Sudanese President Umar al-Bashir chose a new foreign minister after vowing to improve relations with Europe and the U.S., which has sanctioned the country for more than 15 years over allegations it sponsors terrorism.
Ibrahim Ghandour, a former presidential assistant who’s also worked as a consultant with the World Health Organization, was sworn in June 7. The 62-year-old’s experience in public health and academia, as opposed to a military, security or religious background, could position him as a pragmatist in future talks with the U.S., according to analysts including Hassan al-Saouri, a political science professor in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum.
Ghandour’s past is as “an academic professor not a high-ranking security officer, which is better to deal with the Western communities,” al-Saouri said Monday by phone. “Even with Saudi Arabia, Ghandour is more acceptable, because his mentality doesn’t imply the political Islamism” once favored by al-Bashir’s government “that may disturb relations.”
Al-Bashir, who’s ruled for a quarter-century and is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity in Sudan’s Darfur region, was re-elected in April with 94 percent of the vote in polls the main opposition boycotted. Taking his vow before parliament last week, the 71-year-old pledged a “new era” in foreign relations.
Sudan has Africa’s 10th biggest oil reserves, according to BP Plc. It’s also the world’s largest producer of gum arabic, an ingredient used in soda drinks and medicines. The commodity’s importance to western markets led the U.S. to exempt it from a trade embargo first imposed on Sudan in 1997 because of the country’s alleged sponsorship of terrorism.
The North African nation has been on the U.S. State Department’s terrorism-sponsor list since 1993. Sudan hosted al-Qaeda’s founder, Osama bin Laden, in the early 1990s.
The Treasury and Commerce departments announced in February that they were changing federal regulations to let U.S. citizens and companies export to Sudan hardware such as smartphones, satellite phones, computers and supporting software without needing individual export licenses.
The change came shortly after Ghandour visited Washington for talks at the invitation of the State Department. That success may have proved to the government his effectiveness as a negotiator, Ali Eissa, director of the Khartoum-based Sudan Center for Researches and Strategic Studies, said in a phone interview.
Other government appointments announced June 6 include Mostafa Osman Abeed as acting defense minister, who replaces Abdel Raheem Muhammad Hussein, also indicted by the ICC. Sudan faces armed rebellions in at least six of its 18 states, with al-Bashir making an end to the fighting one of his key campaign pledges.