The future of Sudan: forever failed?

Despite global efforts to help the failing state, Sudan continues to experience conflict and major human right abuses within its borders. In 2011, the world was shocked to see al-Bashir permit South Sudan’s secession. As the South celebrated their independence, the world held their breath and watched as the South’s secession did not mitigate conflict so much as it created new forms of conflict.

It has been two years since the South declared its independence and very little progress has been made in Sudan and South Sudan. Yes, state building takes both patience and time. Of course, Sudan is no exception. However, does the world have enough patience to continue helping Sudan when none of its previous efforts have prompted any substantial success?

While the world’s reaction time to Sudan may have been slow, it has tried to help Sudan in various ways. Providing peacekeeping troops, mediating negotiations, monitoring the ceasefire, supplying aid, and attempting to influence al-Bashir are just some of the many ways that the international community has tried to help Sudan. And yet, none of the world’s efforts have been effective thus far (

Back in 2005, Sudan created the Framework for Sustained Peace, Development, and Poverty Eradication. The world was hopeful that the six-year plan would produce results, however to the world’s disappointment, it sparked little progress (

 Just this past March, the article, “The AU welcomes progress in Sudan-South Sudan relations” optimistically reported on a meeting between the two countries in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. Both nations signed security agreements that were geared towards ending conflict and restarting oil production, giving the world hope that perhaps this time, change would ensue (

However, an article published just one month later claims that a meeting between Sudan and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement went poorly. Even though Sudan’s meeting with South Sudan was effective, the South allegedly backs the SPLM, who remain a “humanitarian situation” for Sudan ( Without reaching an agreement with both parties, success is not guaranteed, for South Sudan continues to support the rebel group who in return continue to attack Sudan (

 Even though Sudan’s recent meetings are not entirely indicative of whether or not Sudan will remain a failed state, Ambassador Princeton Lyman poses the question of whether or not “time is running out to find Sudan conflict solution” ( As stated before, state building takes time. However, Lyman claims that the clock is ticking and Sudan needs to start making progress now. 

If anything, the past suggests that Sudan’s future lies entirely in Sudan and South Sudan’s hands. The international community has not been able to help the conflict thus far and they are unlikely to be of much assistance in the near future.

Additionally, in order to truly be effective, conflict resolution must originate from within Sudan and South Sudan. Omar al-Bashir is at the root of many of Sudan’s problems, for he perpetuates and facilitates much of the conflict. In order to reverse Sudan’s trajectory towards state failure, al-Bashir must change his attitude and behavior. Likewise, South Sudan cannot support the SPLM and claim that it is trying to cooperate with Sudan. Ultimately, both countries must be driven by an intrinsic desire to end conflict in the interest of their people; without a unanimous and internal will, there will never be a way. 

The international community may feel discouraged about its inabilities to help thus far, however it should not abandon hope or its patience. Sudan is not a lost cause. However, the international community should recognize the limitations of its efforts and accept its role as a bystander in the situation. While it should continue to support and assist the two countries in their pursuit to stability, external nations cannot hope to solve the Sudanese conflict themselves. The future of Sudan is not doomed, however it is entirely dependent upon Sudan and South Sudan’s internal determination to prevent their states from failing. 



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Climate Change: an invisible perpetrator?

Sudan suffers from an array of social, economical, and political problems whose effects are widespread. Even though South Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011, troubles persist in the area. Sudan’s attempt to mitigate the conflict and reverse its trajectory towards state failure was hardly successful, for now two countries hurdle towards state failure rather than just one.

Of course, it is hard to distinguish causes from consequences in long lasting conflicts such as Sudan. Problems begin to intertwine with one another over time, thus muddling the situation’s clarity. However, as complicated as matters in Sudan are, there are certain tension points that predate and instigate other aspects of Sudan’s state failure.

A map of the world’s vegetation depicts how dry Sudan is. The very north consists mainly of desert land, while the majority of Sudan’s vegetation is described as “semi-desert scrub.” Tropical grasslands are only found in the South (

However, such geography does not properly accommodate Sudan’s demography. Its population largely depends upon agriculture as means of support ( In Sudan, desertification applied social, economical, and political pressure on the area, thus instigating conflict and ethnic tensions that the Sudanese government was in no way able to properly control.

Even though Sudan’s problems are the product of many factors, desertification and land degradation are at the root of many of them ( While land degradation can be accredited to an increase in livestock that subsequently overgrazes Sudan’s “fragile soils” (, who is to blame for Sudan’s desertification?

