The U.S. Takes Sudan Off the List of State Sponsors of Terrorism


SEATTLE, Washington — In October 2020, the White House announced the removal of Sudan from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism (SST) after being on the list for 27 years. As part of the deal, Sudan must pay $335 million “to compensate victims of the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and the 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole.” The decision comes after critical political transitions took place in Sudan in 2019. The country removed former dictator Omar al-Bashir and established a transitional government until Sudan can hold fair and free elections. However, the decision also comes at a time of humanitarian crisis for the Sudanese population.

USAID knows that “poor economic conditions… continue to constrain families’ capacity to purchase food and other essential items in Sudan.” It estimates that around 9.3 million people are in need of assistance. Food security is the most pressing issue for Sudanese families at the moment. The U.N. also estimates that around 1.9 million people have been displaced by violence and environmental disasters. An additional 1.1 million refugees live within the borders of Sudan. The population of Sudan totals more than 44 million people.

What Is the List of State Sponsors of Terrorism?

The list of SST is just what it sounds like: a list of states (i.e. governments) who, through their actions, attitudes and decisions, have helped or propped up terrorist organizations. Currently, on that list are the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), Iran, Syria and Cuba.

Designated State Sponsors of Terrorism countries are subject to “restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance; a ban on defense exports and sales; certain controls over exports of dual-use items and miscellaneous financial and other restrictions.” Moreover, third parties who engage in trade with these states may also be subjected to a response from the U.S.

Why Was Sudan on the List?

According to the website of the U.S. Embassy in Sudan, Sudan’s ties to international terrorist organizations, including the harboring of terrorist fugitives, led to the 1993 designation of Sudan on the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. Since then, U.S.-Sudan relations have neutralized, allowing Sudan to join international counter-terrorist conversations. However, the U.S. has continued to place further sanctions on Sudan as the country’s collaborations have sometimes been undercut by their criticism of U.S. military intervention.

Nevertheless, the U.S. has provided continuous humanitarian assistance through USAID to the people of Sudan since 1984. A State Sponsors of Terrorism designation does not bar the people in the country from receiving humanitarian aid. In recent years, USAID has been extending aid in Sudan through “health; nutrition; water, sanitation and hygiene support.” According to the USAID website, the U.S. is the “largest international donor of humanitarian assistance in Sudan.”

What Do the Changes Mean?

  1. Symbolic recognition of a new period in Sudanese sovereignty. Having toppled the previous authoritarian regime, the current leaders in charge of Sudan’s transition into democracy have established themselves as different from the previous regime. As a result, the U.S. took notice. After the military coup that dissolved al-Bashir’s regime, they established a “transitional Sovereignty Council” along with civilians until they can ensure democratic elections in 2022.
  2. Opens doors to foreign economic activity. One of the biggest blockades of membership on the list of SST is the inability to receive private business investments. Foreign companies, particularly U.S. companies, do not do business with countries on the list in fear of retaliation and the inherent political instability. No longer on the list, Sudan can expect more international investors once they feel comfortable that Sudan is moving into a stable future.
  3. A new market for U.S. businesses. The flipside of the previous point is that U.S. companies now have a new country to market to. Sudanese people will be in need of cheap goods as they work their way out of the current economic crisis. This leaves an opening for U.S. companies to fill this need while also creating jobs back home.
  4. International economic assistance from foreign lenders. Besides companies, Sudan can now enter into deals with foreign lenders, such as banks and international funds, as it works to reestablish its economy. In particular, Sudan can now seek debt relief from the U.S. and other wealthy nations.
  5. Preventing future terrorist activity. As the data shows, the most effective way to deal with terrorism is to ensure that extremist groups cannot tap into the desperation of people for their own goals. As Sudan re-enters the global economy and its indexes improve, Sudan can take poverty-reduction measures that would safeguard its people from radicalization.

Not a Perfect Plan

Critics have noted some short-sighted measures in the deal, such as the monetary requirement of a country in an economic crisis or the White House’s “desire to see Sudan normalize its relationship with Israel.” The Council on Foreign Relations has noted that these agreements may weigh heavily in the future memory of the Sudanese.

All in all, the removal of Sudan from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism will be a positive change if international actors rise to the occasion. Now comes the time for assistance, economic recovery and cooperation as the people of Sudan move into the promise of democratic governance.

Luis Gonzalez Kompalic


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