Amid calls for the arrest of the Sudanese President on his three day visit to Uganda, a Ugandan government spokesman Ofwono Opondo defended the decision not to hand over Al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court (ICC). He said Al-Bashir was a sitting head of state with immunity from prosecution and went further to say that Sudan was largely responsible for politically stabilizing the countries in the region.
Opondon said, “We believe that the constructive engagement with the government of Sudan and Mr. Bashir on a number of regional fronts are yielding fruits. And, therefore, you can see that Sudan itself is stabilizing South Sudan, is stabilizing Somalia, is stabilizing DRC.” Opondo said.
Ironically, the country that remains on the US list of countries sponsoring state terror appears to be having a sobering effect in the region where hot spots of violence and armed conflicts and internal disputes still exist.
Granted, Sudan would argue that their involvement in the internal affairs of others was predicated by the conflict in Darfur in which neighbouring countries were providing safe-haven for the armed groups determined to overthrow the government in Khartoum.
However, Al-Bashir’s recent visit to Uganda to meet Yuweri Museveni and last month’s invitation to the South Sudanese President were important diplomatic exchanges that have smoothed the way forward for a better working relationship between the respective leaders. Uganda and Sudan have been on opposing sides in the South Sudan conflict which Uganda stepping into support the Silva Kirr government and Sudan are accused of supporting the former Vice-President, Riak Machar.
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Also, Uganda who have long accused Sudan of harbouring Joseph Kony’s Lord Resistance Army (LRA) (Museveni’s armed opponents) went out of its way to welcome Al-Bashir and sign some important agreements including the establishment of direct flights between Khartoum and Entebbe.
Relations between Sudan and Uganda have been strained for several years not least after a Ugandan foreign office spokesman said back in 2009 that Al Bashir would be arrested if he stepped foot on Ugandan soil and would be handed over to the ICC. Although, President Museveni rang Al-Bashir to apologise for the incident, this was the first official visit to Uganda, post the ICC indictment. Reports say that talks on the Ethiopian Dam was also high on the agenda.
The visit by the Sudan’s head of state comes a month after the United States lifted some of the economic sanctions against Sudan in which two of the direct conditions stipulated by former President Obama was that Sudan had to cut ties with the opposition groups of Uganda and South Sudan.
Indeed, earlier this month, the state visit by South Sudan leader Silva Kirr was widely viewed as a turning point where the two would finally “bury the hatchet” and work together on mutual interest trade deals, oil production, border movements and security issues.
Those agreements included the opening of 10 border crossings and creating a 20km demilitarised zone 10km from each side of the border and finally trying to reach agreement of the intractable problem of the oil-rich border town, Abeyi.
On the question of stability, Abraham Mamer, a South Sudanese analyst who spoke to Al Jazeera news network said, “If they don’t work together, there will be chaos, and there will be instability in the region. South Sudan must be stable for Sudan to be stable, and Sudan must be stable for South Sudan’s stability,”
So, whilst “stability” seem to be the buzz word, Sudan have also been trying to head off difficulties that are arising over the grand renaissance damn being built in Ethiopia. Although, no agreement was reach on the nature of a formal study to assess the effects of the damn, Sudan has committed itself to defend Egypt’s traditional right to the water supply whilst upholding Ethiopia’s right to proceed with the project.
Despite Sudan’s ongoing border problems with Egypt over the Halayeb and Shalateen area Sudan have managed to avoid armed confrontation contrary to the growing call by forces within Sudan to retake the area by force. Instead, it has chosen to follow the legal route via the UN.
Sudan’s stabilizing effect can also be seen in its relationship with Somalia. Following the October 17th blast in Mogadishu which killed over 300 people, Sudan hospitals hosted the injured that were flown to the Sudanese capital by the Qatari government. Recent high level visits and exchanges of intelligence also sees Sudan working closely with Somalia against the threat of the militant group Al-Shabbab.
Opponents of the Sudanese regime may well argue that the quest to get in the good books of the United States has persuaded Sudan to stay out of the affairs of neighbouring countries. Essentially, halting the airstrikes in Darfur and allowing humanitarian aid to enter the region has been key in taking the pressure off Sudan and dissipating the support of neighbouring countries. It was the pressure exerted through sanctions and international diplomacy rather than the unilateral desire by Sudan to play the role of a regional stabiliser.
Whatever the truth, a new dawn of politics and diplomatic relations have surfaced. One that could transform the region and bring stability and prosperity to future generations. The recent visits by the Presidents of South Sudan to Sudan and by Al Bashir to Uganda may yet prove to be two of the most important events in the historical calendar of rapprochement and détente in the region.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.