In October 2017, the United States lifted a wide range of economic sanctions that had been in place against Sudan for two decades. Aly Verjee, a visiting expert at the United States Institute of Peace, recently interviewed roughly 50 Sudanese—including students, business owners, doctors, laborers, activists, and others outside the government-connected elite—on what this first step in the normalization of relations between Sudan and the United States might mean for the future of their country.
- Twenty years of comprehensive U.S. economic sanctions on Sudan were permanently revoked in October 2017, after the U.S. government deemed Sudan to have made progress in five key areas. The United States continues to designate Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism, preventing a broader normalization of relations.
- While the lifting of sanctions was welcomed by most Sudanese interviewed for this report, the deteriorating economy, government repression, and failure to resolve Sudan’s multiple conflicts have overshadowed the U.S. overture.
- Furthermore, Sudan’s economic crisis has led to skepticism about the effectiveness of sanctions relief. Most interviewees feel the process that led to the lifting of sanctions lacked transparency and did not sufficiently involve or inform Sudanese outside the government-connected elite.
- Many respondents feel disappointed by the limited U.S. action in response to recent government repression and lack confidence that the United States will hold Sudanese authorities accountable for violations of human rights and the rule of law, maintaining presidential term limits in the constitution, and holding credible elections in 2020.
- Given the US interest in counterterrorism and countering violent extremism, some respondents believe the government of Sudan exaggerates its knowledge of terrorist activities as a means of proving its usefulness to the United States.
- Overall, Sudanese perceptions of the goals of the United States in its relations with Sudan diverge from the intentions expressed by the US government. This indicates a significant communications and public diplomacy deficit, which detracts from U.S. objectives and limits the ability of Sudanese citizens to hold their own government to account.
About the Report
Drawing on fieldwork and interviews conducted in January and February 2018, a few months after U.S. economic sanctions on Sudan were permanently lifted, this report examines the perceptions and hopes of Sudanese citizens for future relations between Sudan and the United States. Research for this report was supported by the Middle East and Africa Center at the United States Institute of Peace.
About the Author
Aly Verjee is a visiting expert at the United States Institute of Peace and a fellow of the Rift Valley Institute. He lived in Sudan from 2005 to 2011 and is the author of several publications, including “New North, Old North: The Republic of Sudan after the Split,” a chapter in Sudan after Separation: New Approaches to a New Region, published by the Heinrich Böll Foundation (2012).