the World Bank and IMF, the government and the international community could work together in retrieving the billions of dollars that the former regime leaders have stashed outside Sudan.
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