Last Sunday, at the 33rd African Union summit in Addis Abba, Ethiopia, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres outlined goals and obstacles for the continent in achieving the AU’s Agenda 2063 and the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Paramount in those efforts is the Silencing the Guns initiative, the primary theme for this year’s summit. For that, many Sub-Saharan nations look to recent events in war-torn Sudan with apprehension and hope. Sudan and South Sudan are both suffering from an extremely dire economic situation exacerbated by recent political volatility. The story of war and peace in Sudan is really two stories; the first is a story of attempting to forge a nation out of many religions and tribes with adequate protections and rights afforded to each group, and the other story is of immense energy reserves in an area of extreme poverty. Both of these histories have contributed to an incredibly complex situation on the ground, where those economic realities remain uncertain.
To the leaders of the AU, international financial support is needed to stabilize the new government in Khartoum, but the United States remains steadfast in its designation of Sudan as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism.” With this odious label, foreign assistance from US-led international finance organizations like the IMF has been sparse. Guterres, when speaking at the summit, had this to say: “…it is time to remove Sudan from the list of state supporters of terrorism, and to mobilize massive international support to enable Sudan to overcome its challenges.” Chief amongst those challenges is financing a nation which has, as of 2011, lost its primary source of income in the export market: the sale of oil from South Sudan, primarily to East Asia. The government in Khartoum is currently trying to strike a deal with land-locked South Sudan to allow South Sudanese oil to be shipped through existing pipelines to Port Sudan, where it can be shipped to customers, but it is doubtful that South Sudan will accept a steep enough rate for Khartoum’s funding to recover to pre-secession levels. Exacerbating this funding issue is instability in the few oil-producing regions Sudan has left, as well as border disputes with South Sudan over hugely productive areas, negotiations over which have been suspended indefinitely.
The African community has made the decision that international finance will be needed to stabilize the country, and despite previous defaults, the IMF would be willing to lend that assistance if the US removes Sudan from its list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. I would like to say that the US has Sudan on this list unfairly, and while it’s true that the US’s main problem with modern Sudan is their support of Hamas and Palestinian statehood, state-sponsored violence does continue to destabilize domestic politics. Thousands of protestors recently flooded the streets of major cities, demanding, among other things, that the government stop funding the RSF group, previously known as the Janjaweed, which has a notorious international reputation for Islamic terrorism towards the country’s Christian and Animist population in the South. In this context, it may not be wise for the US to fully support the Khartoum government, despite recent moves towards secularization made by the new president, Abdalla Hamdock. Religious violence, which has characterized the last generation of Sudanese politics, will probably be a problem in Sudan until the Christian and Animist minorities earn adequate representation in parliament, or until the existing government commits more fully to secular rule.
My opinion of the situation on the ground is that financial issues are serious but not the only potentially fatal weakness for Sudanese nationhood. Solving religious tensions that have existed for hundreds of years in some places is not a simple task, but I must say that I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Guterres when he says, “I am inspired by young people across Africa who have become advocates for peace through dialogue and addressing the root causes of conflict.” If there were ever a way to forge a national identity out of such a complicated history, it would be through the solidarity of friendship, religious tolerance, and intertribal support that the youth have always done best, when we let them. As the Secretary-General presciently states, “they [Africa’s youth] have a vital contribution to make as agents of change, and must not be marginalized or excluded.”