The United States permanently lifted sanctions against Sudan last month in a move to acknowledge the positive changes its made regarding terrorism and human rights. The new policy is meant to encourage additional changes and comes after a 20-year trade embargo originally imposed during the Clinton era. In response, the Corporate Council of Africa has already organized a trade mission to Sudan later this year and further trade possibilities are being explored.
Sanctions were originally placed on Sudan in 1997 after it was accused of harboring terrorists in its capital city of Khartoum. Sanctions were renewed in 2007 after its president, Omar al-Bashir, was accused of authorizing genocide in the region of Darfur.
The country is still recovering from its violent history as well as the economic blow it took when South Sudan declared its independence in 2011, taking with it three quarters of the country’s oil production. The conflicts in the Darfur region, Southern Kordofan province and the Blue Nile states have left nearly half of the population below the poverty line and 80% relying on subsistence agriculture for a living.
However, Sudan is an interesting geopolitical position. The country lies in eastern Africa on the border of North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, and across the Red Sea from Saudi Arabia. Both Israel and Saudi Arabia have pushed for the U.S. to reestablish ties with Sudan, in an effort to draw the Sudanese away from Iran. The sanctions lift is said to also include a commitment from Sudan to not pursue an arms deal with North Korea, with which it has traded weapons in the past.
The Sudanese are in desperate need of imports. The national air carrier, Sudan Airways, has only one working airplane. Hundreds of factories have shut down due to the inability to purchase spare parts and access foreign markets. Hospitals lack modern, life-saving medical equipment. The people most heavily impacted by the two decades of sanctions are the common people, which is one reason U.S. officials deemed it appropriate to lift them.
The new policy took effect on October 12 and the country is looking to capitalize on the reforms by looking for additional sources of investment. According to the New York Times, China, India and Malaysia have already invested in Sudan. The lifting of sanctions also means that Sudan can finally plug into the international banking system and receive remittances from its countrymen abroad.
The country is working to improve the business climate and develop non-oil industries. Sudan is the world’s largest exporter of Arabic gum and opened its first gold refinery in 2012.
Growth in non-oil industries and a temporary lifting of sanctions in January are primarily responsible for the economy’s expansion by 3.4% in 2017 and an estimated 3.6% expansion in 2018 according to the African Development Bank.
Sudan’s tourism may even receive a boost, especially considering it has twice as many pyramids, albeit smaller, yet more accessible, than neighboring Egypt.
The ban on Sudanese citizens traveling to the U.S. has been lifted as well. But not all sanctions have been removed. Sudan remains on the short list of state sponsors of terrorism, along with Syria and Iran. This designation results in a ban on U.S. defense exports, certain dual use items, restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance and other financial restrictions.
For now, U.S. officials hope a policy of relief, rather than punishment, brings about more changes in the country.