Sudan in Crisis: The Failure of Democracy

Sudan in Crisis: The Failure of Democracy

Sudan in Crisis: The Failure of Democracy

Sudan in Crisis: The Failure of Democracy


"We badly need more writings of this genre. The poor communication between diplomatic professionals and academic area scholars is deplorable. This [work] has the potential to speak to both groups.... Scholars and practitioners should pay attention."--L. Carl Brown, Princeton University

This is the story of how a promising North African democracy, by failing to solve crucial problems both at home and abroad, brought about its own overthrow by Islamic militants. Since gaining independence in 1956, Sudan has repeatedly stumbled in attempts to establish a stable democratic government. Sudan in Crisis tells the story of this failure and seeks to explain its causes.
G. Norman Anderson, former American ambassador, provides a first-hand account of Sudan's third try at democracy. He analyzes the problems plaguing the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi--civil war and related famine, religious and ethnic antagonisms, political instability, economic deterioration, the presence of Libyan terrorists--and the ineffective efforts of the government to cope with them. He also analyzes the policies of the United States and Sudan during this period, and cites specific instances in which each helped to undermine Sudanese democracy--including Washington's earlier strong support of Sudanese dictator Ja'far Numayri and its relatively lukewarm support of democracy and Sadiq al-Mahdi's foreign policy of nonalignment, which favored the extremist regimes of Libya and Iran while antagonizing potential friends such as the United States, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.
Sudan in Crisis also addresses the issue of Sudan's future after the current junta. With many of the leaders who mismanaged democratic government now waiting again in the wings, the question remains whether they have learned the lessons of the past. G. Norman Anderson is a former career diplomat specializing in Arab affairs and Eastern Europe. He was the American ambassador to Sudan from 1986 to 1989. During the recent Yugoslav crisis, he headed an international peace mission in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.


On being appointed American ambassador to Sudan in 1986, I was delighted to be going to a newly democratic country, with its great hopes and promise for the future. This was Sudan's third experiment in democracy since independence in 1956. Democracy had been overthrown by military coups twice before. This time, the new democratic leaders would surely have learned the lessons of earlier failures.

As time went by, however, the democratic government proved unable to cope with the many domestic problems plaguing the country-- civil war and related famine, religious and ethnic antagonisms, economic deterioration, the presence of Libyan terrorists. It also adopted a non- aligned foreign policy favoring radical Libya and Iran, thereby alienating moderate potential foreign friends. When democracy did not produce the peace, political stability, economic prosperity, and foreign aid expected of it, popular support for the regime rapidly eroded. Sudanese became disillusioned, then angry, finally welcoming a self-appointed military junta in preference to their own freely elected representatives.

As this study stops at the demise of the 1986-89 democratic period, it remains for a subsequent companion piece to discuss the coup mounted by 'Umar al-Bashir in 1989 against Sudan's third democracy and its aftermath. To preview, initially the new "revolutionary" regime seemed embarked in the right direction in dealing with Sudan's main problems. However, it went on to show itself militantly Islamist and to disappoint Sudanese and outsiders alike by applying in grotesquely exaggerated form the worst aspects of the preceding democratic regime--flirting with radical states, stepping up the civil war, and impeding humanitarian relief. It forswore any return to democracy, stifling individual freedoms and human rights.

The latest failure of democracy in Sudan and its tragic consequences raise basic questions about the country's future prospects. Can a democratic political system root itself and survive in such a diverse, fragmented, poor, and backward country? Will it now be able to revive at . . .

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