Aspects of Sudanese Foreign Policy:
‘Splendid Isolation’, Radicalization and ‘Finlandization’
Mohamed Beshir Hamid
This chapter is an extract from Sudan since Independence: Studies of the Political Development since 1956, (R.K. Badal et al eds., Gower, London, 1986). The last section draws extensively from an article by the author, “the ‘Finlandization’ of Sudan Foreign Policy: Sudanese-Egyptian Relations since the Camp David Accords” in Journal of Arab Affairs, Vol. 2 No. 2, Spring, 1983 (Fresno, California) and from his contributions of the Sudan annual chapter to Africa Contemporary Record (London) from 1976 to 1985.
The foreign policies of successive Sudanese governments since the period of self-determination had been characterized by a curious pattern in which policies changed course, or were aborted or reversed in a way that indicated the lack of any consistent or long-term foreign policy strategy. The first national government of Isma’il al-Azhari, elected in November 1953 on a platform calling for union with Egypt under the slogan of ‘Unity of the Nile Valley’ had by December 1955 opted for Sudan’s complete independence. The military regime of General Ibrahim ‘Abbud – despite, or perhaps because of, its rather consistent record of passive withdrawal and non- involvement in foreign affairs – had managed by 1964 to dissipate the goodwill it had initially generated with Egypt, and to alienate Sudan’s African neighbours by its harsh and brutal policy in southern Sudan. The radical foreign policy initiated by the first provisional government in October 1964, had ended by July 1965 in a new retreat to conservatism. The Numayri regime undoubtedly beat all records for policy reversal by making a complete U-turn from a pro-Soviet stance in 1969 to a pro-Western posture by 1976 – a reversal of policy which, not coincidentally, ran parallel to that of Egypt.
The reason behind this phenomenon might be that Sudanese politics had always been buffeted by conflicting interests, both internal and external, which led to a certain ambiguity in Sudan’s relations with the outside world. The foreign policies of Sudanese governments since independence had largely been shaped not by the national interest of the country as such, but by the interests of the regime in power. These interests, in turn, were not constant and tended to fluctuate with changing internal circumstances and/or external developments.
This chapter examines three aspects of Sudanese foreign policy: the isolationism of the ‘Abbud regime, the radicalism of the first October government, and the ‘Finlandization’ of Sudan’s foreign policy vis-à-vis Egypt under the Numayri regime.
The policy of isolation and non-involvement adopted by the ‘Abbud junta was conducive neither to the resolution of Sudan’s internal problems, nor to the improvement of its image abroad, (the ‘sick man of Africa’ was how Sekou Touré described the Sudan under ‘Abbud). The radicalization of Sudan’s foreign policy in the wake of the October Revolution was perhaps the only period during which a concerted effort was made to put in practice the declared ideals and objectives of foreign policy. But this policy, inevitably, ended in antagonizing some of Sudan’s neighbours at a time of acute internal divisions and domestic strife; over-involvement in foreign affairs proved to be as self-defeating as non-involvement. The close association with Egypt of President Numayri’s regime had led to a ‘f’inlandized’ pattern of relations in which Sudan would not, or could not, take a foreign policy stand that was actually hostile to Egypt, thus seriously limiting Sudan’s foreign policy options. In each of the three cases the underlying motivation of foreign policy orientation was primarily to serve the interests of the regime in power at the time.