Desertification in Africa is caused by multiple factors, including overgrazing, deforestation, agriculture, and overexploitation. However, desertification is also the product of climate change, a phenomenon that Sudanese citizens contribute very little to.

Could state failure in Sudan potentially be a byproduct of global warming?

Camilla Toulmin’s book Climate Change in Africa emphasizes the imbalance between climate change causes and effects and how they are allocated around the world. Toulmin argues that Africans must endure the consequences of climate, even though countries such as the United States, China, and Europe are largely responsible for an increase in CO2 emission. Toulmin cites Sudan as proof of how detrimental the effects of climate change can be.

Typically, factors of state failure are tangible and easy to recognize. However, could something as abstract and faceless as climate change be an overarching factor? Perhaps the Sudanese conflict is the product of many geopolitical and economical factors, however climate change undoubtably plays a role in Sudan’s state failure. 

Sudan not only serves as an example of why the international community should be concerned about the effects of state failure, but it also gives the world a legitimate reason to care about global warming. The world is not equally responsible for the causes of climate change, nor does it shoulder the burdens proportionately. Sudan’s state failure may not exclusively be the result of climate change, however it does demonstrate how global warming can provoke and escalate state failure in African countries. Hopefully, situations such as Sudan will prompt the international community to accept a greater responsibility throughout the world for a wider range of duties. 

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Resource Curse?

When discussing a failed or critically weak state, one typically asks the following questions: how is the UN involved? Are countries providing financial aid or dispatching troops to the area? What is the United States’ stance in the issue? These questions highlight two typical ways that indicate how the world tends to react to state failure: international aid and political intervention.

But can responses merely prolong state failure?

In the context of the Sudanese conflict, the majority of nations condemns Omar al-Bashir and demand that he appear in front of the ICC. However, there are also a handful of countries that actually assist and enable Sudan. Responses that counter UN efforts are equally important to analyze, for they shed light on the situation and explain the ways in which such conflict is made possible.

Once again, oil acts a major tension point. Not only does oil create conflict between South Sudan and Sudan, but it also generates support and loyalty. As one source claims, six international firms are “major participants in developing the Sudanese oil industry” including: China National Petroleum Corporation, Sweden’s Lundin Oil, Malaysia’s Petronas, Royal Dutch Shell, Canada’s Talisman Energy, and France’s Total/Fina (

Even though their relationship with Sudan may appear strictly professional and therefore objective, oil companies actually contribute to the Sudanese conflict. A radio interview with a man who works for the European Coalition on Oil in Sudan (ECOS), Egbert Wesselink, claims that in 2010, oil companies were extremely involved in Sudan war crimes. According to ECOS reports, oil companies enabled Sudan to triple its helicopter fleet, which was used to evacuate citizens from oil rich areas so that oil companies could subsequently move onto the land. One ECOS report claims that 12,000 people were killed and 160,000 people were displaced on the oil concession area, “Block 5A” (

In response to ECOS’ report, the oil company, Lundin, “refuted allegations in the ECOS report and stated that the company’s activities ‘contributed to peace and development in Sudan’” (

Oil is a dominating factor in Sudan’s relationship with China as well. As a Save Darfur graphic depicts, 71% of Sudanese exports go to China, consisting largely of oil. In exchange for oil, China remains neutral in Sudan’s domestic affairs and continues to largely invest in the country.

However, trade between the two countries is not one-sided. Twenty-one percent of China’s imports go to Sudan in return. (

But does China really uphold its neutrality in Sudanese affairs? China is largely responsible for selling small arms to Sudan. Between 2003 and 2006, China sold over $55 million worth of small arms to Sudan, accounting for nearly 90% of the small arms in Sudan. Additionally, China helped Sudan build assembly plants for the production of small arms and ammunition (

Even when the UN Security Council enforced resolution 1556, which imposed a mandatory embargo on weapons to Darfur, sales between China and Sudan continued.

While many countries may have responded to the situation in Sudan by extending aid, intervening, or condemning Omar al-Bashir, it is important to keep in mind that some countries, including China, as well as major oil companies act as enablers.

Even though natural resources have the potential to reverse the trajectory of state failure, they also have the potential to expedite it. As seen in Sudan, oil perpetuates conflict through the creation of tension points and protection of loyal consumers who depend on Sudanese oil exports.

Are failed states better off without valuable resources? Without oil, Sudan would lack the same level of support and leverage. But now that the majority of oil is in South Sudan, could oil’s role in the Sudanese conflict transform? Will oil companies and countries such as China alter their allegiances accordingly? Only time will tell.

