In late 2020, after more than 27 years, Sudan was finally removed from the list of states that sponsor terrorism by the United States under the Trump administration. This was done in what many see as in exchange for Sudan’s agreement to normalize ties with the State of Israel.
The condemning classification was given to the East African country following the support of former Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir and the political architect that had brought him to power, Hassan Al-Turabi — to Osama Bin Laden, the world’s most notorious perpetrator of terrorism, and providing him with asylum in Sudan.
Yet while Al Bashir supported Bin Laden and hosted him in the country in the pre-9/11 days, the general population harbored little support for Bin Laden or Bashir. This was demonstrated in the multiple coups that took place following Bashir’s usurping of power back in 1989, with the first attempted only months after his stake in power. Bashir’s 30-year reign saw oppression and ruthless violence, most apparent in the Western Sudanese state of Darfur and in the Nuba mountains, where he inflicted pain and suffering with the assistance of the infamous Janjaweed—horseback riding ethnic Arab fighters who killed, raped, and burned to the ground all non-Arab villages in the multicultural nation.
Bashir’s 30-year reign saw oppression and ruthless violence, most apparent in the Western Sudanese state of Darfur and in the Nuba mountains.
Without a doubt, the violence of the Bashir regime cannot be underestimated, and the nation is still healing from the deep trauma his regime perpetuated. Yet an equally entrenched trauma that Sudan is trying to combat comes from the long-imposed US economic sanctions.
One of the biggest foreign policy mistakes of the United States has been the use of sanctions to cox governments into surrendering to the will of the international community. This has been utilized notoriously in Cuba, North Korea, and Iran. But sanctions are only effective and appropriate when they can clearly target the government in question. In most cases, sanctions harm citizens far more than the government itself. No place was this more apparent than in Sudan.
In my years of working on and off in Sudan since 2016 in my humanitarian diplomatic capacity, I have had the unique opportunity to witness first-hand the adverse effects of sanctions on the country. The capital Khartoum, though exciting and lively, lacks adequate roads and sustainable infrastructure, as seen with the dozens of half-built buildings and numerous potholes in the dusty roads. While already an extremely poor country, sanctions prevented any aid from reaching the whole country as it could only be allocated for relief in Darfur due to the ongoing conflict.
During my time coordinating development programs in many of the hospitals where I worked and visited in Khartoum and El Obeid in North Kordofan state, I noticed how the lack of adequate funds meant many doctors had to preform crucial services – such as ultrasounds – on antiquated machinery that made imagery difficult to capture. Lack of access to development funds meant lack of adequate public services for many vulnerable populations, especially in the rural areas.
I recall how doctors had voluntarily donated 10 percent of their salary to a funding pool in order to support medical training and purchase new equipment from their only source – China.
I recall how doctors had voluntarily donated 10 percent of their salary to a funding pool in order to support medical training and purchase new equipment from their only source – China. And this was 10 percent from a public hospital salary, which is so low that almost all doctors have to work a second job in private practice to make ends meet – in many cases, working from 7:00 AM to midnight, six days a week.
Considering this, I was surprised how in a city as dust filled and economically distressed as Khartoum, an oasis of greenery was surrounding the Presidential palace, which was then the home of Al Bashir. The roads surrounding the palace were paved and adorned with lush palm trees and even a watered lawn.
If sanctions were meant to hurt the nation, it was doing so in the wrong places. Therefore, with the recent removal of Sudan from the odious list of terrorist sponsors and sanctions lifted, it is high time for the US and international community to assist in the emergence of a new Sudan, from the pits of underdevelopment caused by such a punishing policy. This would help usher in development and business that can further aid in the country’s growth, and there are multiple ways to go about it.
Global Collaboration for Development
The Sudanese have long been waiting wearily for the lifting of sanctions and removal from the list of terrorist sponsors, which had prohibited aid and development in the country. Yet now that this has been done, the US should seek to establish collaboration and a forum for partnership to help Sudan tackle key developmental needs. From healthcare to education and sustainable infrastructure, the US can help champion Sudan to gain a seat in talks aimed at advancing key development priorities in the continent.
This should be done in a transparent and fair way, which seeks to foster sustainability and capacity building – not a pseudo imperialistic indebtment to the US, something many aid agencies, including USAID, have been accused of. Sudan should be seen as a potential partner worth investing in and a possible ally for the US within the region.
Due to years of sanctions, the most dominate actor in Sudan – as in many African countries as of late – has been China. Yet engagement with China was never out of choice but rather necessity.
With sanctions lifted, this can be an opportunity for the US to work with the Sudanese government to attract US-based investors and business to the country to create jobs and partnerships that can lead to exponential economic growth. USAID agencies such as Prosper Africa are an excellent case in point, as they look to bring US companies and investors to the African continent as well and help bring African businesses and investors to the US to foster mutual sustainable development. Highlighting Sudan for investment and commercial opportunities via this channel could truly help lead Sudan to its rightful place in the global economy and allow it to advance with the rest of the African continent.
Aiding in Transitional Justice
While investment and business development are crucial for Sudan’s economic growth, healing the deep wounds inflicted by the previous regime is vital for the country’s social and emotional growth. From the trauma caused during the conflict in Darfur to the injustices and repression during the uprising in late 2018, transitional justice dialogue is important for Sudan to move on. The US could be a crucial facilitator in bringing experts and task forces together to launch a program that can foster discussions around the atrocities committed and lead to healing.
A US-backed Sudanese tribunal that looks into the suffering inflicted on citizens and engages with them in reconciliatory justice efforts could lead the country toward unified advancement.
Much in the style of the Rwandan gacacha courts following the 1994 genocide, a US-backed Sudanese tribunal that looks into the suffering inflicted on citizens and engages with them in reconciliatory justice efforts could lead the country toward unified advancement. This is essential for Sudan, which has isolated its citizens from the atrocities committed throughout the country. Indeed, it wasn’t until 2018 that many residents of Khartoum learned of the crimes done to fellow citizens in Darfur or in the Nuba mountain. Thus, engaging the country collectively can help heal the widespread social trauma.
For years, Sudan has been subjugated under harsh sanctions in retaliation for the actions of a callous dictator, whose brutal acts reflected little of the desires of the people. Sadly, the West has crippled Sudan, through sanctions and other penalizing measures, without actually affecting the leadership they sought to punish. It’s now imperative that the US especially works with Sudan to bring it back into the fold of the international community.