Only diplomatic engagement can improve conditions in Sudan

Only diplomatic engagement can improve conditions in Sudan

On Oct. 12, the U.S. government is expected to announce the conclusion of its review of whether Sudan has fulfilled its commitments under a comprehensive engagement plan that provided a road map for U.S.-Sudan relations over the past two years. A positive decision will lift those U.S. economic sanctions that President Obama suspended in January.

I understand that some in the United States are distrustful of Sudan in light of what has happened in the past. All should recognize, however, that there has been significant improvement in U.S.-Sudan relations as a result of this diplomatic process, and important milestones have been achieved for the people of Sudan and the over one million South Sudanese now taking refuge in Darfur from the tribal warfare and famine that has gripped their new country.


Some of that progress includes:


  • Sudan is now an important U.S. partner in countering the Islamic State, al Qaeda, and other terrorist threats.
  • Sudan declared a six-month ceasefire in the conflict in Darfur and other conflict regions in January. It extended the ceasefire for another six months in early July. This ceasefire has been respected and has led to significant abatement of hostilities.
  • Sudan has accepted a U.S. proposal to support humanitarian assistance in the conflict areas.
  • Sudan maintains an open-door asylum policy that allows South Sudanese refugees to remain in Sudan and enjoy the same rights as Sudanese citizens. Sudan has accepted over 365,000 registered South Sudanese refugees, including more than 60,000 South Sudanese in the first three months of 2017.  Unregistered refugees are estimated to exceed over one million.
  • Sudan has opened four humanitarian corridors to facilitate the World Food Programme’s transport of food assistance to South Sudan, and has agreed to a recent U.S. Agency for International Development recommendation to open additional corridors
  • Sudan has allowed the release of food assistance at Port Sudan and its subsequent transportation to South Sudan. Sudan has donated food from its own food reserves to South Sudan. 

Additionally, lifting U.S. sanctions provides an opportunity to improve the lives of Sudanese citizens, many of whom face enormous obstacles as an unintended result of sanctions. The unintended consequences of U.S. sanctions include the inability to obtain life-saving medical equipment, spare parts for aging aircraft, and educational materials, all of which harm average Sudanese citizens, not the government.

Another unintended impact of sanctions has been the impediment they pose for humanitarian assistance, which requires a functioning payment system. Because of U.S. sanctions, Sudanese banks have been unable to find correspondent banks to process international transactions and have resorted to moving money in cash. Even humanitarian aid organizations have been forced to conduct legitimate business using dangerously large amounts of U.S. dollars in cash, due to the restrictions. Obviously, this makes it harder to control money laundering and monitor illicit finance flows, exactly the opposite of the intended result.

This progress will be jeopardized if sanctions are not lifted. Failure to recognize Sudan’s progress would put at risk the existing level of robust engagement, making it difficult to cooperate on additional areas of mutual interest for the foreseeable future. In contrast, successful engagement with Sudan could yield real dividends by increasing the United States’ leverage to work with Sudan to bring about broader reforms and continued restraint in regional conflicts.

U.S. engagement with Sudan has had multiple benefits for U.S. interests, the region, and the people of Sudan, and revocation of the sanctions lifted in January will encourage continued cooperation. Because a number of other sanctions remain in place, the United States has continuing leverage to encourage further progress in improving human rights, promoting religious freedom, and other areas.

The Oct. 12 decision will present a key opportunity for the United States to rethink its relationship with Sudan. Sudan is a wonderful country, its people are pro-American, and it offers stability in a very dangerous region of the world.  The American and Sudanese people will only benefit from sustaining the great progress that has been made and in continuing to move forward together.

Fadi Salim Al Faqih (@FadiFaqih) is the CEO of the Bank of Khartoum, Sudan’s largest bank.