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Sovereignty: the ultimate enabler?

Tanisha Fazal questions the world’s implicit resistance to state conquest. Her book, State Death: The Politics and Geography of Conquest, Occupation, and Annexation, poses the question as to whether or not state death should be permitted (

With a history rooted in state failure, Sudan serves as an applicable case for Fazal’s argument. Omar al-Bashir continues to commit crimes against humanity and exploit oil revenues without the slightest fear of conquest. He can treat Sudanese civilians as he pleases and exploit resources as he sees fit. Protected by a unanimous respect for state sovereignty, Sudan can freely operate without worrying about heavy-handed reactions from the international community. For example, imposed sanctions and issued warrants by the ICC for his arrest appear to have little impact on his behavior.

Al-Bashir’s resistance to the efforts made on behalf of the international community to help Sudan have severely hindered their success. However, not only governmental bodies are present in the area, as many NGOs are also active in Sudan. To name a few, Oxfam, the International Rescue Committee, and World Relief are all currently present in Sudan and South Sudan. The creation of Save Darfur is further proof of current attention towards the Sudanese conflict. However, help from the international community was neither immediate nor decisive. Is the world’s slow response evidence that international organizations failed, or that the world values sovereignty too highly?

The United Nations is largely responsible for the delayed response to the Sudanese conflict, for even though the UN Security Council condemned Sudan back in 1996, the international body debated whether or not the crisis in Sudan was genocide for a long period of time. Back in 2004, Colin Powell, the U.S. Secretary of State, recognized the violence as genocide. However, the U.S. did not adjust their policies towards Sudan accordingly. Additionally, in 2005, a UN report claimed that the Sudanese government was responsible for “systematic abuses in Darfur”, however refrained from calling it genocide (

The International community’s hesitance to label the situation in Darfur genocide was alarming, for the Sudanese government’s actions adhered to many aspects of the UN’s definition for genocide. The UN’s legal definition of genocide is the following:

“Any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or I part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; forcible transferring children of the group to another group” (

Sudan was responsible for the various aerial bombardments that targeted hospitals, markets, churches, and schools in South Sudan ( Furthermore, Sudan used chemical weapons against civilians and destroyed natural resources in the hopes of starving the opposition. With the help of the Janjaweed, the Sudanese government brutalized and killed thousands of civilians. And what was the government’s motive for doing so? They wanted to solidify Sudan as an Islamic nation that is an “integral part of the Arab Nation” ( All of these actions fall under the UN’s definition of genocide, however the organization refused to address it as such.

Instances such as the Holocaust and Rwanda left the international community saying “never again”. However, in the case of Darfur, it did happen again, and while the Sudanese government committed horrific crimes against its civilians, the UN debated whether or not to label such crimes as genocide. Even when the UN decided to take action, Omar al-Bashir simply rejected their resolutions, obstructed access into the area, and kicked out peacekeepers (

Sudan’s situation begs the question: if states are not able to die, should international organizations such as the United Nations and NGOs have greater intervention powers? Should the rules change in order to compensate for the world’s reluctance to permit state death?

Perhaps such responses would pose a serious threat to state sovereignty, however state leaders are currently able to operate without fear of intervention, thus enabling situations such as Sudan. The world’s involvement in Sudan has made little progress over the years, for al-Bashir has yet to appear in front of the ICC and Sudanese civilians continue to suffer from the consequences of state failure. Perhaps it is time for the world to re-evaluate its implicit norms.

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Civilian Influence in Sudanese Affairs

Instead of completely mitigating the conflict in Sudan, South Sudan’s secession gave rise to an abundance of new issues. The disputed territory, Abyei, demonstrates the ways in which South Sudan’s secession did not simply reverse Sudan’s trajectory towards state failure, but rather created new obstacles to overcome.  

Even though it is only one of the many repercussions of the South’s secession, the history of Abyei is both long and laborious. For starters, Abyei is an oil rich area that would benefit both countries substantially. Sudan already lost the majority of its oil revenue to South Sudan upon its secession. After already losing South Sudan, can Sudan afford to lose Abyei as well?

