JUST before Christmas, the Sudanese Foreign Minister, Ibrahim Ghandour, visited the UK in a move that Khartoum said was to acknowledge Britain’s help in getting the US to lift most of the sanctions it imposed on Sudan in 1997. President Barack Obama had eased the sanctions before he left office a year ago. He told Khartoum then that a further decision would be taken six months hence, after a review of progress made by the Sudanese government.
President Donald Trump extended the review after six months. But on October 6, he announced the lifting of most of the sanctions. Still in place are sanctions covering individuals on arrest warrants issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) over the conflict in Darfur; and the inclusion of Sudan on the US list of states said to be sponsoring terrorism.
Ghandour’s visit was not without controversy, sparked by a British non-governmental organisation focusing on Darfur, Waging Peace, which argued that human rights had not improved in Sudan. The NGO was critical of the visit and a one-day trade and investment conference held at the Institute of Directors in London.
Members of the Sudanese delegation, led by Ghandour, who interacted with British businesses were happy with the outcome of the first global investment summit to be held in Europe by Sudan since the lifting of the US sanctions. The delegation also pointed out that contrary to what Sudan’s critics in the UK had been saying, the British government never imposed sanctions on Sudan.
Tarek Fahmy, acting Director from the Office of Sanctions Policy and Implementation at the US State Department, opened the forum with a spotlight on the impact of the sanctions being lifted. This was followed by three plenary sessions covering an economic and financial overview of Sudan, the mining sector and the energy and infrastructure sectors.
Ghandour told the gathering that sanctions had a devastating effect on Sudan’s financial institutions. So, for now the task was how to reintegrate the country’s economy in the international financial system, he added.
He said that his government had embarked on a second phase of engagement with the US in a bid to get Sudan off Washington’s list of countries supposedly sponsoring terrorism. US Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan has already visited Khartoum for talks on this thorny issue.
On the business side, Ghandour said that despite the fact that after the 2011 referendum, which led to South Sudan’s secession from Sudan and the loss of its oil wealth, Sudan was the sixth largest economy in Africa. The Sudanese delegation told British businesses that there ‘is a wave of optimism in Sudan.’
It added: ‘International banks are beginning to deal with Sudan-related transactions. Sudanese citizens can now open bank accounts in other currencies, including the US dollar.’
Despite the upbeat message, the Sudanese government is still irked by continued attempts by the ICC to arrest President Omar al-Bashir and a number of high-ranking Sudanese officials for crimes allegedly committed in Darfur. Ghandour argued that Sudan was not a party to the Rome Statue of the ICC and as such the court had no jurisdiction over the country. However, in acknowledging that the UN Security Council had the power to refer countries that are not party to the Rome Statute to the ICC, Ghandour pointed out that that Council was picking and choosing which countries should be referred.
He said: ‘This proves the political dimension of a court that targets Africans but says nothing about those responsible for the invasion of Iraq.’