With the exceptions of major world powers such as Russia, France Britain, Germany, Japan, and China, it may not be an exaggeration to suggest that countries that export oil, terrorism, nukes, or human right abuses in that order automatically fall into the radar of US foreign policy priorities. This is perhaps why Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Sudan attract extra scrutiny from United States while countries like Zimbabwe and other African countries rarely feature in US foreign policy agenda.
President Donald Trump’s self-professed unpredictability may change Washington’s decades-long bossy approach to what could be described as second and third tier countries in relation to sanctions and other perceived atrocities. #“We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example, …” declared Trump in his inaugural speech January 20, 2017. One region that Trump’s tsunami of change is sorely needed is in Africa even though his presidential campaign remained mute on a coherent Africa policy.
President Jacob Zuma of South Africa and President Al Bashir of Sudan
Amid uncertainties about the administration’s Africa policy agenda, the continent’s expectation of President Donald Trump are three-pronged – a deal maker, policy maker, and peace maker. Sudan’s President Al Bashir, one of the first African leaders to congratulate Trump on his victory, was on point when he stated:
“It will be much easier to deal with Trump than others because he is a straightforward person and a businessman who considers the interests of those who deal with him”
Although Bashir adulation for Trump likely follows a trend questioned by Trump’s critics regarding his fascination with strongmen such as Vladimir Putin of Russia and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un, what is striking is that a possible chemistry between Trump and Bashir will not only benefit Sudan but the entire Africa.
For example, Sudan has been under a cloud of severe economic sanctions for alleged human rights abuses and genocide for many years. But the Obama Administration in recognition of the substantial progress made in the country over the past several years began dismantling the sanctions that remained a cog in the wheel of economic progress in the Arab country.
It was a good first step by the Obama administration to recognize the baby steps taken by the government in Khartoum to rejoin the comity of nations and shed its pariah status for many years. Through aggressive diplomacy, the Sudanese government utilized all elements of statecraft to win the hearts of Washington and western capitals in Europe.
Not withstanding the indictment of President Al Bashir by the International Criminal Court, the African leader understood the need to deploy a combination of high-end diplomacy, schmoozing, embracing of peace, and full trotted rejecting of terrorism as effective tools to win the confidence of the international community. In October last year, Sudan launched what it called a #National Dialogue that brought together disparate entities and war lords to forge a better democratic future for the war-torn country.
The National Dialogue coming after the inauguration of the Khartoum Process was significant because while the national dialogue aimed to stitch the fragmented Sudanese society, the #Khartoum Process became a platform for political cooperation among some African countries and Europe with Sudan in the forefront. While Bashir’s political astuteness is critical, other heroes of Sudan’s rapprochement to the west deserve commendation. A few of them includes Ibrahim Ghondour, the Minister of Foreign Affairs General Taha Osman, Special Representative of the President Bashir, , General Mohammed Attah, the Director of Intelligence who leads Sudan’s counter-terrorism effort, and Osama Faisal, the Minister of State for Investment who is one of the coordinators of the country’s economic diplomacy. In a recent statement, Faisal noted the immense advantages of US businesses in the areas of technology, research and development and expressed the hope that US would his country improve their standards.
In what seemed like a choreographed approach to improve Sudan’s image, these officials unclenched their fingers to embrace the world in a distinctly smart diplomacy. It is noteworthy that a combination of economic and presidential diplomacy as well as counter-terrorism initiatives enabled Sudan to escape the wind of change in the region notably the Arab Spring.
Happily, the Sudanese government’s engagement with Europe, US, and the rest of the world yielded fruits in two remarkable ways. First, the country led an effort to expose the hypocrisy of the International Criminal Court that declared Presidential Bashir wanted for the past several years for frivolous accusations.Today, ICC is a mockery of itself as some African countries began to withdraw from the Rome Statute that established the world court.
Second, United States under the Obama administration initiated the partial lifting of economic sanctions against Sudan with the result that Sudan can now do business with American investors. Now there is the prospect of establishing direct air travel from US to Khartoum after more than a decade.
The timing of the partial lifting of sanctions is significant, coming at the dawn of a new administration in Washington that prides itself as the most business friendly administration in the history of the country.
In this connection, some analysts may view the recent #Executive Order issued by President Trump banning some nationals from entering the US including Sudan as throwing spanner in the works in relation to the US-Sudan relations.
Contrary to some widely held views against Trump’s immigration action, the ban might actually help Sudan and other war-torn countries. The truth is that while some governments are in the habit of suppressing dissent, it appears that many political hacks or turncoats perpetrate intolerance in anticipation of seeking asylum in the United States. Instead of participating in nation building, some dissidents challenge constituted authorities because US will be willing to welcome them. Inadvertently, the US becomes agent provocateur, fueling conflicts in other countries in the name of protecting human rights. The disruptive impact of Trump’s emergence may expose some political hacks that thrive in fermenting crisis in their countries and hoping for sanctuary in the United States.
To this end, the government and people of Sudan should explore contemporary geopolitical realities to further their common interests. The Sudanese government must seize the moment and reach out to the Trump administration with a vaunted credential of reformed and redeemed administration ready to be a partner with Washington in eradicating radical Islamic terrorism led by the ignoble ISIS. Washington should also embrace Khartoum by removing all sanctions that could impede economic development of the Arab country. President Donald Trump is an accomplished international businessman who understands that economic growth can hardly flourish in an atmosphere of uncertainty, avoidable regulations, and international sanctions.
Therefore, it will be appropriate and desirable for Trump to consider developing his Africa policy by recruiting President Al Bashir of Sudan who can be a dependable ally in Washington’s determination to “wipe ISIS from the face of the earth”. After all, Bashir was accused of exporting terrorism and human rights abuses in the past but recent events in his country suggest a leadership eager to turn a new page in relations with the international community. In addition, Trump who has made it clear to fight China in all fronts economically may find no better turf than Sudan where China’s footprint is everywhere especially in the oil sector that should be an attraction to US oil companies.
Dr. UchennaEkwo is the President of New York-based Center for Media & Peace Initiatives