US sanctions on Sudan under the spotlight

Sanctions were imposed to stop Sudan from sponsoring ‘terrorism’, but many say the measures hurt ordinary people.

Sudanese protest longstanding US sanctions on country
Sudanese children hold a banner reading 'Lift the injustice' during a protest against US sanctions in Khartoum last month [EPA]

Khartoum, Sudan – After an official week-long visit to Sudan to study the effect of sanctions placed on the country, United Nations Special Rapporteur Idriss Jazairy has concluded that the measures are harming ordinary people. 

The visit, which took place at the request of the Sudanese government, came weeks after the United States renewed its sanctions on Sudan for another year, from November 3. 

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“The reality on the ground has proved that these measures do not have a negative impact on officials or on any elite group,” Jazairy said in a statement after his visit. “Their full impact is on innocent citizens and on a deepening of the gap in income distribution within the Sudanese society and between provinces… This encourages the emergence of a parallel economy which was exposed to a variety of possible illegal practices.”

In 1993, the US designated Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism – a distinction currently shared by just two other countries, Iran and Syria. As a result, the US imposed economic sanctions on Sudan, including certain restrictions on financial transactions.

Then, in 1997, former US President Bill Clinton issued an executive order that imposed a comprehensive trade embargo on Sudan and froze its government’s assets in the US. In 2006, Clinton’s successor, George W Bush, issued another executive order targeting those involved in the conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region.

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Alden Young, an assistant professor of history and Africana Studies at Drexel University in the US, said that the sanctions imposed during the Clinton administration, and Bush’s declaration that the world was divided between allies of the US and its enemies, has made the Sudan “supportive of US foreign policy in Africa – from counterterrorism to support of US allies in the region, such as Saudi Arabia”.

He added that the Sudanese government’s “desire to reduce the government and society’s isolation may even have encouraged the NCP [Sudan’s ruling party] and its supporters to allow the partition of Sudan into Sudan and South Sudan. However, it is doubtful if sanctions alone have been able to force the government in Khartoum to do things that the regime did not want to do.”

The sanctions absolutely serve the purpose of pressuring the government into changing some of its policies.

by Mastoor Ahmed Mohammed, Sudanese Congress Party

The US has exempted some Sudanese groups from the sanctions, especially those that work in agriculture, health education, publishing, and personal hardware and software products.

Al Jazeera was not able to reach the public affairs and political and economic section of the US embassy in Khartoum for comment, despite repeated attempts.

Recently, a charity organisation named Sadagaat was granted a special license from the US treasury department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to receive money transfers directly from the US. The move surprised some in Sudan because Sadagaat is a charity with Islamic roots, and operates internationally as well as in Sudan.

“The OFAC license allows for the transfer of $50,000 for specific approved projects,” said Mohammed Abd Alrahman, a spokesperson for the organisation, which has been active since 2002. Sadagaat provides food and medical aid to vulnerable members of society, and runs a home taking care of abandoned infants born out of wedlock.

Despite occasional exemptions, though, “the large portion of the sanctions remains in place, and it affects citizens as well”, said Khalid Saad, editor-in-chief of Ilaf, a weekly newspaper that focuses on economic issues. “The Sudanese economy is hugely dependent on the service sector that is affected by the sanctions.”

Saad said the sanctions have also forced many Sudanese to open bank accounts in nearby countries in order to make money transfers. For example, he noted that Western Union forbids the transfer of money by Sudanese nationals to non-Sudanese nationals, unless the latter is a spouse or a supervising academic professor.

Yassir Mahdi is one of those affected by the restrictions. “My late father worked for the IATA [International Air Transport Association], and in order to receive his pension, which is transferred from Montreal, we had to set up a bank account in Dubai,” Mahdi said.

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Rabie Abd Alaatie, a member of the NCP’s leadership office, said the sanctions have also affected Sudan’s imports. “The foreign currency reserve is very scarce due to the sanctions. This affects the importation of goods, sometimes vital commodities such as wheat,” he explained.

“The comprehensive trade embargo is the set of measures which are affecting the lives of the Sudanese citizens. They have so far not been able to serve the purpose of modifying the policies of the government of Sudan, but have for sure affected many regular people’s ability to conduct business, transfer money, and go about regular everyday life activities,” Abd Alaatie said.


He also blames sanctions for the national airline’s decline. “Spare parts for aircraft cannot be bought,” said Abd Alaatie, adding that they also force Sudanese passengers to pay higher airfares.

However, some opposition groups have a different take on the sanctions’ effects. Mastoor Ahmed Mohammed of the Sudanese Congress Party said that although sanctions have made monetary transactions more difficult, “the sanctions absolutely serve the purpose of pressuring the government into changing some of its policies, and if lifted, the government and companies owned by the government … will benefit more than any regular citizen”.

Although Young agrees that the sanctions have succeeded in altering Sudan’s regional and international policies, he said they have also “imposed very heavy costs on the ordinary citizens of Sudan, particularly the middle classes in Khartoum, by denying them the ability to make international banking transactions and significantly raising the transaction costs of performing ordinary economic transactions as part of the international economy”.

Source: Al Jazeera