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Economic sanctions from abroad are doubly painful for civilians already facing oppression from their government. However, it can also be doubly relieving when sanctions are lifted for a government’s improved treatment towards 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 businesses, on top of the violence, ethnic cleansing and genocide that led to the sanctions. This October, Sudan made the headlines for being freed of those sanctions, twenty years later.
Different presidents who have taken office in the White House have modified these sanctions towards Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, at different lengths. It was Bill Clinton who first introduced them in 1997, while in 2006 George W. Bush tightened them, further targeting individuals involved in Sudan’s conflicts. Barack 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 in has been severe. The North-East African country had already been in a civil war since 1985, a conflict which mainly concerned the south and continued until 2005. (South Sudan since became an independent country in 2011). In 1989 there was a coup d’état, where Omar Hassan al-Bashir became President and has remained so to the present day. Since his succession, he has created enough misery in Sudan to face arrest warrants from the International Criminal Court. The main reason for Bill Clinton’s sanctions in 1997 was 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 oppression towards black Africans and favouring Arabs. Al-Bashir denied connections with the Janjaweed, the Arab militia driving black Africans out of the region. He’d therefore have to explain the Janjaweed attacks that coincidentally followed government air raids, reported by refugees. This conflict has been classed as a genocide, with accusations of ethnic cleansing. According the UN, it led to 300,000 deaths and 2.7 million 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 including improved counterterrorism cooperation with the US and curbed violence in Darfur and other regions. 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 Sudanese 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 of foreign investments for the car and banking industries, and further opportunities are expected to arise. Despite their recent memories being ones of grief, the Sudanese are can finally look to the future with optimism.
The UoB Linguist Magazine
Guild of Students,
University of Birmingham