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Sudan Normalize Ties with Israel: A “New Stab in the Back” For the Palestinians?

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President Donald J. Trump participates in a phone call with Sudanese Chairman of the Sovereignty Council Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to discuss Sudan’s historic progress towards democracy with its recognition of Israel and opportunities to advance peace in the region Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, in the Oval Office of the White House. (Official White House Photo Tia Dufour)

Less than three months President Donald J. Trump has brokered a peace agreement between Arab-Muslim nation and Israel. Sudan have confirmed will normalize relations with Israel, ending decades of fierce hostility, through mediation by the United States (US). The normalization plan was announced after talks between the Prime Minister (PM) of Sudan, Abdalla Hamdok, with US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu on October 23, 2020.

Sudan become the fifth Arab country to normalize relations with Israel. It is known that Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Bahrain have previously reached a peace agreement with Israel. The expansion of the Abraham Accords to include Sudan relations with Israel is a significant step that will further enhance Israel’s security and create opportunities for the Arab nation and Israel to deepen their economic ties and improve the lives of their people.

Since 1948, when the Arab nation start the war that birthed Israel, Israel’s relationship with Sudan has been difficult. Moreover, when Omar al-Bashir’s regime was hosting Osama bin Laden in Khartoum, The US put Sudan as one of the lists of state sponsors in 1993. In 2009, Sudan’s ties with Iran were seen by Israel as a means for Hamas, in the Gaza Strip, to receive arms from Iranian militias. As recently as 2012, Israel was blamed by Sudan for bombing a weapons factory in Yarmouk.

Normalization with Israel as One of the Efforts for Sudan Economic Recovery After Planned US Terror Delisting

A ties normalization deal with Israel could be an opportunity for Sudan’s economic recovery post-US terror delisting. Sudanese officials were expected to meet with U.S. representatives and discuss two major concerns – a peace deal with Israel and Sudan’s removal from a US list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Trump has informed Congress of his intent to formally rescind Sudan’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, in fulfillment of this agreement, Sudan have to transfer $335 million into an escrow account for these victims and their families. The governor of the Sudan Central Bank, Mohammed al-Fatih Zainelabidine, told a press conference that the authorities agreed to pay compensation of US $ 335 million for victims of the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The bomb attacks were carried out by the Al-Qaeda network while the late Osama bin Laden was living in Sudan.

Sudan’s entry into the list has presented obstacles to seek debt relief and foreign loans from International Monetary such as World Bank and IMF. The impact of the US list of state sponsors of terrorism, given a near isolation from the international community, thus all Sudan needs to remove from the list. Since listed by the US, Sudan has been dealing with a deteriorating economic crisis for years. In September 2020, Sudan’s inflation hit almost 170 percent, which coincided with the pandemic. The US naming of Sudan as one of the sponsors for terrorism has been a nightmare for the country’s longtime economic woes, as foreign investment in Sudan and its trade with other countries have been largely restricted. Thus, removing Sudan from the list of countries sponsoring terrorism will pave the way for the country’s reintegration into the global economy after being isolated for nearly three decades.

Removing from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism will not be enough unless Sudan implements very serious socio-economic reforms. Even if Sudan gets what it wants such as financial assistance, Sudan cannot solely rely on external relief to get out of its economic quagmire. Thus, Sudan’s decision to normalize with Israel was a big step to get out of its economic crisis. Different cases from the UAE and Bahrain’s rapprochement with Israel is a mutual hostility towards Iran, Sudan, which does not share their regional concerns, is to make the normalization deal as one of the efforts for Sudan economic recovery post-Sudan’s removal from a US list of state sponsors of terrorism.

According to the World Bank Report, that emphasizes the need for a sectoral focus, as agriculture is expected to pay a bigger role in Sudan’s economy in the foreseeable future in the absence of dominant resource-based exports. By Increasing agriculture productivity through a set of policy changes in the areas of centralized markets, subsidies, and the promotion of fertilizer usage. In addition, the both of Sudan and Israel agreed to begin economic and trade relations, with an initial focus on agriculture as well as in agriculture technology, aviation, migration issues, and other areas for the benefit of the two countries. Agriculture plays a crucial role in the economy of developing countries and provides the main source of food, income, and employment to their rural populations. Thus, it will help for Sudan’s economic recovery post Sudan’s removal from a US list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Iran and Palestine’s Response to Normalization of Relations between Sudan and Israel

Palestine rejects and strongly condemns the plan to normalize relations between Sudan and Israel which is mediated by the US. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stated that Palestine rejects the agreement to normalize relations with the Israeli occupation state that seizes Palestinian land. Meanwhile, Hamas also stated that Sudan’s actions to normalize relations with Israel could harm the Palestinian people and their struggle, and even endanger Sudan’s national interests. Previously, Palestinians also conveyed their rejection and criticism of the agreement to normalize relations between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain with Israel. The peace agreement between the UAE, Bahrain and Israel signed in Washington DC, last month was described by the Palestinians as “treason“.