 In accordance with the 2005 Peace Agreement Act  Abyei was supposed to be included in the referendum that determined South Sudan’s independence back in 2011. However, because the two governments could not agree upon which individuals were eligible to vote, the issue was placed aside and thus prolonged. Its “special administration status” has been in place for several years, accentuating Sudan’s inability to both effectively control its territory as well as negotiate with South Sudan in order to reach a resolution (

However, a recent movement amongst an ethnic group in Abyei might force Sudan and South Sudan to formally address the territorial disputes. The Dinka Ngok have created a ballot of their own in response to their governments’ inability to adequately address and resolve the territorial disputes (

However, the international community does not support the unofficial referendum. The African Union and the UN both voice their concerns, claiming that the referendum may “ignite tensions” as well as disrupt the “normalization process engaged by the two governments” (

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the chief of the AU, calls the votes illegal and claims that: “they pose a threat to peace in the Abyei area, and have the potential to trigger an unprecedented escalation on the ground…with far-reaching consequences for the region as a whole” (

Even though the referendum invites international organizations to monitor the process and recognizes all citizens as eligible voters (, the referendum’s legitimacy is still immensely questionable. The Dinka Ngok backed the rebel army in the Civil War, thus solidifying their support for South Sudan. In opposition to the Dinka Ngok is an Arabic group, the Misseriya, who wish to see Abyei remain in Sudan. They refuse to vote in protest, for they claim that the territory is their “ancestral homeland” (

Sudan and South Sudan also oppose the referendum, announcing that they will formally address the matter. Even though both governments currently lay a claim to Abyei, Omar al-Bashir has publically professed his intentions to end the dispute ( Al-Bashir and Salva Kiir Mayardit met in Juba on October 22nd, thus signifying the start of a resolution process (

But are their efforts too late? Have the governments lost too much legitimacy in the eyes of civilians?

Once again, civilians are taking political matters into their own hands. As potentially explosive as the referendum may be, the Dinka Ngoks are acting out of frustration. The Abyei disputes are drawn-out and in need of a resolution. When neither Sudan nor South Sudan’s government effectively deal with the matter, the people assume a position of power and take the initiative to prompt change.

It is interesting to view the way in which Sudanese and South Sudanese civilians are getting involved. Even though a dictator controls Sudan, Sudanese civilians have dictated much of Sudan’s history. From the Civil War to the more recent protests and now this referendum, the people continue to assume more power and find louder voices.

Logistically, the referendum needs the support of political institutions in order to be legitimate. However, the Dinka Ngoks’ actions put pressure on Sudan and South Sudan to address and resolve the Abyei territorial disputes in a timely matter.

While I am not suggesting that democracy is the only way for a nation to succeed, I will pose the following question: could the solution to state failure originate amongst the people rather than the government? Is a bottom-up model more successful than top-down? Perhaps Sudan will offer insight to this question, for even though the referendum will not directly determine Abyei’s political alliance, it does generate political pressure that forces Omar al-Bashir and Salva Kiir Mayardit’s to address the issue. 

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Strains and Similarities Between the U.S. and Sudan

The United States is a dominant player in the international community and therefore maintains a relationship with nearly every country in the world. Naturally, Sudan is no exception. While my last blog post explored the potential underlying motives for the extension of American financial aid, I wish to further explore the specifics of the relationship between the U.S. and Sudan.

Interactions between the U.S. and Sudan are beneficial to both parties; however maintaining such a relationship is no easy task. For starters, the U.S. has a hard time overlooking Sudan’s repeated human rights abuses. Al Bashir remains a friction point between the two nations, for collaborating with a leader who supports human rights violations contradicts a code of ethics that America strongly values.

However Sudan cannot afford to completely cut ties with the international community, let alone the United States, because it struggles to climb out of a hefty debt. Sudan needs financial support from nations such as the United States, and therefore cannot neglect the importance of maintaining cordial relations.

But the price tag for such support is anything but cheap. In 2012, the State Department sought to allocate $250 million in the FY2013 budget to “meet potential US bilateral debt relief commitments under the Heavily Indebted Poor Country Framework” ( However, once again, Sudan’s blatant human rights abuses inhibited the State Department from doing so.

Some argue that South Sudan’s secession from Sudan was “an opportunity to repair relations between Sudan’s Islamist government and the U.S” (

However, the United States continuously tries to deter Sudan from committing such acts through the installation of economic sanctions. Over the years, the U.S. has repeatedly increased its sanctions in the hopes of offering Khartoum tangible incentives to value human rights. However, sanctions have prompted no substantial changes in al Bashir’s regime, thus pushing Sudan to increase its relations with China and the Gulf States.

The U.S. emphasizes the importance of counterterrorism in order to facilitate more productive cooperation between Washington and Khartoum, however such actions can only do so much to erase the major tensions that remain between Sudan and the U.S. Webpages published by the Sudanese and American embassy highlights the complexities of their relationship. Upon reading both websites, it is clear that their perspectives of one another vastly differ.

