The first session of the African Discussion Club took place on June 13 at the Osnmedia.ru press center. The event was held by the Foundation for the Protection of National Values (FPNV).
The situation in Sudan has become the topic for the first meeting. Since December 2018 the strife continues, the one that made the President Omar al-Bashir resign. During the transition period, the Sudanese government took control of the Council formed by the Armed Forces.
The discussion centered around the following issues:
– reasons behind the political crisis;
– foreign states interference in the Sudan internal policies;
– socio-economic situation of the republic’s citizens;
– Sudan’s cooperation with Russia and its development perspectives.
It is crucial to highlight that the African Discussion Club has become one of the few venues where alternative views regarding recent developments in Sudan can be voiced. The vast majority of world media and expert platforms are strictly unanimous on what is happening, following the “wake” of the Washington and Brussels political course. Meanwhile, the African Discussion Club has offered a platform to express other opinions.
The session was moderated by Alexander Malkevich, the chair of the Foundation for the Protection of National Values. The event saw diplomats, businessmen and the expert community: Nadir Yousif Eltayeb Babiker, the Ambassador of the Republic of Sudan to the Russian Federation and Omar al-Farouq Kamil, Deputy Head of the Embassy Mission; Clifton Ellis, British political analyst; Sergey Markov, member of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy (CFDP), co-chair of the National Council strategies, political scientist; Mikhail Potyopkin, member of the Board of Trustees of the Federal Scientific Research Center; Sergey Kostelyanets, head of the Center for Sociological and Political Studies of the Institute for African Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences; Vladimir Shapovalov , member of the Russian Political Science Association. The business structures were also widely represented. The discussion was attended by Maxim Kartashov, CEO at Biokhimmash; Vladimir Babikov, Managing Partner at Business Systems Consult and Nikita Komarov, the head of the foreign trade department at Ionov Transcontinental.
Having opened the session, Alexander Malkevich expanded on the workplans of the African Discussion Club for the upcoming months. According to the president of the Foundation, the club meetings will be held monthly, with not only Russian political scientists and journalists taking part, but also ambassadors and other officials of African states. The Club debates include topics relevant at the global and regional levels. In every case, the external interference in the policies of African states will be considered as a matter of course.
Sudanese Ambassador Nadir Yousif Eltayeb Babiker addressed several topics. Firstly, he commented on the issue of the Russian media coverage in Sudan. The ambassador regretted that most of the information, often fragmentary, came to Russian journalists from the third parties. The press occasionally writes about the situation in the republic, keeping audience out of the loop or the full picture. The Ambassador pointed to the materials published by the Foundation as a pleasant exception to the rule.
Secondly, the Ambassador was positive about the networking dynamics between Russia and Sudan over the past five years, especially in the economic sphere: turnover between the two states has grown three times over this period. Nadir Yousif Eltayeb Babiker noted the Sudan leadership expects that 2019 would be a special year for both Moscow and Khartoum. Great expectations are associated with the Russia-Africa summit, which is to take place in Sochi in October 2019. When Sergey Kostelyanets, PhD in political science, asked Mr. Ambassador if he considered the Russian-Sudanese partnership as strategic, the ambassador assured it was most feasible in the foreseeable future.
Thirdly, the Ambassador outlined the current political situation in Sudan. The primary reason for the start of the December 2018 protests was the rising prices for bread and fuel, as well as citizens dissatisfaction with the corruption level. The ambassador highlighted the military’s coming to power in April 2019 was not a coup. According to him, the army actually sided with the people, laying the foundation for a new stage in the development of Sudan’s statehood. As the diplomat said, the armed forces intend to transfer power to civilians and are negotiating with the opposition whereas external forces only complicate this process. The ambassador commented adversely of the African Union’s decision to suspend Sudan’s membership.
Mr. Nadir Yousif Eltayeb Babiker condemned the actions by Western diplomats who directly supported the protesters. He noted that the actions by the US and other Western powers do not just undermine Sudan’s statehood, but hinder the authorities from combating trafficking in persons and weapons, hate crimes and other human rights violations. According to the Ambassador, the actions by Western diplomats continue to violate Sudan sovereignty and are not radically different from foreign interference in the policies of Libya and Iraq.
Clifton Ellis, a British political scientist, noted that Western states systematically violate the sovereignty of African countries. The goal of the United States and European powers is to establish control over the resources or political power on the “black continent.” Initially, they achieve it through various pressure points – sanctions, embargoes and bans on access to financial markets. If political elites do not concede under pressure, the West begins to destabilize the situation within the state. Moreover, one state can easily become a battleground for several foreign powers at once.
Nonprofit organizations registered in the West are becoming one of the main tools in this struggle. Being formally independent, they consistently protect the interests of specific Western states. Even the UN institutions often act as the “resource of influence” of Western states.
According to the expert, diversification of financial and consulting services markets could at least in part limit the interference by Western powers in the African affair. Expanding BRICS presence in Africa would help achieve this, both within the bloc and on a separate basis.
The audience took a great interest in Mikhail Potyopkin’s statement. The acting member of the Board of Trustees for the Foundation spent more than two and a half years in the Sudan as an advisor to local elites.