Iran Foreign Ministry describes the US proposal to Sudan as “shameful” and described a U.S.-brokered Sudan-Israel deal to normalize ties as “phoney” Sudan relations with Iran is actually complicated, after the storming of the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Tehran and its consulate in Mashhad in 2016, Sudan was cutting diplomatic ties with Iran.

After Sudan, which country does Trump expect to have a relationship with Israel?

President of the United States (US), Donald Trump, hopes that Saudi Arabia will soon establish ties with Israel. President Trump has at least five countries that want to normalization the deal with Israel. Although Trump did not mention any other countries, there is some speculation about Oman and Mauritania are among the other countries in the region that have been tipped to normalize ties. The United States will continue to stand with the people of the region as they work to build a brighter, more hopeful future.

Try Ananto Wicaksono is a student with two master's degrees programs in Business Law and Public Policy from Gadjah Mada University (UGM) and School of Government and Public Policy (SGPP) – Indonesia respectively. He also Alumni of the Institute for Development of Economics and Finance (INDEF) School of Political Economy (ISPE) Batch 2020. His interest in International Political Economy, International Economic Law and Human Rights.

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Africa

‘Full scale’ humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ethiopia’s Tigray

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Ethiopian refugees fleeing clashes in the country's northern Tigray region, rest and cook meals near UNHCR's Hamdayet reception centre after crossing into Sudan. © UNHCR/Hazim Elhag

A “full-scale humanitarian crisis” is unfolding as thousands of refugees flee ongoing fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray region each day to seek safety in eastern Sudan, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) reported on Tuesday. 

More than 27,000 have now crossed into Sudan through crossing points in Kassala and Gedaref states, as well as a new location further south at Aderafi, where Ethiopian refugees started crossing over the weekend, according to UNHCR

The scale of the influx is the worst that part of the country has seen in over 20 years, according to the agency. 

“Women, men and children have been crossing the border at the rate of 4,000 per day since 10 November, rapidly overwhelming the humanitarian response capacity on the ground,” said Babar Baloch, UNHCR spokesperson, briefing reporters in Geneva. 

“Refugees fleeing the fighting continue to arrive exhausted from the long trek to safety, with few belongings”, he added. 

According to news reports, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, has indicated the military operation that was launched in response to the reported occupation of a Government military base by Tigrayan forces nearly two weeks ago, would continue, although he said it was now in its “final phase”.  

‘Needs continue to grow’ 

UN agencies, along with relief partners have ramped up assistance – delivering food rations, hot meals and clean water, as well as setting up latrines and temporary shelters. They are also supporting the Sudanese Government in its response. But the needs continue to grow.  

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) is also supporting other humanitarian workers in its response, providing fuel for vehicles and generators in remote locations. The UN Humanitarian Air Service, managed by WFP, has also increased flights from three times per week to daily flights for aid workers. 

Since Saturday, UNHCR has relocated 2,500 refugees from the border to Um Raquba settlement site, in eastern Sudan. There is however, a “critical need” to identify more sites so that refugees can be relocated away from the border and can access assistance and services, said Mr. Baloch. 

UNHCR has also issued an emergency fundraising appeal, through which people can help provide urgent, lifesaving assistance to refugees. Click here to make a donation

‘On standby’ in Tigray 

Meanwhile in the Tigray region of Ethiopia itself, lack of electricity, telecommunications, fuel and cash, continue to severely hamper any humanitarian response, the UNHCR spokesperson said.  

“After nearly two weeks of conflict, reports of larger numbers of internally displaced grow daily, while the lack of access to those in need, coupled with the inability to move in goods to the region, remain major impediments to providing assistance,” he said. 

UNHCR and partners are on standby to provide assistance to the displaced in Tigray, including basic items, when access and security allow. 

The conflict is also a major ongoing concern for the Eritrean refugee population of nearly 100,000 in Tigray, who are reliant on assistance from UNHCR and partners.  

“Potential for further displacement of refugees inside the country is increasingly a real possibility … The humanitarian situation as result of this crisis is growing rapidly” he warned, reiterating UNCHR’s call for peace and urge all parties to respect the safety and security for all civilians in Tigray.

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Africa

Russia to Build Naval Facility in Sudan

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Emerging from the first Russia-Africa Summit held in Sochi a year ago, Russia will make one huge stride by establishing a naval facility in Sudan. This marks its maritime security presence in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea region. Sharing a northern border with Egypt, Sudan is located on the same strategic coastline along the Red Sea.

According to the executive order, the published document says “the proposal from the government of the Russian Federation to sign an agreement between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Sudan on creating a facility of the Navy of the Russian Federation in the territory of the Republic of Sudan be adopted.”

It also authorizes “the Defense Ministry of Russia to sign the aforementioned agreement on behalf of the Russian Federation.” The document stipulates that a maximum of four warships may stay at the naval logistics base, including “naval ships with the nuclear propulsion system on condition of observing nuclear and environmental safety norms.”

