Welcoming Sudan's rapprochement with neighbors, USSR
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If these strategic reasons are not enough to prompt the new regime to seek normalized relations with Ethiopia and Libya, then the new government should do so to make clear that it is not simply a continuation of the Nimeiry regime under another name. Reconciliation with Libya and Ethiopia will be a popular act among the Sudanese people, who feel a fundamental affinity with the Ethiopians and have no particular animosity toward the Libyans.Skip to next paragraph
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A second set of reasons the US should support this reconciliation is that it will facilitate long- and short-term efforts to save the victims of famine in northeast Africa. Ethiopians and Sudanese governments have in the past been able to settle all outstanding problems between them (borders and refugees in particular), and such a settlement could be revived. Political refugees from Ethiopia have in the past been resettled in the Sudan (which suffers from underpopulation, not the reverse) in areas far from the border. Not only will immediate relief be easier with improved bilateral relations, but the long-term plight of the refugees and the starving of both nations will be more quickly and easily handled.
The United States has nothing to lose in Sudanese reconciliation with Libya, Ethiopia, and the Soviet Union. The Soviets are not particularly popular in the Sudan, and communism there has always been more of a rallying point for leftist intellectuals than a pervasive, pro-Soviet doctrine. When Nimeiry and his colleagues came to power in May 1969 they were very pro-Soviet: This was the least popular aspect of their regime at that time. A communist-led coup attempt against them failed in July 1971, principally because the communists did not have enough military followers to man the strategic points in the capital, or enough support from the noncommissioned officers and soldiers. The three days of the communist hold on Khartoum illustrated the lack of support for such a regime. Not only is communism in the Sudan an unlikely scenario, but Sudanese regimes have been able in the past to have strong relations with the United States and yet normal relations with the Soviets -- such as the military government of Lt. Gen. Ibrahim Abbud in 1958-64. Even Nimeiry was able to achieve nearly normal relations with both mercurial neighbors and the Soviets periodically in the 1970s while retaining a very strong security link with the US and Egypt. The Sudanese may be unhappy with the extent of American support for the obnoxious Nimeiry, but even Sudanese leftists are unimpressed by the Soviet largess: The only project most Sudanese can point to as a Soviet gift is the hospital at Soba.
The regime in Khartoum, the prospects for democracy in the Sudan, and the victims of starvation in adjacent areas of the Sudan and Ethiopia all have much to gain from Sudanese rapprochement with the Soviets, Libyans, and Ethiopians. The United States should support the Sudanese initiative, and resist the temptation to view the area in stark black and white. This approach did not serve American interests in the region when then-Secretary of State John Foster Dulles tried in the 1950s, and it will not be any more successful today.
Sally Ann Baynard is an associate research scientist at Foreign Area Studies of American University.