As a July decision approaches on whether to permanently remove most sanctions on Sudan, the Trump administration should properly evaluate progress, or lack thereof, on each of the five tracks on which progress is required, and the administration should not privilege any single track over others. Enough’s view is that the evidence available concerning multiple tracks is inconclusive. Combined with the fact that key senior Trump administration officials responsible for Africa policy are not yet in place, this calls for a six-month delay on the decision, during which time the Trump administration should assign the additional staff needed to gather credible information and assess progress on each of the five tracks. While properly assessing progress on the five tracks, the Trump administration should also pivot to pursue a separate new track of engagement focused on advancing peace and human rights in Sudan.
This past January, the outgoing Obama administration conditionally eased almost all U.S. sanctions on Sudan, arguing that the Sudanese government had made improvements in five tracks of engagement: (1) cooperation on counterterrorism; (2) cooperation in countering the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA); (3) commitment to a cessation of hostilities in Sudan’s conflict areas; (4) ending support to South Sudanese armed opposition actors; and (5) providing humanitarian access to populations in need. The Obama administration asserted that the prospect of full sanctions removal created incentives for the Sudanese regime to improve conditions for the Sudanese people. The executive order initially easing U.S. sanctions in January provided that the sanctions would be lifted altogether in mid-July 2017 if the Sudanese government verifiably “sustained the positive actions that gave rise to this order.”
There are four major problems with the executive order and the way it was implemented by the Obama administration. First, it removed one of the biggest points of leverage the United States has to achieve its policy objectives at the very time the sanctions were beginning to bite more effectively, mostly because of enforcement of Iran sanctions that led to enforcement actions related to Sudan. Second, the Trump administration is just now putting in place the personnel needed to properly track and make use of the potential opportunity provided by the conditional easing of sanctions. Third, at the time of the issuance of the executive order in January, the Sudanese regime in fact had not made such meaningful progress on at least two of the five tracks as to warrant the easing of sanctions at that time. Fourth, the five tracks do not by themselves address the core human rights and governance issues that are at the center of the ongoing crisis. This policy initiative is therefore deeply flawed and incomplete, undermines U.S. foreign policy objectives, and gives away a major point of U.S. leverage for little beyond potential short-term counterterrorism gains while doing nothing to address the structural issues in Sudan that have led to increased refugee flows to Europe, further repression of Sudanese Christians and other minority groups, and continued war and authoritarian leadership.