The U.S. embassy webpage is extremely formal and emphasizes the tension between the two nations. For example, the first sentence found on the U.S.’ website says: “Sudan broke diplomatic relations with the U.S. in June 1967, following the outbreak of Arab-Israeli War”.(

Immediately, a negative tone overshadows the subsequent information. Other than two short paragraphs that speak about financial aid and counterterrorism efforts, the page focuses primarily on Sudan’s harmful behavior and how the U.S. responds with the imposition of economic sanctions.

The page published by the Sudanese government portrays an extremely different image. It overemphasizes the positive aspects of their relationship and underestimates issues regarding human rights. Their site does not neglect the tension between the two nations, for it addresses the U.S’ hostility towards Sudan, however overall the information is laced with optimism (

Unlike the U.S webpage, Sudan’s begins to overview their relationship with the U.S. with the sentence: “Sudan and the United States enjoy a long history of friendship cooperation” ( Unlike the formality of the American website, Sudan’s synopsis creates a warm image in which the two countries have a sustainable and positive relationship.

The embassies’ differing views of one another indicates that the relationship between the U.S. and Sudan is not straightforward and healthy, but rather extremely strained and complicated. The two countries are making progress through the collaboration on counterterrorism and Sudan continues to receive American financial aid, however the bottom line is that the U.S. cannot trust Sudan and without trust, the entire relationship is strained.

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Motives for International Help

The United States’ success in capturing Anas al-Liby, one of the FBI’s most wanted terrorists, is making headlines alongside reports of the government shutdown. Al-Liby is the assumed architect for the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and he has been a member of Al Qaeda since the mid-1990s. However, al-Liby first came into contact with Al Qaeda in Sudan back in the early 1990s before he fled to Afghanistan with Bin Laden (

Sudan’s role in al-Liby’s life reminded me of its contribution to terrorism, thus triggering a string of questions: what exactly motivates the United States’ to help Sudan? Is it strictly in the interest of counterterrorism?

The United States still designates Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism. As the State Department’s website indicates, Sudan was initially dubbed a sponsor on August 12, 1993 and has remained on the list ever since. It is one of four countries, including Cuba, Iran, and Syria (

However, the United States is the largest bilateral donor for both Sudan and South Sudan in addition to contributing the largest share of funding for three United Nations peacekeeping organizations. And doing so is no easy task, for due to South Sudan’s lack of sufficient infrastructure, aid access is extremely constrained within the country, thus making humanitarian operations in South Sudan the most expensive in the world  ( Additionally, it helped craft the Comprehensive Agreement Act and continues to oversee whether or not both parties adhere to it. There must be factors other than counterterrorism that causes the United States to involve itself in Sudan’s affairs. So what are they?

For starters, the United States offers much support to South Sudan. It attempts to help South Sudan properly develop a democratic republic by offering them ample guidance. For example, it assists South Sudan in developing adequate legal framework that will protect its citizens and hold individuals accountable. One might argue that the United States’ actions are simply apart of its attempt to propagate democracy throughout the world. Or perhaps, in a less cynical light, it is a paragon for democracy and therefore the most suited to help South Sudan.

Or does the United States feel obliged to help South Sudan and Sudan as the world’s superpower? Obama vocalizes his personal concern for the future of Sudan in the following speech:

As shown in the video clip, Obama speaks directly to Sudanese citizens saying: “Your future is shared. You will never be at peace if your neighbor feels threatened. You will never see development and progress if your neighbor refuses to be your partner in trade and commerce” (

But what exactly motivates such behavior: an urge to police the international community?

Or perhaps is it a strong sense of guilt for what transpired in Darfur without international interference? Obama once stated: “We can’t say ‘never again’ and then allow it to happen again. And, as President of the United States, I don’t intend to abandon people or turn a blind eye to slaughter” (

The lack of international intervention in Darfur has received much criticism over the years and has inspired the creation of many genocide intervention groups such as Save Darfur But is it external criticism and pressure that causes the government to intervene in Sudan or an internally ethical impulse?

Perhaps it is a combination of many things: economical factors, political tension, moral obligations, and a strong sense of guilt. However, regardless of the exact source, Obama has vocalized his interests in resolving the Sudanese conflict.

However, whether or not he has fulfilled such a role is debatable amongst international community, for the unstable situation in Sudan and South Sudan persists without any promises of balance in the near future. Exploring the United States’ motivation for intervention may be insightful, however in the end, only the impact of the United States’ actions is of any importance.

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