By Giorgio Cafiero
November 23, 2015
This article was published by Al Monitor
Saudi Arabia’s disastrous military campaign in Yemen has been a source of humiliation. In an effort to prevail against the Houthi rebels, Riyadh has reached out to Sudan and other African nations for on-the-ground support. Ultimately, Saudi Arabia’s ability to secure a commitment from the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) must be analyzed within the context of Sudan’s domestic problems, which have left the country on the verge of total economic collapse.
Since 1997, US-imposed sanctions on Sudan’s central bank have weakened the country’s access to global financial markets and hard currency. Ongoing conflicts between the SAF and rebel movements in Darfur and the provinces of South Kordofan and Blue Nile have drained resources and undermined investor confidence. When South Sudan seceded in 2011, Sudan lost one-third of its territory and the majority of its oil. Low oil prices have also resulted in diminished revenue. These dismal conditions have led officials in the capital of Khartoum to seek financial assistance from its Gulf Arab allies.
Members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have indeed provided a crucial financial lifeline for heavily sanctioned Sudan. Khartoum recently announced that officials in the Saudi capital of Riyadh had deposited $1 billion in Sudan’s central bank earlier this year. The Qataris deposited $1.22 billion shortly after Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir visited Doha last year. Additionally, the Bank of Khartoum’s three main shareholders are Dubai Islamic Bank, Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank and Sharjah Islamic Bank.
But support for Sudan is not being delivered without strings attached.
Khartoum is now paying for the aid by fighting in Yemen. In the past several weeks, hundreds of Sudanese officers and soldiers have joined the roughly 1,000 SAF troops already fighting there. In October, Sudanese Defense Minister Awad bin Auf said, “There are 6,000 fighters from special forces, ground forces and elite troops ready to participate when requested by the leadership of the coalition. … Even if more troops and military contribution is needed, we are ready for any developments.”
In the grander geopolitical picture, the elephant in the room is Iran, who is backing the Houthi rebels.
Giorgio Cafiero is the co-founder of Gulf State Analytics.