Dashed hopes for a quick end to Sudan conflict forces US Sanctions

The US President Joe Biden yesterday 4th May, signed an Executive Order imposing sanctions on assets owned by all key parties in the current conflict in Sudan who at the determination of the US Secretary of the Treasury are deemed to be engaged in ‘actions or policies that threaten the peace, security, or stability of Sudan’. This order gives the agents of the US, powers to seize from such persons:  

‘all property and interests in property that are in the United States, that hereafter come within the United States, or that are or hereafter come within the possession or control of any United States person…’  

A turning point in US/Sudan relations

The return to any regime of sanctions, against the leader/s of a country, whose economy has suffered 20 years of trade sanctions from 1997 until 2017, could represent a major turning point in US/Sudan Relations. The US and other members of the so-called ‘Friends of Sudan’ – members of Quad (the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Troika (Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States), since the overthrow of the thirty year autocratic rule of Omar al-Bashir, have over the last few years, exercised extraordinary patience and have encouraged each and every small step that suggested a movement towards a modern liberal democracy and a civilian government.

Patience has run out

They have repeatedly overlooked breakdowns and upheavals in the fragile peace agreements and the dialogue between the military and the self appointed representatives of the people, known as the Forces for Freedom and Change (FCC). They have adopted a soft approach to what many have referred to as a military coup, which took place in October 2021 and which removed the internationally accepted and civilian appointed Prime Minister, Abdalla Hamdok and effectively many have argued, once again established military rule in Sudan.

One side unwilling to capitulate to the other

So what has changed in the approach of the international community? Why the switch from carrot to hammer? As reported extensively in the Washington Post Thursday 4th May 2023, there is a firm prevailing analysis, a clear widespread belief, that the conflict may have reached a stale mate and the hoped for quick victory of one side over the other is now an unlikely expectation. Both sides in this conflict, the Washington Posts military experts argue, continue to seize more and more strategic positions:

‘controlling infrastructure, military factories and prominent landmarks’ with ‘both sides digging in [with] neither gaining the upper hand’.

Alan Boswell, Horn of Africa Director for the International Crisis Group, does not see any reason for one side to capitulate to the other. He said:

‘Both sides have their own reasons for confidence, which is one reason why we haven’t gotten to peace talks’.

Military disparities

Experts commenting in the article, point to the advantages of the military – the Sudan Armed Forces, which has plenty of resources to resupply and can endure a longer war. They also recognise that the Rapid Support Forces (as they were known) or the Rebel Army as they are now known, have spent years building up weapons stockpiles, but have had to loot supplies and take over hospitals in order to feed and provide medical care for hungry and wounded militia. It further points out that both sides:

‘have artillery, mortars, antiaircraft guns and anti-tank missiles, which have been freely deployed in some [civilian] neighborhoods, causing widespread destruction’.  

The language of the Executive order is important. It is directed at individuals who are responsible for:

‘undermining Sudan’s democratic transition…as well as committing violence against civilians or perpetuating other human rights abuses’

Personal interest may make the difference

It will be interesting to see the forthcoming arguments as to which side is the guilty party in breaching these conditions. It will also be interesting to see how both parties respond in order to protect their own personal interests. Not much is known about the assets of General Burhan, but we do know that General Hemeti has personal wealth projected to be in the region of $7billion dollars, much of which is stashed in bank accounts in UAE according to recent reports. It may be that the threat of the sanctions, which have been signed but not as yet put into practice, may be enough to force negotiations. Time will tell.

It is true that calls have been made that outside forces should not interfere in the internal politics of Sudan, but it may be that this latest move by the US President, will be well received. As the two sides contemplate the implications they will no doubt reflect on Joe Biden’s sign off to the order:

‘I join the peace-loving people of Sudan and leaders around the world in calling for a durable ceasefire between the belligerent parties. This violence, which has already stolen the lives of hundreds of civilians and began during the holy month of Ramadan, is unconscionable. It must end.’



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