Although the Sudanese people threw off the autocratic rule of Jaafar al-Nimeiri two years ago, they are still struggling to undo the economic and political damage that he wrought and to reorient their foreign policy in a way that will enhance their flexibility and credibility in the international arena.
In the quest for badly needed aid and support for ending the debilitating civil war in the south, the current prime minister, Sadiq al-Mahdi, has articulated a foreign policy of non-alignment, in contrast to the close relationship Nimeiri had with the United States. In Mahdi’s view, Sudan should neither become entangled in the East-West rivalry nor take sides in regional conflicts. His desire for amicable relations with all of Sudan’s neighbors and the significant external powers makes sense, given the location and social complexion of the country. But the government is already discovering that the policy is not easy to implement. The major internal priorities of the new democratic government are to end the war, resolve the country’s staggering economic problems, and chart a constitutional course that will balance the varied religious and political interests in order to stabilize parliamentary rule. Diplomatic priorities are closely linked to those domestic concerns.
Sudan is the largest country in Africa, covering a million square miles. Its pivotal location astride the river Nile links the Arab world and sub-Saharan Africa and borders the vital international shipping lane that passes through the Red Sea. The country is vulnerable, unable to police its borders with eight states, and open to pressure and influence from all sides. Sudan is at present impoverished, heavily indebted to foreign governments and international funds, and unable to realize the potential offered by its agricultural and mineral resources. Its economic problems derive in part from the harsh climate and difficult soil and in part from ill-conceived and poorly executed government policies that have burdened rather than improved the lot of the people.
The Sudanese population is heterogeneous, a combustible mix of
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