On November 17, 2019, the head of Sudan’s ruling body, the Sovereign Council, Gen Fattah al-Burhan, was chauffeured to State House Entebbe.
Five months earlier, Gen Omar Al Bashir, had been toppled after popular protests swept through Sudan.
In Entebbe, al-Burhan was on a mission to consolidate relations between Kampala and Khartoum but also tap into Museveni’s vast networks in the West to ease American sanctions that had literally crippled Sudan’s economy.
Before his removal from power, Bashir had reconciled with President Museveni – leading to a boost in Uganda’s coffee exports to Sudan.
Museveni had delivered a speech at a military training school in Khartoum and also hosted Bashir at State House Entebbe several times.
Museveni had in the 1990s helped South Sudan in its war of secession from Sudan Khartoum due to Bashir’s support for LRA’s Joseph Kony.
But with South Sudan gaining Independence and Kony being defeated, Bashir had warmed up to Museveni.
In Kampala, Museveni had directed his security chiefs, including Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba and ESO boss Joseph Ocwet to help end a rebel movement against Bashir.
Thousands of Sudanese rebels laid down their weapons before being welcomed by Bashir in Khartoum.
Yet, Bashir still had problems with the west for hosting Osama Bin Laden who terrorist group, al-Qaeda bombed U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, killing more than 220 people.
Operating from behind the scenes to improve Uganda’s bilateral relations with Sudan was an influential Sudanese diplomat, Najwa Abbas Gadaheldam.
Najwa, who succumbed to COVID-19 in June 2020, worked with Museveni, a close ally of Israel to woo United States to remove Sudan from the list of terror sponsors.
Najwa was so special to the Israel-Uganda-Sudan relations that Netanyahu personally dispatched a plane to Khartoum carrying medical staff and equipment, after hearing of her illness.
The medical team planned to evacuate Najwa to Israel for treatment, but arrived too late, when she was already in critical condition. She passed on 24 hours later.
The meetings at Entebbe were attended by Museveni, Burhan, Najwa, senior Ugandan military and foreign affairs officials.
During the discussions, Museveni said Sudan would start a new chapter by working with Israel and United States.
“The people of Sudan want market for their goods. They want to trade. Forget about tribes,” Museveni was quoted as telling the meeting.
Museveni, who was already in touch with United States Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, also expressed willingness to host Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Kampala to meet with Burhan.
Najwa shuttled between Kampala and Israel to arrange Netanyahu’s meeting with Burhan in Kampala.
This was a big win for Burhan, whose transitional government came into power pledging to remove Sudan from the terror sponsors list.
Netanyahu in Uganda
On February 4, 2020, Netanyahu quietly sneaked into Uganda where he met with Burhan.
Ugandan officials say the trip was supposed to remain secret for some time to allow Burhan deal with conservatives opposed to renewing ties with Israel.
But the story about the visit was broken by Israel media outlets, triggering panic and protests in Khartoum.
Netanyahu was later quoted as saying normalizing relations between Sudan and Israel was an expansive step from Israel toward African and Muslims countries, as Sudan is considered a gate to other African countries.
He also said the step was directly linked with Iran’s expanded ties in Arab and African regions.
Netanyahu said this made Israel build relations with a number of countries, especially in the Red Sea region, to secure it.
By connecting Burhan to Netanyahu – a close friend of U.S. President Donald Trump, Museveni played a key role in helping get relief from U.S. sanctions and remake the country’s relationship with the rest of the world.
According to Trump, Sudan will come off a list of state sponsors of terror if it pays compensation of $335m (£259m). Khartoum says it has already sent the funds to an escrow account pending removal from the terror list.
Removal from the terrorism list is Sudan ultimate prize and brings with it a precious injection of political capital that, at a minimum, will provide more time for the government to try to get its economic house in order and make good on the promise of delivering a lasting democracy dividend to Sudan’s long-suffering population.
According to research by Atlantic Council, in exchange for Sudan’s normalization of relations with Israel, the Arab country will benefit from additional development and humanitarian assistance reportedly worth hundreds of millions more than even current aid levels, and including surplus wheat and medical supplies the Sudanese people desperately need.
Sudan is facing inflation exceeding 200 percent and the Sudanese pound is falling to 262 against the dollar (down from 82 when the civilian government came into office only thirteen months ago).
Sudan’s economy is in freefall. Bread and fuel lines across the capital, Khartoum, are longer today than when President Bashir was in office, and talk among the people stuck in those lines invariably is turning to disgruntlement over the government’s handling of the crisis.
Washington also has promised a US trade and investment conference for Sudan along with a high-level trade delegation to Sudan led by the Development Finance Corporation.
United States further pledged to engage the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to support and fast-track discussions on restructuring Sudan’s $65 billion in external debt, clearing its more than $3 billion in arrears, and creating a pathway for debt relief under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries initiative.
Earmarks in the 2021 budget for the US share of debt relief to Sudan, likely to cost in excess of $300 million.
Engagement with Congress on legal peace legislation for Sudan would finally resolve terrorist claims against it and provide for an orderly approach to addressing outstanding 9/11 victims claims.
In a nutshell, restoring relations between Sudan and United States is expected to nurture Sudan’s democratic transition, staving off financial collapse, and deterring the return of military rule.
On his part, Museveni has cemented his position as the Greatlakes’ major ally of the West and laid a foundation of a stable and prosperous Sudan which can continue to serve as a huge market for Ugandan goods.
Museveni, who has in recent years embarked on an ambitious industrialization of the economy and promotion of foreign trade, is desperate for market of industrial products.
The president recently defended government’s plans to build roads in eastern DRC to ease access to a vast market in the entire Kivu area.
“Sudan accounts for up to 17 percent of Uganda’s coffee exports,” said a senior government official who preferred anonymity to speak freely.
“Sudan’s revitalized economy will boost people’s purchasing power, a situation Uganda can exploit with its industrial goods. Ugandan exporters can as well benefit from newly-built roads in Eastern DRC to access the vast market in that area and also a stable South Sudan.”
The volume of Uganda’s exports to the East African region has increased substantially in the last five years. For example, exports to Tanzania have increased from $95m in 2015 to $132m in the 2019/20 financial year.
Exports to South Sudan which dropped from almost $1bn to $284m in 2015, have grown to $403m in 2019/20 financial year, according to Bank of Uganda statistics.