Rep. Omar calls for ceasefire in Sudan, discusses U.S. involvement

Ilhan Omar
Rep. Ilhan Omar speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Jan. 25.
Manuel Balce Ceneta | AP

Thousands of Americans are trying to leave the fighting in Sudan, while hundreds of British civilians made it back this evening on a flight to the UK during a 72-hour ceasefire.

There are reports of continued fighting despite the temporary ceasefire that was brokered by the U.S.

One of the people calling for a permanent ceasefire is Minnesota U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar. The 5th district DFLer started a U.S.-Africa working group earlier this year. She talked to host Tom Crann on All Things Considered about it.

Hear the full interview using the audio player above, or read a transcript of it below. Both have been lightly edited for clarity and length. 

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR News is Member supported public media. Show your support today, donate, and ensure access to local news and in-depth conversations for everyone.

What do you think the next step the U.S. should take on this front is right now?

I think that the United States should continue to call for a ceasefire. We need a lasting ceasefire. And it's going to be really important for the United States to also push for negotiations to take place between generals Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemedti.

What's happening in Sudan is completely devastating. And it will be disastrous for a region that is already experiencing a lot of hostilities. If the current hostility in Sudan is not put under control … we're already seeing hundreds of civilians die.

We've seen Americans who have lost their lives. There were three World Food Program workers that were killed and many others that were injured. We continue to hear from constituents that are seeking evacuation and families in Minnesota's fifth district that are looking to connect with them. This situation is something that the United States can be impactful in.

Do you see the U.S. being a leader there? Or do you think it should come from the countries that surround Sudan primarily?

I do think that there is, you know, initiative that could be taken by countries like Kenya and Uganda and others that have already initiated some conversations and are showing some leadership. It's important to encourage to give whatever resources it is that they need in order to be able to extract some some leverage in attempting these negotiations.

But the United States, again, like I said, has a huge role in calling the international community to come together to get involved to make this facility die down because the people of Sudan truly need peace.

They've been fighting against dictatorship for a really long time. There was a moment of hope where they had civilian transition into civilian governance. And then there was a coup. There was supposed to be a promise for civilian government to take place and for negotiations through election to happen that night.

I know that people in these kinds of conflicts, as I was one, never lose hope. So we have to continue to make sure that the support is there. And voices continue to be loud in calling for justice and for peace to prevail there.

You were removed from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, tell us what you feel you still can do to influence policy here.

There's still a lot of spaces, you know, within the Foreign Affairs community, whether it's on the Hill or in D.C., and around the world that continue to engage with us and ask for our advice on how to move forward, this being one of those cases.

We continue to show our leadership, our depth of understanding and how important our perspective is, in pushing for a more peaceful world.

You're chairing a new Africa policy working group in the House. I'm wondering, what does that group hope to accomplish on this front?

The work of the working group that we established is really to have more concrete conversations that you normally can't have in a committee hearing, or in a briefing. And to be able to share ideas, to consult with partners on the continent and folks that are doing work here in Washington.

It's been going well, we've got a lot of the African ambassadors who have engaged with us, we have a lot of NGOs that are doing work on the ground that have engaged with us.

We've garnered a lot of interest from our colleagues here in Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, who are very much interested in digging deep into African policy around the African continent because many of them understand that in order for us to have meaningful impact in that policy, we have to see Africa as a partner, and develop more coherent foreign policy on the continent.

What is your message to members of the African diaspora here in Minnesota and in your district?

If anyone has a family member that is stuck in Sudan, our office is ready to help. Please reach out to us and we will be able to find a path out for your loved ones. My second message is to not lose hope. We will continue to push for ceasefire and we will continue to push forward for just transition and we will continue to push for accountability. It's going to be really important for Congress and everyone to play a role in the transitioning to civilian governance.

I'm wondering when you see President Biden and his administration on international issues like this, are you happy with the way he's handling this?

It's been really interesting to see the work that's getting done. Unfortunately, it's not being fruitful, but their persistence in calling for ceasefire, their persistence on wanting to bring both groups to the table to start negotiations and saying they are confident that they can influence the situation is providing confidence, as I alluded to earlier. A lot of African partners might ultimately have the leverage that's needed to bring this conflict to an end.