The Globe: Hope for Sudan?

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Sudan has long been a black sheep in the eyes international community. Throughout the 1990s, the country has played host to terrorist organizations that would target allies of the West. From 2003-2008, The Darfur region of Sudan was ravaged by government-backed Arab militias that killed 480,000 people and displaced 2.8 million others. Last week, Sudan’s capital of Khartoum erupted in chaos as demonstrators came out in droves demanding an end to the reign of President Omar al-Bashir, a man who has been long sought by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity his regime carried out in the Darfur region. In the end, Bashir could not hold onto power as his own military deposed him. The path forward for Sudan is fraught with peril: either its military will heed the voice of the people and usher in a new age for the country with democracy, or one dictator will be replaced by another.

While the protests in the early April were monumental in ousting Bashir, they are not new. Since last December, the Sudanese people have been out on the streets of Khartoum protesting the stagnant economic conditions the country. When the protesters marched on the Army’s HQ, the military had to take action to alleviate the pressure, resulting in the termination of Bashir’s tenure as President. When it took power, the military promised a transition period that would last at least two years before elections are held, but protesters are not keen on waiting that long for change. Since the interim government has taken power, the protesters have been successful in pressuring high-level officials that were loyal to Bashir to step down. General Awad ibn Ouf, who oversaw the military’s intelligence apparatus and funded the Janjaweed militias that carried out the genocide in Darfur, was the successor to Bashir but was quickly ousted due to public pressure.

On the matter of Darfur, there is a possibility that the families of those killed will get to see justice met as Bashir and his allies are being held in the notorious Kober Prison where the President sent his political enemies to die. The now-deposed President and other members of his government were indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2008 for their support of the genocide but will not be extradited, according to the interim regime. Even though the Sudanese military has said that the former president and his cronies will be held accountable for their transgressions, the lack of specifications on the charges leaves much to be desired.

To prevent the military from keeping power, there are some approaches the international community (IC) can take that may prove to be effective. The most appropriate remedy for this issue is implementing sanctions to discourage the military from hoarding all the power for itself. In general, sanctions are meant to discourage governments from committing egregious actions by imposing immense burden on that country’s assets. Now, there are a variety of different sanctions that can be used, but for this article, I will focus on economic sanctions and sanctions on individuals. Economic sanctions can be considered as blanket sanctions as they impact a country’s entire economy. Examples of these can include the long-standing trade and investment embargo the United States has levied against the Islamic Republic of Iran for its support for Islamic terrorism and pursuit of nuclear weapons. The sanctions prohibit three actions: “Procurement contracts with the USG; Financial transactions subject to U.S. jurisdiction; [and] Transactions with respect to property and interests in property subject to U.S. jurisdiction.” Essentially, there is to be no trade or contact between citizens and organizations of the United States with any Iran-based entity. Iranian assets that were held in US banks were seized so that the Persian country could not use them.

However, economic sanctions have been widely panned by policy analysts as ineffective at achieving their chief policy aims and may actually cause more harm than good. Drezner (2011) cites UN sanctions levied against Iraq, Haiti, and the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s as failures because they ended up causing immense economic loss to these states which ultimately hurts the civilians in the targeted country more than the actual government. In the case of Iraq, the country “lost between $175 billion and $250 billion in possible oil revenues” because of sanctions. As economic sanctions target a vast swath of society, this leads to increased prices for food, medicine, and other necessities. The intention of these sanctions was to force Hussein from power, whether through a coup or resignation, but neither happened. Instead, the Iraqi dictator was only emboldened by the economic onslaught caused by the international community and successfully turned the blame on the UN and the US. If used on Sudan, economic sanctions would only exasperate an already depleted economy.

The other type of sanction that may be the best policy solution are sanctions on individual people, also known as smart sanctions or financial sanctions. As the name suggests, smart sanctions specifically target the elites in society who have control over resources. These sanctions include “aid cutoffs, asset freezes, and monetary pressures...travel bans, restrictions on luxury goods, and arms embargo.” Such a policy would prevent government officials or business executives with ties to the regime from being able to access their personal funds in offshore accounts. It would also siphon off access to foreign arms that could go to the military or government-backed militias that could be used to suppress the public. If such a sanction was levied, it would most likely target members of the military’s upper echelons. Despite its purpose to avoid adversely affecting the civilian population, Afesorgbor (2016) has found that smart sanctions, just like economic sanctions, can negatively impact society by causing malnutrition and price inflation depending on who it targets. Thus, if the IC were to implement such sanctions, they should target military officials by implementing an arms embargo and travel bans while trying to avoid damaging the country’s economy.

It remains to be seen if the Sudanese military will follow through on its promises to hand over power to civilians. Unfortunately, Africa is no stranger to military rule, whether it is through violent takeovers or the democratic process, as demonstrated by the coup in Zimbabwe or the election of General el-Sisi in Egypt after Mohammed Morsi was ousted by a military coup. With a two year transition period, the military could use this time to exploit any divisions within the demonstrators to ensure their hold on the country. In response, the international community could look at imposing sanctions on the Sudanese government if it does not adhere to the promises it has made.