Earlier, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin approved the draft agreement on establishing a naval logistics base in Sudan and gave instructions to submit the proposal to the president for signing. The draft agreement on the naval logistics facility was submitted by Russia’s Defense Ministry, approved by the Foreign Ministry, the Supreme Court, the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Investigative Committee of Russia and preliminary agreed with the Sudanese side.

As the draft agreement says, the Russian Navy’s logistics facility in Sudan “meets the goals of maintaining peace and stability in the region, is defensive and is not aimed against other countries.”

The signing of the document by the Russia president shows the positive results of negotiations, the possibility of constructing a naval base in the region, over the years with African countries along the Red Sea and in the Indian Ocean.

During a visit by then-President of Sudan Omar al-Bashir to Moscow in November 2017, agreements were reached on Russia’s assistance in modernizing the Sudanese armed forces. Khartoum also said at the time it was interested in discussing the issue of using Red Sea bases with Moscow.

On the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, Russia had a naval base in Somalia during the Soviet days. Currently, Djibouti hosts Chinese and American naval bases. China’s military base in Djibouti was set up to support five mission areas. India is another Asian nation that has increased its naval presence in Africa. In order to protect its commercial sea-lanes from piracy, it has established a network of military facilities across the Indian Ocean.

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Will South Sudan follow its northern neighbour’s lead?

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As the world watches to see whether President Trump accepts the US election results, few have noticed thatcivil war is looming in Ethiopia, after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced that he was sending troops to the Tigray province. This imperils not only Africa’s second most populous state but its neighbours, Sudan and South Sudan, as well.

Sudan has had a good run recently and is in a better position to weather any regional conflict. In a surprise movelast month, President Trump announced Sudan’s removal from the US State Sponsors of Terrorism List (SST)in exchange for normalising relations with Israel. The US is understood to have sweetened the deal with a raft of economic and political incentives, including humanitarian assistance and high-level trade delegations. It would also support Sudan in its discussions with international finance institutions on economic and debt relief.

Since the toppling of President Bashir in 2019, the new transitional government, led by Prime Minister Hamdok, has focused on reviving Sudan’s economy and managing its $60bn debt burden. Hamdok faces a severe economic crisis, aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic, high inflation and the worst flooding in decades, that has affected more than 800,000 people and destroyed homes and large tracts of farmland just before the harvest. Food, bread and medicine are in short supply.

Thesanctions removal means that Sudan can now expect substantial assistance from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bankand unlock investment into its fledgling economy.

This is good news for Sudan. But where does it leave its neighbour, South Sudan?

The international community had high hopes for South Sudan when it announced independence in 2011. But its optimism was misplaced. It never understood the Sudanese conflict that began with British colonialism and erupted after the British left in 1956. It wasn’t just a war between the Government of Sudan and the southern Sudanese rebels. Nor was it a fight between the Islamic North and the Christian South. It was a fight over resources and power.

South Sudan continues to fight. After its first post-independence civil war in 2013 and its endless cycle of violence and retribution, South Sudan is now as unstable as it was before it seceded from Sudan. To accommodate the different factions and keep old military men in power, the South Sudanese government and bureaucracy is peopled with those loyal to the former rebels.

Few have the skills needed to manage the country properly. They have squandered their oil opportunity, through mismanagement and corruption. With falling oil growth demand, oil is unlikely to remaina sustainable revenue source. This will challenge the South Sudanese economy which is 90% reliant on oil.

South Sudan is also facing multiple sanctions. In 2014, the international communityimposed travel bans and asset freezes, as well as an arms embargo. In 2018, the EU designated sanctions against individuals involved in serious human rights violations, alarmed  by “the outbreak of a destructive conflict between the Government of South Sudan and opposition forces in December 2013.” Most recently, the US added First Vice President of South Sudan, Taban Deng Gai to its Global Magnitsky sanctions list for his involvement in the disappearance and deaths of human rights lawyer Samuel Dong Luak and SPLM-IO member Aggrey Idry.

If US foreign policy towards Sudan was driven by religious and ideological interests in the 1990s and 2000s, what we are now seeing is a shift to transactional diplomacy. There is no reason to think that President Biden would change course.

South Sudan is watching closely. It may be why it has instructed a US lobbying  firm to allegedly lobby for their own sanctions removal. It is also why it welcomed a peace deal between Sudan and five rebel groups in September, paving the way for increased oil export cooperation with its neighbour. 

But stability in the youngest African state is fragile. Even with a recently signed peace agreement between former foes, President Kiir and Vice-President Machar, violence is always lurking. South Sudan is plagued with the same environmental challenges of flooding and poor harvests.  The fighting in Ethiopia will not help. 

As South Sudan looks to the North, it will see a New Sudan, unshackled by the weight of its history and benefitting from international goodwill. Will this encourage South Sudan to look forward instead of back? Or will it unleash demons from the past? 

Let’s hope that the international community pulls itself away from Trump’s horror show and starts paying attention to East Africa. It may be a long winter.

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