US warns of another Libya or Somalia if Sudan transition is botched

Senior official Tibor Nagy rejected criticism the US was slow in reacting to the Sudan crisis

Tibor Nagy, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, speaks during a news conference on the case of Sudan, in the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia June 14, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
Powered by automated translation

The US government sounded the alarm on Friday over the situation in Sudan following the latest crackdown by the country’s Transition Military Council, warning of catastrophic scenarios similar to the instability in Libya and Somalia if the path to a civilian-led transition fails.

In a telephone briefing with reporters, State Department Assistant Secretary for Africa Tibor Nagy outlined four different scenarios for Sudan. Mr Nagy, who is on his way back from Khartoum, said the only positive outcome he could envision currently is a transitional process by the June 30 deadline in accordance with the African Union’s roadmap.

“An agreement on a transitional process would be positive” he said. But he listed several negative outcomes that could engulf the country if no such transition is achieved. He warned of chaos and instability as is the case with Libya or Somalia. “The last thing Egypt wants is a Libya on its southern border, the last thing Ethiopia wants is a Somalia on its western border,” Mr Nagy said.

The other two negative scenarios he warned of were the return of the old regime of Omar Al Bashir, who was overthrown in April, and the continuation of the TMC rule.

Mr Nagy said Washington seeks a civilian-led government in Sudan, and supports both the African Union and the Ethiopian-led mediation. During his trip to Khartoum, accompanied by the newly appointed US envoy Daniel Booth, Mr Nagy met said the US delegation met with a wide range of parties and political stakeholders in the country.

He said the June 3rd events where a security crackdown left more than 100 protestors dead, constituted “a 180 degree turn” in the positive trajectory that Sudan was taking following the ouster of Mr Bashir.  “The US believes strongly that there has to be an investigation that is independent and credible,” Mr Nagy said. The US delegation met with some of the victims of the violence including a US citizen.

Mr Nagy pushed back against criticism that the Trump administration was late in acting on Sudan and waiting two months to appoint an envoy. He said that that all tools are on the table, but said the US role would be to support mediation efforts led by the neighbours and regional countries.

An internet blackout remains in place, but the TMC released number of detainees, and the opposition withdrew its call for civil disobedience. It is unclear, however, when the dialogue with the opposition would start to map the transition or if it’s able to meet the June 30 deadline.

Cameron Hudson, a senior fellow at the Africa center at the Atlantic Council, described the appointment of a US special envoy as “an important first step in US diplomatic efforts to end the violence, protect the protesters, and ensure a civilian transition for the country.”

But the expert, who advised former US envoys on Sudan, told The National this week that "without a renewed strategy for achieving these goals I fear we will always be one step behind the military's tactical moves".

The US also faces growing Chinese and Russian influence in Sudan.