With the UAE and Bahrain having joined Egypt and Jordan in declaring peace with Israel, those asking “who’s next?” often look enthusiastically westward, toward Khartoum. Adding new chapters to the Abraham Accords is in the U.S. interest, but so is a successful transition in Sudan. And the sequence of these steps is critical. A unified Sudanese government with a popular mandate will be better able to forge a warm and sustainable peace with Israel, whereas a rushed Israeli-Sudanese agreement has the potential to unravel Sudan’s transition and generate renewed support for Sudan’s Islamists and their foreign backers.
Dictator Omar al-Bashir, who ruled Sudan for nearly three decades, was overthrown in April 2019. After months of protests, negotiations led to a joint civilian-military transitional government to govern the country for a period of 39 months. However, Sudan’s political transition remains tenuous, and even before the coronavirus pandemic, the risks of failure were many. USIP’s Manal Taha, Payton Knopf, and Aly Verjee discuss the past year in Sudan and the need for further international support to shore up the transition.
As Arab Gulf states and Turkey ramp up their competition for influence in the Horn of Africa, USIP’s Payton Knopf says the increased attention “has tended to exacerbate some of the internal tensions and political insecurities” in Ethiopia and Sudan—two states undergoing democratic transitions vital for regional stability.
Violent conflict between the federal government of Ethiopia and the federal state of Tigray, in the country’s north, began November 4 and quickly escalated. USIP’s Aly Verjee and Susan Stigant discuss the crisis and identify what could be done to avoid further violent conflict in east Africa’s most populous country.
What’s at stake in Sudan as tense negotiations between the Transitional Military Council and protesters continue? “We need to see a swift transition to civilian-led rule,” says Payton Knopf. “Otherwise I’m afraid what will result is increased instability … or potentially a catastrophic failure of the state.”
A year ago today, 42-year old reformist politician Abiy Ahmed became prime minister of Ethiopia. Abiy came to power during a deep political crisis with widespread grievances across this country of over 105 million people, and quickly began to enact political reforms. USIP’s Aly Verjee and Payton Knopf discuss Abiy’s year as prime minister and identify the challenges that lie ahead for eastern Africa’s most populous country.
On November 7, the U.S. Department of State announced long-awaited plans outlining a path to better relations with Sudan, “designed to expand our bilateral cooperation, facilitate meaningful reforms to enhance stability in Sudan, and achieve further progress in a number of areas of longstanding concern.” USIP’s Aly Verjee and Payton Knopf discuss the initiative, and identify where broader U.S. regional objectives could cohere, including in the war in Yemen.
The Trump administration has appointed four special envoys to coordinate U.S. policy toward key hot spots: Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Afghanistan. Yet in the Red Sea—one of the most volatile and lethal regions of the world afflicted by several interconnected conflicts and rivalries that pose significant challenges to American interests—U.S. policy has been rudderless in large part due to the absence of a similar post.
The five-year-old civil war in South Sudan is an unparalleled humanitarian and security crisis, causing the largest exodus of refugees on the African continent since the Rwandan genocide and leaving over a third of the population displaced and two-thirds severely food insecure. Beyond the human toll on South Sudan’s long-suffering citizens, the country’s unraveling underscores the shifting political and security fault lines in the Horn of Africa. This Special Report surveys the region’s various interstate hostilities and intrastate conflicts and suggests ways the United States can reassert its influence to begin contributing meaningfully to the resolution of South Sudan’s civil war and conflicts in the greater Red Sea region.
Both the eastern and western shores of the Red Sea increasingly function as a common political and security arena in which the U.S. has significant interests, including the free flow of $700 billion in commerce and competition for influence from external powers like China and Iran. To address the region’s interlinked challenges requires a comprehensive U.S. strategy, says Payton Knopf.