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John T. Godfrey, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, was sworn in on Monday, August 22, to serve as the new U.S. Ambassador to Sudan amid civil and political instability in the north African nation. Ambassador Godfrey was nominated by President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on January 26 along with Michael Adler who was picked to be the new U.S. Ambassador to neighboring South Sudan.
Godfrey was sworn in by the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman at the U.S. Department of State in Washington D.C.
Ambassador Godfrey was recently the Acting Counterterrorism Coordinator and the Acting Special Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS in the Counterterrorism Bureau at the U.S. Department of State. Previously, he was the Principal Deputy Coordinator in the Counterterrorism Bureau and before that, the Bureau’s Deputy Coordinator for Regional and Multilateral Affairs. He has also served as Acting Deputy Chief of Mission and Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and as Chief of Staff to the Deputy Secretary of State.
Godfrey’s other assignments include serving as Arms Control Counselor to the U.S. Mission to the International Organizations in Vienna, as Deputy Political Counselor (Northern Affairs) at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, and as Political and Economic Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya. Earlier in his career, he served as Political and Economic Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan and as a Political/Consular Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, Syria. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a Master’s Degree in Middle East Studies at the University of Michigan. He speaks Arabic.
Godfrey is taking over country dealing with civil and political instability. Just five days ago, the U.S. Embassy in Sudan warned Americans in the country to pay attention to acts of civil disobedience that were expected to occur on Thursday, August 18, in the greater Khartoum area, and specifically in the vicinity of Africa St.
“This may include centralized or decentralized demonstrations, road blockages by protesters, and business closures. Unannounced protests and other acts of civil disobedience may continue to take place, in addition to larger organized protests. Security forces may close bridges,” the Embassy said in an alert.
Mid July, the United States and its European partners called on Sudan’s military to honor its commitment to withdraw from the nation’s political affairs and to bring an end to the human rights violations that are being regularly committed against civilians.
Sudanese military general and current national leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan said on July 4 that the nation’s military will withdraw from ongoing political talks and allow for a civilian-led transitional government to be formed.
“We acknowledge the stated intention of the military forces, upon agreement among civilian parties to form a transitional government, to withdraw from the political scene,” said a joint statement from the United States, United Kingdom, Norway, and European Union released in July.
Longtime Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir was ousted in 2019 via a military coup d’etat led by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. A civilian-led council was later established to govern the nation but the council was dissolved when al-Burhan led a second coup d’etat in October of 2021. Sudan has been under military control for the nine months since.
While al-Burham’s claim that Sudan will return to a civilian-led government has been received by the international community as good news, world leaders are also hesitant to blindly trust that this promise will be followed through and have called for accountability and asking that the commitment be honored.
“The military and security forces should be held to this commitment. They must also end violence against civilians and hold to account those responsible for unlawful killings and other human rights violations and abuses,” said the joint statement from the Troika and European Union.
In 2022, Sudan received a total freedom score from Freedom House of just 10 out of 100, indicating that it is heavily repressive. The organization gave Sudan a political rights score of 0 out of 40 and reports that violent human rights abuses are pervasive throughout the nation.
World leaders said they continue to encourage an open and pragmatic dialogue to transition into a democratic Sudanese government, saying in the statement that the “process must deliver an agreement that defines: a clear timeline for free and fair elections; procedures for selecting a transitional prime minister and other key officials; and a dispute resolution mechanism to help avoid future political crises.”
While it has been about nine months since the most recent military takeover of the Sudanese government, the nation’s path and transition toward democracy has been ongoing for years with plenty of challenges along the way.
The last civilian Sudanese president was in office until 2019; however, Omar al-Bashir’s regime was repressive, authoritarian, and undemocratic. His rule lasted for nearly three decades and elections, the most recent of which took place in 2015, were consistently criticized and recognized as unfair.
“A transitional government must be civilian-led, and have broad-based, nation-wide support. There must also be full clarity on, and oversight of, the military’s role and responsibilities. Such matters cannot be defined unilaterally by the military; they require dialogue and transparency to help avoid future disputes,” asserted the United States and its European partners.
While Abdel Fattah al-Burhan’s promise to return Sudan to civilian rule offers hope for the potential democratic future of the nation, leaders are justified in being skeptical and reluctant to fully trust the Sudanese general as he has not proved himself to be a proponent of democracy but rather an adversary.
“Sudanese protesters have been met with violence by government security forces including killings, enforced disappearances, torture, sexual violence against women, beatings, arrests, and detentions,” reports Human Rights Watch. Although it may claim to be transitioning toward allowing civilian-led governance, Sudan’s military led government has not demonstrated a respect for democratic ideals or human rights.