Sudan is headed to a brighter future

Washington and Khartoum will exchange ambassadors for the first time in 23 years

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok (R) meets with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (L), D-NY, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on December 4, 2019. / AFP / JIM WATSON
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For decades, Sudan has been under the international spotlight – often as a source of trouble. Since 1993, the nation has been designated as a state sponsor of terrorism by the US and, under the rule of Omar Al Bashir, been cut off from the global economy. Now, a new era seems to be dawning on the Arab nation, with the US announcing on Wednesday that it was going to name an ambassador to Sudan for the first time in 23 years, a move that will be reciprocated by Khartoum. The exchange of ambassadors was announced after Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok’s visit to the US this week, a first for a Sudanese leader since 1985.

This improvement of relations between Washington and Khartoum is a sign that Sudan is on track to be re-integrated into the international community as its leaders move towards a more just political system that relies on accountability and the rule of law.

Mass demonstrations erupted in Sudan last December, initially to protest against hikes in bread and fuel prices before quickly morphing into an uprising demanding political change. The protests succeeded in ousting Mr Al Bashir from power in April, a man whose three-decade rule ran the country’s economy into the ground. Mr Hamdok took charge in August after a power-sharing agreement was reached between protesters and the military, each having equal representation in the country’s Sovereign Council until elections are held in a little more than three years.

While Sudan has come a long way since Mr Al Bashir’s three-decade dictatorship, the country continues to face challenges. It is still considered a state sponsor of terrorism, a designation Sudan earned after Mr Al Bashir welcomed Al Qaeda’s former leader, Osama bin Laden. We can only hope it will be dropped in the near future, as Sudan is proving that it is capable of turning its back on its former president’s disastrous legacy.

Last week, the government dissolved Mr Al Bashir’s Islamist party, the National Congress Party. Mr Hamdok said this decision was aimed at preserving and restoring “the dignity of our people”. During the same meeting that saw the NCP disbanded, Sudan’s public law order was repealed, allowing women to have more freedoms and access to basic rights. An investigation has also been launched into the killing of more than 250 protesters by security forces during the months-long demonstrations.

This improvement of relations between Washington and Khartoum is a sign that Sudan is on track to be re-integrated into the international community

The country’s democratic transition has been supported by other Arab countries, such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia, in the hope that this would stabilise the region. At the Manama Dialogue, an annual forum that took place in Bahrain last month, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Gargash hailed Sudan as a “real success” and an example for effective diplomacy in the region.

Sudan still has many problems to resolve. For instance, Mr Al Bashir is being tried on corruption charges but not on crimes committed during his rule. It is also too early to say whether the elections planned in three years' time will be fruitful. The country’s economy is in tatters following decades of mismanagement and neglect but it is unlikely that Khartoum will be able to attract foreign investment to boost its economy, while its terrorist designation still stands. However, the country is making significant strides forward and should be provided with all the assistance necessary to end decades of strife and fulfil its immense potential.