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Sudan at a Crossroads

By Yousif Yahya

On July 12, the Trump administration chose to continue easing sanctions on Sudan for three more months to closely review the country’s performance—an unsurprising move given the political turmoil in Washington and short staffing in the State Department for African issues.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was first quick to renounce the decision, ordering a halt to negotiations with the U.S., but later agreed to a Saudi request to continue pursuing the permanent lifting of economic sanctions. A joint statement, read by the Sudanese foreign minister, Ibrahim Ghandour, stated: "The president agreed to continue to communicate positively with the U.S. administration and its official agencies in the coming period, in order to ensure the permanent lift of sanctions on Sudan, in addition to removing Sudan from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism and resolving all existing problems between the two countries." 

Now that Sudan is on its way to rejoining the global community, policy-makers in Khartoum should implement policies to ensure that the average citizen will reap the fruits of global entry. While other countries develop at a fast rate, Sudan has been stuck struggling with post-colonial indemnity issues and a faltering educational system. Policy-makers should embrace the country’s position as a bridge between Africa and the Arab world, and channel resources into education and research to ensure that younger generations are able to engage in a changing global environment.   

The sanctions prohibit most business between the U.S. and Sudan—financial transactions as well as imports and exports. The financial restrictions have been particularly severe, since no foreign bank doing business in America can also do business in Sudan. Sweeping sanctions on Sudan were first imposed by President Bill Clinton in 1997 because of suspicions that Khartoum was funding international terrorism, as Osama bin Laden was permitted to live in the country’s capital as a guest of the government. In 2007, President George W. Bush slapped additional sanctions on individual state-run companies due to Sudan’s involvement in the Darfur conflict. This also led to Bashir’s indictment by the International Criminal Court, a decision Sudan and its allies dismissed as politically motivated, seeking to isolate the president and his government. While the sanctions have seriously damaged the Sudanese economy, flawed government policies have turned the situation from bad to worse.

Over the past two decades of attempting to appease the international community to get the sanctions lifted, the Sudanese government has neglected its domestic duties, implementing Band-Aid solutions instead of addressing the more deeply rooted causes. Unemployment has been on the rise, and the education and health-care systems are deteriorating. The country has the location, human capital, and natural resources it needs to become a regional powerhouse, but lacks the visionary leadership that can unearth its potential.

When the current government came into power, it took a pro-Arab, nationalist, Islamist approach, neglecting Sudan’s African heritage and complicating analysis of the country’s political and social conditions. The current situation in Sudan is incredibly complex. The fighting in the Nuba Mountains along the border with South Sudan is not the result of an ethnic divide, as it is often portrayed, but a political one. The Sudanese government is fighting a war against the Sudan People's Liberation Movement–North (SPLM-N), which is seeking regime change in Khartoum and was a faction of the Sudanese Liberation Movement currently in power in South Sudan. Sudan encompasses the lifestyles, traditions, and ideals of nearly 580 ethnic groups, speaking 145 distinct languages. There isn't one single ethnic or religious group that is marginalized; the majority of the Sudanese people are marginalized. Anyone unconnected to the political process has found themselves on the sidelines.

Twenty years after sanctions were first imposed, geopolitical realities have pushed the U.S. and Europe to cooperate with Sudan on issues ranging from counterterrorism to human trafficking. Sudan is also vital to the peace process in South Sudan, the on-going efforts to stabilize Libya, and the Saudi-led collation in Yemen. 

The new U.S. administration’s decision to shut down the war crimes unit in the State Department suggests that the sanctions on Sudan will be lifted October, since the original opposition to lifting the sanctions cited allegations of human rights violations. Aside from these issues, the U.S. government has little stopping it from actively re-engaging with Sudan.

That said, the Sudanese government still needs to closely examine its policies to ensure a successful re-entry to the global community. The country’s neglect of education and limits on political freedoms forced mass migration of its top talents, causing a skill and knowledge gap in finance, technology, and science research, all of which are needed to revitalize the economy. The talent that remained was often neglected in favor of competitive Chinese contracts. 

While the global community is embracing changes to adapt to the fourth industrial revolution, Sudan is strugglng to realize its first. The country must reconstruct its educational, economic, and health policies to ensure a productive future for younger generations. Policy-makers and business leaders will have to come together to address these issues so as not to be left behind once again. Now that the sanctions are on the verge of being lifted, Sudan needs an inclusive, long-term vision that will allow the country to leap forward.

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Yousif Yahya is a former research assistant at the World Policy Institute.

[Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy]

 

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