By Tom Shacklock (Originally published in Current Affairs, Issue 24 November 2017)
Economic sanctions from abroad are doubly painful for civilians that already face oppression from their government. But it can also be doubly relieving when sanctions are lifted for a governments’ improved treatment of its people. Sudan is the latest example of such a transition. It has endured economic sanctions from Washington since 1997 for supporting global terrorism, violating human rights and interfering with neighbouring countries’ politics. Its citizens have borne the brunt of isolated business on top of the violence, ethnic cleansing and genocide that led to the sanctions. This October, Sudan made the headlines for having been freed of those sanctions, twenty years later.
The different presidents to have taken office in the White House have modified these sanctions on Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, to various degrees. It was Bill Clinton who first introduced them in 1997, while George W. Bush tightened them in 2006, further targeting individuals involved in Sudan’s conflicts. Barak Obama then decided, at the end of his presidency in January 2017, to water down these sanctions, promising that Trump’s administration would have them completely lifted. Obama’s promise has finally been fulfilled by his successor.
Decades of chaos
The misery that the Sudanese have lived through has been severe. The North-East African country had already been through a civil war, mainly concerning the south, since 1985, a conflict which continued until 2005. (South Sudan since became an independent country in 2011). In 1989, Omar Hassan al-Bashir became President following a coup d’état and has remained in this position to the present day. Since his succession, he has created so much misery in Sudan that he faces arrest warrants from the International Criminal Court. The main reasons for Bill Clinton’s sanctions in 1997 were that Sudan’s government was supporting such terrorist groups as al-Qaida, as well as abusing human rights at home. Following the implementation of these sanctions, Sudan had other problems on the horizon. In 2003, war broke out in the Darfur region, when the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (Jem) accused Khartoum of oppressing black Africans while favouring Arabs. Al-Bashir denied connections with the Janjaweed, the Arab militia driving black Africans out of the region. This was in spite of the Janjaweed attacks that coincidentally followed government air raids, reported by refugees, which raise suspicions of a shared agenda between the two parties. This conflict has been classed as a genocide, where there have been additional accusations of ethnic cleansing. According the UN, it led to 300,000 deaths and 2.7m civilians fleeing for refuge. This is but a snapshot of the bloodshed the Sudanese have experienced. Conflict has also touched regions like the Blue Nile and South Kordofan.
Where’s the progress?
Obama’s promise to lift sanctions was made on several conditions: improved counterterrorism cooperation with the US and curbed violence in Darfur and other regions, to mention a few. Sudan has made progress with counterterrorism, leading Trump to remove Sudan from the list for his travel ban. There is also, now, better access for humanitarian aid to distressed regions. However, although regional conflicts with the government have calmed down, they are not fully over. There is also still the issue of terrorist sponsorship (the government has only demonstrated progress in its intelligence service cooperating with the US.)
Nonetheless, Al-Bashir’s compliance with the international community means new opportunities for his impoverished citizens. There are new hopes for foreign investments in the car and banking industries, and more opportunities could continue to arise. Despite their recent memories being ones of grief, the Sudanese can finally look to the future with optimism.