Businessmen, shop owners, and Sudanese expats are desperate to finally ditch 20 years of US sanctions.
Sudanese residents were cautiously optimistic after the United States lifted decades-old sanctions against the country, but questions remained over how the decision would translate into daily life.
The financial sanctions had put limits on international banking transactions and the exchange of technology and spare parts, and imposed other trade rules that stymied growth and left hundreds of Sudanese factories shuttered. Washington’s decision could open up cash flows for some of Sudan’s poorest residents.
“This is an important step for positive progress in relations with the US to build on for future engagement. It allows for a return to international financial institutions and inclusion once more in the global network of business. Grants and loans could be facilitated,” Manzool Asal, an economics lecturer at the University of Khartoum, told Al Jazeera.
“Investors will lose much of the inhibition they had about getting involved in mega-projects in Sudan for fear of seclusion and lack of ability to transfer funds out and into the country. Transfers will occur easily now, to and from the entire world,” he added, noting that the resumption of international flights to Sudan was also a step forward, although “it will take some time before [the benefits of sanctions relief] translates into regular folks’ lives”.
Washington on Friday announced plans to lift its embargo against Sudan, ending the African country’s two decades of isolation from world markets that have hobbled its $96bn annual economy.
US Department of State spokeswoman Heather Nauert said that 16 months of diplomacy persuaded Sudan to “improve humanitarian access” across the country and to help address “regional conflicts and the threat of terrorism”.
The move was greeted in Khartoum with hopes for an economic upturn amid double-digit unemployment rates, in a country where almost half of its 37 million people live below the poverty line – but those hopes were tempered by Sudan’s political realities.
“Of all the political and economic developments in recent history, this sanctions issue has gained the attention of almost all the people, young and old, rural and urban. They expect good things to happen overnight, prices to drop, foreign currency to be available, and [they] took a collective sigh of relief,” Sudanese journalist Shamayil Alnor told Al Jazeera.
“This will end shortly, when they discover that, only with serious political and economic policy reform, there can be a chance to capitalise on this decision to lift the sanctions,” Alnor added, noting that despite an immediate improvement in Sudan’s exchange rate, “things will not change overnight and we shouldn’t expect them to under these circumstances”.
Sudan exports $3.7bn of goods each year, mostly gold, oil and agricultural products to the Gulf and China. It suffered a massive hit and lost half of government revenues when the south split from the north in 2011 after a bitter a civil war.
Not all sanctions were lifted, however: Sudan remains on the Department of State’s list of state sponsors of “terrorism” until further review, where it is listed alongside Syria and Iran as states that are barred from arms sales and face restrictions on US aid.
Sudan had been one of the countries on Trump’s ban on travellers from mostly Muslim countries, but it came off that list when his team unveiled replacement travel restrictions last month. It was the only country to be removed from the new list.
The US first imposed curbs on Sudan in 1997, including a trade embargo and asset freezes, for “terrorism” concerns and rights violations. It slapped on more sanctions in 2006 for alleged atrocities in Sudan’s Darfur region.
Before leaving office, former US President Barack Obama temporarily eased the curbs. In July, the Trump administration postponed its decision on whether to remove the sanctions completely, setting an October 12 deadline.