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.

June 5 event — Sudan after the Sanctions


  • 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).

Related Publications

How Art Helped Propel Sudan’s Revolution

How Art Helped Propel Sudan’s Revolution

Thursday, November 12, 2020

By: Elizabeth Murray

During Sudan’s 2019 revolution—as people mobilized across the country with tactics including sit-ins, marches, boycotts, and strikes—artists helped capture the country’s discontent and solidify protesters’ resolve. In particular, artists became an integral part of the months-long sit-in at the military headquarters in Khartoum, which was known as the heart of the revolution until it was violently dispersed by paramilitary forces on June 3, 2019. This immense expression of creativity was both a result of loosening restrictions on freedom of expression and, at the same time, a catalyst for further change.

Type: Blog

Nonviolent Action

Normalizing Sudan-Israel Relations Now is a Dangerous Game

Normalizing Sudan-Israel Relations Now is a Dangerous Game

Thursday, September 24, 2020

By: Payton Knopf; Jeffrey Feltman

With the UAE and Bahrain having joined Egypt and Jordan in declaring peace with Israel, those asking “who’s next?” often look enthusiastically westward, toward Khartoum. Adding new chapters to the Abraham Accords is in the U.S. interest, but so is a successful transition in Sudan. And the sequence of these steps is critical. A unified Sudanese government with a popular mandate will be better able to forge a warm and sustainable peace with Israel, whereas a rushed Israeli-Sudanese agreement has the potential to unravel Sudan’s transition and generate renewed support for Sudan’s Islamists and their foreign backers.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & Governance; Global Policy

China’s Response to Sudan’s Political Transition

China’s Response to Sudan’s Political Transition

Friday, May 8, 2020

By: Laura Barber

Sudan's decades-long economic relationship with China has almost always been dominated by oil. Yet this relationship has changed significantly in the past decade—first with the loss of oil reserves when South Sudan became an independent nation in 2011, and more recently due to the ouster of longtime ally President Omar al-Bashir. This report, based on interviews with policy officials, diplomats, industry and security experts, and others, examines China’s evolving commercial and political interests in this vital nation in the Horn of Africa.

Type: Special Report

Conflict Analysis & Prevention

View All Publications