After decades of neglect and seclusion, Sudan is getting its economy back on track as it reintegrates itself with the globalised world. Last week, Sudan’s Finance Minister Ibrahim Elbadawi said that the country had agreed to a road-map with the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and African Development Bank, with the aim to “rehabilitate” the country.
In the past year, a popular protest movement took the Afro-Arab nation by storm, successfully ousting former president Omar Al Bashir. Since then, Sudanese leaders have agreed to a power-sharing agreement between the military and civil society before elections take place in three years’ time.
Under Al Bashir’s rule Khartoum harboured members of Al Qaeda and supported the Muslim Brotherhood, in addition to committing crimes against its own people, notably in Darfur where the fallen president has been accused of genocide. These crimes led the US to impose sanctions on Sudan, and add it to its list of states sponsors of terrorism. But today ordinary Sudanese once again have a shot at a brighter future, as their leaders work towards opening Africa’s third-largest country to the rest of the world.
Important diplomatic efforts, buttressed by overwhelming popular mobilisation, have put Sudan on track to catch up with the world following decades of repression and economic mismanagement. In December, Washington and Khartoum announced that they will exchange ambassadors for the first time in 23 years, and only on Thursday, Sudan's central bank said the US will lift sanctions imposed on 157 Sudanese companies. Only a handful of people and organisations with links to the conflict in Darfur will still be affected by American penalties.
The lifting of sanctions is expected to attract foreign investors, with many western brands and companies having already opened shop in Sudan in the past year.
Local franchises of Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Yum! have opened branches in Khartoum. Meanwhile, Visa is working with three banks in the capital to introduce its payment products, which will be made accessible to the public in a month's time.
While these are all steps in the right direction, they have yet to end the woes of ordinary Sudanese, many of whom still struggle to make ends meet. Sudan is one of the Arab world’s poorest nations, with an illiteracy rate of 40 per cent and clashes still ongoing in the western part of the country. The economic situation, which has been bleak for decades, has yet to be reversed. In recent months, Sudanese have yet again been made to queue in long lines for basic necessities, such as fuel and bread. A shortage of foreign currencies has also taken a toll on the value of the Sudanese pound on the black market, and inflation skyrocketed to 64 per cent in January.
And while there has been a thaw in relations between Washington and Khartoum, Sudan is still on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism. This has made it more difficult for authorities to secure investment from international entities, a key element in boosting its economy. It is crucial for friendly nations to support the Sudanese people, while their government works towards improving its relations with the West and eventually getting its name omitted from the US terror list.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE have already given Sudan $3 billion in aid, and the European Union announced last month that it will grant €100 million to support its transition to democracy.
Sudan is moving further away from Al Bashir’s legacy of terror and isolation, and its people deserve our full support so that their country can once again be reintegrated into the international community and provide them with the stability and prosperity they have sought for so long.