Three years ago, President Omar al-Bashir’s administration changed its style of engaging the United States from constant public censure — mainly in solidarity with Arab states — to behind-the-scenes diplomacy.
This change of tack bore fruit on January 13, when former former US president Barack Obama issued an executive order partially lifting sanctions that were imposed on Sudan in 1997 for alleged association with terrorist organisations.
The direct engagement between the two governments at technical, ministerial and diplomatic levels, started in February 2014 after the ruling National Congress (NCP) leaders heeded widespread warnings from the party’s rank and file that continuous confrontation with the international community was going to hurt the economy further, after the South Sudan seceded in 2011 with 75 per cent of oil wells.
South Sudan war
On the other hand, the US was also seeking positive engagement with Sudan after the war broke out in South Sudan in December 2013 and it turned out that Khartoum was a key factor in ending war because of historical and cultural links.
Washington was worried that the civil war in South Sudan, between the forces of President Salva Kiir and those of Dr Riek Machar, was not only capable of creating another failed state in the region after Somalia, but could give an opportunity to Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to regroup in South Sudan.
Sudanese ambassador to Kenya Elsadig Abdalla Elias told The EastAfrican that the government had engaged with Washington for three years while at the same time seeking the intercession of neighbours like Kenya and other countries across the world.
“After six months of positive engagement, the US government assessment revealed that Sudan had met most of the conditions and the executive order was to be issued in December 2016, but was delayed because some issues were not yet concluded,” said Mr Elias.
Sudan was asked to meet five conditions: Engage in the global war against terrorism; promote peace and security in the region by eliminating the LRA from its soil; allow access to humanitarian agencies in war regions such as Darfur; not interfer in the war in South Sudan and promote multiparty democracy and freedom of the press.
Sudan had asked for the unconditional lifting of sanctions and removal of the country from the list of those supporting terrorism on which it was placed in 1993.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that Mr Obama lifted some sanctions due to “positive actions” that included ceasing hostilities in Darfur, improving humanitarian access, ending negative interference in South Sudan, “enhancing co-operation on counterterrorism,” and ending the threat of the LRA. The executive order now authorises US companies to expand trade and investment in Sudan, US banks will be allowed to transfer funds to Khartoum, while imports and export between the two countries are now open. Mr Elias said Sudan is now confident of seeing an increase in foreign direct investment and that US companies are now free to invest in the lucrative oil and agricultural sectors.
However, Sudan still remains on the list of terrorist-sponsoring countries. In addition, Sudanese financial assets frozen in US and Europe will be released once full sanctions is lifted after six months depending on the progress made by Sudan on the five areas. In 2014, Sudan revealed that financial assets amounting to $48.2 million had been frozen. The total number of financial transactions rejected during the period from 2000 to 2008 totalled 5,777 transactions valued at $745.3 million.