Addressing the causes of the crisis in the republic, the expert stressed the US sanctions influence, the scale of the Sudanese “shadow economy”, the external debt of about $ 50 billion. Islamic banks are the only ones operating in the country in accordance with local legislation. The banks cannot take interest on loans, enter into futures or invest in “sinful industries” (such as alcohol or tobacco production). Russian political consultants gave President Omar al-Bashir specific recommendations on how to solve the accumulated problems, but the former head of state chose to ignore them. Most likely, his refusal was due to the position of the elites who were not interested in any changes. The expert noted the overthrow of al-Bashir cannot be called a revolution. Sudan had witnessed the “classic African script.”, Having no other way to prevent a political collapse, the military ousted the president and took responsibility for the reform.
Among the internal actors whose activities contributed to fueling the conflict, the political consultant noted a group of businessmen involved in grain trade and bread production.
Local youth plays a large part in the protests. The expert explained that taking part in street riots makes the young Sudanese sort of buzz, having emotional exposure to it as well. The increased emotional background also reduces their critical side, creating the illusion of it being an expression of their political will. Mikhail Potyopkin also noted that such manipulation is facilitated by the fact that before the crisis began, the country lacked a network of non-political organizations for the younger generation, and the youth wing of the “National Congress” (the ruling party) completely failed to perform.
Among the external forces with the greatest influence on the conflict, Mikhail Potyopkin singled out, on the one hand, the Persian Gulf monarchies (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates), and on the other hand, the Western powers (USA, Great Britain, France). The political consultant indicated that only Saudi Arabia and the UAE are interested in stabilizing the political situation in Sudan after the overthrow of Omar al-Bashir. They are happy with the normalization of life in the country “according to the Egyptian scenario”. Other players are set to support protests. Qatar, for example, expects to achieve strengthening of the Muslim Brotherhood movement loyal to Doha (this organization is recognized as terrorist and officially banned in Russia).
The speaker mentioned the Sudanese Professionals Association among the most significant foreign agents. According to the expert, its management is largely made up of emigrants. They have substantial financial resources at their disposal and are quite successfully implementing the classic “color revolution” scenario in Sudan.
Mikhail Potyopkin stressed that the interest of the Western powers in Sudan is explained by a whole complex of factors. Official Khartoum is actively collaborating with Moscow and Beijing. Its foreign policy has traditionally remained multi-pronged and, in most aspects, independent of the United States. Western countries are also interested in establishing control over an important logistic center in the republic: Port Sudan plays a big part in international trade. In addition, control over the situation in Sudan allows one to influence neighboring countries, including Libya, Egypt and the Central African Republic. We must keep in mind that at present, American companies are not represented in the rather rich Sudan mineral market. Finally, one should remember the political conflict between the United States and Omar al-Bashir that arose at the end of his reign.
When assessing the Transitional Military Council position, Mikhail Potyopkin noted that it was seriously pressured from outside. Thus, Sudan’s membership in the African Union was suspended. The attempts have been made to expand the UN mission in Darfur, extending its jurisdiction all over Sudan. (It is important to emphasize that we are talking about more than 5,000 peacekeepers, its number can be increased up to 15,000 people).
The political consultant also drew attention to the manipulations around the clashes between protesters and law enforcement authorities that occurred on June 3. Western media began to share that more than 100 people were killed in clashes with security forces. However, the witnesses confirmed that law enforcement officers did not use military weapons against the participants in the “sit-in”. Special means were used during the clashes, but they could not lead to so many deaths. Likewise, the expert noted, it was ignored that before and during the clash there were attacks on the security forces themselves, the protesters camp directly adjoined the slum area besieged by armed gangs. These were the criminals pursued by the police, who attempted to take refuge among the protesters, which led to the conflict. It is noteworthy that the Clean Streets operation, arranged by the security forces, was meant to, among other things, secure the “strikers” who were repeatedly attacked by gangsters from slums.
More information about the situation in Sudan in detail, as Alexander Malkevich suggested, are available at the Foundation for the Protection of National Values website.
Sergei Kostelyanets noted the interdependence between the Internet development and the potential growth for organizing “color revolutions”. In Sudan, as in neighboring Egypt, the Internet penetration rate has reached 30%. The latter noticeably facilitated the protests organizers and beneficiaries the task of spreading information, mobilizing their supporters and coordinating their actions. In many countries in the region, Internet penetration is noticeably lower. Consequently, it reduces the risk of “color revolution” centers for the authorities. However, the needs of economic and social development require local elites to facilitate the Internet penetration. As a result, the local establishment faced a difficult choice.
Political analyst Sergei Markov drew attention to the potential of the Foundation for the Protection of National Values and the African Discussion Club in terms of building up Russia’s “soft power” in the region. According to him, when it comes to US expansion into Africa, it relies on both transcontinental corporations, military power and soft power embodied in a pop culture and its own value system. China relies purely on the enormous resources of its companies. Russia uses both its defense potential and the national corporations’ resources. The third pillar of “soft power” could significantly strengthen the position of the Russian Federation on the African continent. The work of the African Discussion Club creates favorable conditions for realizing this potential.
Summing up the meeting, its participants approved the Omar al-Farouq Kamil’ idea to invite ambassadors of IGAD (the Intergovernmental Authority on Development) states to subsequent sessions. The latter is a trade and economic bloc that unites eight states – Ethiopia, Djibouti, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, Kenya and U