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The West needs to rethink its strategy on Sudan, according to Alex de Waal, Executive Director of the World Peace Foundation in Boston, Massachusetts.
De Waal was delivering a seminar at Portcullis House, in the British Parliament buildings, following the recent agreement between the Alliance for Freedom and Change and the Transitional Military Council. This agreement provides a three-year roadmap towards civilian rule.
His analysis showed that the term ‘Transitional Military Council’ is actually something of a misnomer. In reality it is a paramilitary group – the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – which currently holds the reins of power, under its feared leader Mohamed Hamdan Dagola, better known as Hemeti. With a 9000-strong force currently in the capital, the RSF is more powerful than the army.
The RSF bears responsibility for much of the genocide in Dafur, and also for the massacre of some 100 protestors in Khartoum on 3 June this year. Hemeti has personally denied responsibility for the latter; de Waal thinks it is possible that Islamist elements escalated the violence to discredit him. The sub-text of recent announcements on the massacre seems to indicate that any enquiry will be internal, and that culprits are therefore unlikely to be brought to account.
Hemeti himself, de Waal pointed out, is no Islamist: a significant change which the West would do well to take note of. His interests are not in ideology, but in gold, which his men smuggle from Dafur, and in some highly profitable arrangements to supply Sudanese mercenaries to Libya, and to Saudi Arabia for its proxy war in Yemen.
De Waal commended the United States and the United Kingdom for realising that it was actually Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates which hold the keys to Sudan. According to his estimates, they supply around $200 million a month to prop up the current regime. He believes that it was by persuading these Gulf States to lean on the Transitional Military Council that the US and the UK were able to bring about the current step towards a civilian government.
Sudan is so corrupt that $200m a month is not enough to keep the economy afloat. The Sudanese government makes up the rest by printing money, and the resulting inflation is destroying the living standards of the professional classes. That is why the current regime is on an inevitable collision course with its own people, and why any lasting hope of peace must be built on economic reform.
To wean Hemeti off a system built on printing money and the smuggling of gold, de Waal believes that the West needs to enrol the Arab finance institutions which are currently bankrolling him.
De Waal observed that Hemeti is currently reaching out to the fragmented rebel groups, especially the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, which controls areas in the south of the country. His vision of a whole-country solution is likely to appeal to veteran politicians such as Abdul Aziz – though de Waal commented that Abdul Aziz, as ‘the most honest politician in the country’, is not likely to be tempted by financial incentives.
For de Waal, any realistic appraisal of Sudan must consider Hemeti as part of the solution. With Islamist ideology moving to the side-lines, the new calculation seems to be built on money and realpolitik. Undoubtedly the recent agreement has provided a glimmer of hope, and leaves much to play for.