On December 14, the Trump administration delivered a Christmas present to Sudan. Sudan was officially removed from the US list of State Sponsors of Terrorism.
“State Sponsor of Terrorism” refers to a designation that the United States gives to countries that have provided assistance to terrorist groups. Currently, the list contains three countries: North Korea, Iran, and Syria. Sudan received this designation in 1993 for providing a “safe haven” to Osama bin Laden, the founder of the terrorist organization al-Qaeda, from 1991-1996.
Osama bin Laden organized two almost simultaneous bombings of US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on August 7, 1998. A truck with two thousand pounds of T.N.T. shattered the Nairobi embassy, killing two hundred and thirteen people including twelve Americans, and injuring thousands of others. The attack at the Dar es Salaam embassy killed eleven and injured eighty-five people.
In exchange for delisting Sudan, the NPR reports, “the Sudanese government agreed to pay $335 million in compensation to the victims of the terrorist attacks, and separately it agreed to normalize ties with Israel.”
Sudan is currently in the depths of an economic crisis. The country holds more than sixty billion dollars in foreign debt, and the people struggle to pay for the rising costs of basic necessities. Inflation rose up to an annual two hundred and thirty percent in October and its currency has weakened. Steve Hanke, a hyperinflation specialist at Johns Hopkins University, placed Sudan among the five countries with the highest inflation.
One couple expressed, “Right now in Sudan, we’re living through the worst condition. People have nothing left but to cry. If my child gets sick it’s just God who will help.”
Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, previous government subsidies of fuel, and printing of money to finance budget deficits, Sudan’s gross domestic product (G.D.P.) shrunk by more than two percent in both 2018 and 2019 and is expected to fall another eight and a half percent in 2020.
The current devastation is largely due to the poor handling of the economy under the previous President, Omar al-Bashir, the longest-serving president since Sudan gained independence in 1956.
During his presidency, South Sudan became an independent state after the twenty-one-year civil war, taking three-quarters of the country’s oil with it. As a result, Sudan’s economy began to decline. His protection of bin Laden brought U.S. economic sanctions on the country, and his role in the war crimes in the 2013 genocide in Darfur killed three hundred thousand civilians while also leaving many victims of terror.
Although the International Criminal Court has already issued international arrest warrants, Mr. Bashir continued to win the elections of 2010 and 2015, leaving him as the only active leader of a nation wanted by the I.C.C. He also sent thousands of Sudanese soldiers to fight in foreign wars such as the civil war in Yemen. Finally, prosecutors found a large sum of foreign currency at his home.
Facing these charges of corruption, abuse, and mismanagement, the military removed him from power after months of protests in April 2019. The country hopes for elections in two years, while a military-civilian government rules the country in the meantime.
The protesters express their hope for more reform. Elsamawal Alshafee, a thirty-two-year-old salesman, calls for a purely civilian government, affirming, “We want a real democracy, with real freedom and human rights.” Similarly, twenty-seven-year-old doctor Sara Elnour declared, “We will continue our revolution until our goals have been achieved.”
While the path towards democracy remains fragile, analysts suggest that getting off the list is an essential step for economic recovery and strengthens the transitional government before the Sudanese lose heart on the potential hope and success that the revolution initiated.
Not only can Sudan now rejoin the international community, the Sudanese government also hopes that delisting will bring opportunities for foreign investments and loans from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
As the transitional Prime Minister who took office in August 2019, stated, “It’s a long way. It needs serious planning and hard work to achieve the maximum benefit of this opportunity.”
Besides ousting al-Bashir, Sudan has made other signs of progress in the past year to obtain improved relations with the United States and no more sanctions. In 2019, Sudan announced the closing of the offices of Hamas and Hezbollah, two groups that the US considers a terrorist organization. While Hamas and Hezbollah have not operated in the country recently, the 2018 State Department Country Assessment on Terrorism wrote that the formal closures symbolize Sudan’s commitment “to work with the United States on counterterrorism.”
As another sign of diplomacy, the two countries agreed to exchange ambassadors last December for the first time in twenty-three years. Sudan appointed its envoy to the United States in early 2020, and the US also plans to follow through soon.
In addition, Sudan and Israel have “agreed to begin economic and trade relations, with an initial focus on agriculture” and “work together to build a better future and advance the cause of peace in the region,” according to a joint statement from the two countries and the US.
Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok summarized the improvements as a liberation from the “global blockade the behavior of the ousted regime had forced upon us.”
May the liberation sustain Sudan.
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